After having watched the disappointing 2008 remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still, I owed it to myself to watch the original, an understated black and white thinking-man’s science fiction film. I like to think the special effects were dazzling to audiences in the early ’50s, but there’s no denying they look quaint by today’s standards. But that’s not really the point, which was sorely missed by the people who made the remake. The world was only just recovering from World War 2, and the threat of annihilation by atom bomb was crystallizing into the Cold War.
This led the screenwriters to imagine what could prevent us from destroying ourselves, and their answer is the appearance of an alien. An alien named Klaatu sent to earth to warn us that if we continue behaving badly, we’ll only end up destroying ourselves, or be destroyed by giant peace-keeping robots. It’s a story of first contact, and how people might react to such a situation, and it does an ok job of showing us.
Klaatu’s robot pal GORT gets more screen time than he does in the remake, and even busts out his disintegrating laser beams to disarm the human aggressors. It wouldn’t be a ’50s movie if he didn’t get to pick up and carry a beautiful woman back to his spaceship, too. Thanks to the limitations of the day, GORT is a practical effect, and that means he’s at least partly real, which is more than one can say of the remake’s version.
It’s easy to see why the film is a bonafide cult classic, though it suffers from the grammar of cinema from its day. Some events, including the planet-wide power outage that gives the film its title, are shown in cut after cut of redundant scenes (in case the movie is going too fast for you) which could shave minutes from the running time. This complaint aside, the movie is actually much better than the remake; if not for its inherent camp value than for its message, which rings more clearly and true than that of the rehash. I’m not saying you need to run out and get your copy today, but there are worse ways to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon than watch this.
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