Tag: Jennifer Connelly
Reviewed by Henry B. Rosenbush
Hollywood has an odd habit of recycling ideas by deploying new state of the artless special effects, merged with diminishing story and character development, in favor of expensive visuals.
The latest miscalculation is a remake of the late director Robert Wise’s landmark science fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still (B/W-1951) from cautionary anti-nuclear message movie to an environmentally ill Save the Planet motif.
In the 1950s, aliens were usually portrayed as malevolent forces intent on conquering the earth with classic films echoing this theme in The Thing From Another Planet, War of the Worlds, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and It Came From Outer Space and the low budgeted, but effective Earth versus the Flying Saucers. It Came introduced space travelers who accidentally crashed on earth and had the good sense to repair their ship and leave before the paranoid earthlings destroyed them.
Z-grade films like Teenagers from Outer Space, Invasion of the Saucer Men and Not of This Earth presented aliens as hostile visitors and rarely were humans left with choices other than to battle the invaders and kill them.
By the fifties, UFO sightings fueled the beliefs that not only were we not alone in the cosmos but earth was an ideal planet for scrutiny. The atomic age was here and with the likelihood of nuclear destruction from a war with Russia the Cold War spawned the alien invasion genre. Nigel Kneales’ The Quatermass Xperiment, Quatermass II and Quatermass and the Pit added a British twist on the invasion themes with intelligent scripts that still resonate strongly today.
Advanced technologies, like SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Life or space-based telescopes or satellite tracking, were still in the future. As the original Day opened earth was tracking an unknown space craft moving at 4,000 miles an hour that landed on the Mall in Washington DC.
As expected, the military surrounds the saucer and when Klaatu (unknown actor Michael Rennie, dignified and Christ-like; he takes the name Carpenter, dies and is reborn) is immediately shot by a trigger-happy soldier. This provocative act introduces Gort (the 7-foot Lock Martin in a metallic suit), his 9-foot robot protector. Few scenes are as potent as the realization Gort has quietly appeared outside the flying saucer, accompanied by composer Bernard Herrmann’s use of the Theremin (named for inventor Russian Émigré Leonard Theremin), before a single focused laser melts and disintegrates all weapons of hostility.
When Klaatu is informed by a representative of the President of the United States that he cannot be allowed to leave Walter Reed Hospital to learn about the customs of earth he still escapes and, since he is in humanoid shape, quietly blends in at a boarding house where he meets widow Helen (Patricia Neal) and her son, Bobby (Billy Gray). The fatherless Bobby and Klaatu have an instant report that is made more profound by visits to famous DC landmarks, ending at Arlington Cemetery where the boy’s father is buried having died at Anzio.
Professor Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe, channeling Einstein) is perfectly cast and Klaatu entrusts him to address the top scientists of the world to deliver a sobering message: earth is on the brink of annihilation from “the other planets” who will unleash a force that will destroy the earth. The punishment would fit the crime: extending our violent nature with nuclear missiles into space cannot and will not be allowed.
Throughout the film there is a sense of dread as Klaatu tries to stay ahead of the military until the meeting with the scientists. The addition of Helen’s self-centered fiancee Tom (Hugh “I don’t care about the world” Marlowe) who alerts the government leading to a shootout that kills Klaatu which in turn activates Gort, who alone could destroy earth.
With the famous line, “Klaatu barrada nitko” the only way to stop Gort Klaatu is reanimated in time to deliver a sobering message to the scientists that by provoking violence beyond the borders of earth we are inviting our own destruction.
The actual Day that the earth stands still is a knockout with all power on earth negated for 30 minutes, except hospitals and airplanes in flight, although it does not dissuade the military from a violent solution it alerts rational thinkers like Professor Barnhardt that the real danger is us. In the remake it is saved for the climax but to a lessor effect.
The years have been kind to the original and while a remake was inevitable the recent Scott Derrickson directed Day is an uneven film that unfortunately shows filmmakers have learned little about what made the 1951 version a classic.