Cinema has evolved greatly over the past 100 years, but I believe none has evolved as tremendously and wildly as science fiction. Because of movie effects and the nature of the genre, comparing the sci-fi films of yesteryear to the films now is mind-boggling.
So how do those old sci-fi films stand up next to the current ones? They may be called classics, but are they really still great films decades later?
In this From the Blackhole series, we will watch, review, and enjoy the sci-fi of yesterday today. Today we begin with a doozy in The Day the Earth Stood Still.
The Day the Earth Stood Still is an iconic science fiction film about what might happen if an alien visited earth. The fascinating part of this film has less to do with the alien and more the psychology of the humans reacting to it. The gist of the premise is that a space-man lands on earth, a trigger-finger soldier accidentally shoots him, and humanity’s fear and attempts to control him drive the rest of the plot.
So, what did I think?
I think this movie has some balls. It’s not often you see a movie straight up question humanity’s ability to stay a progressive race or if it’s worth protecting. The alien Klaatu threats, “be peaceful or die.” Often a movie like this would point out humanity’s flaws and say, “but give them a chance because humanity can be beautiful” and humanity survives. Even the remake of the film, released in 2008 and starring Keanu Reeves, changed the meaning to “give humanity a chance to change.” But nope, he didn’t come to destroy. He just came to give the warning, gave it, and now humanity has to deal with that. What balls.
But on its other merits, by the end I was impressed. The actor who played Klaatu (Michael Rennie), the alien, and the actress who played Mrs. Benson (Patricia Neal), the main female protagonist, were amazing. One of the best parts of this movie were its subtle actions that supported themes in the film, and these actors truly nailed that. Klaatu had some subtle moments of awe, confusion, and humor in the face of human nature. He laughed at our feelings of superiority, was confused by our reverie of wars, and was in awe of our greatest leaders. Mrs. Benson, on the other hand, showed the best model of the necessary reaction to aliens. She still was tremendously nervous and afraid, but she took those feelings and knew she had to be brave despite them to achieve a greater good. It showed that, though the human condition is to be fearful and flee/fight, you can take a moment to be brave and do the logical, and right, thing.
There were definitely still faults of things that did not hold up: the robot was terribly lame, the spaceship was a literal saucer, the laser effects were shoddy, and though Bobby was a vital character throughout the whole story, he was omitted from the finale for no good reason. (#JusticeForBobby, it’s important.) The beginning was also slow, but it did well to set up the alien’s personality and the walls he was hitting when it came to human reluctance to change. But despite these downfalls and perhaps outdated moments, the meaning of the film, the strong theme of fear, and the actors really pulled the film together beautifully. The last hour of it is so great and refreshingly domestic and original that I am surprised to say this film was a home run for me.
Conclusively, the film is worth it. It’s far better than the remake, and I’m impressed it doesn’t say, “but wait, alien, humanity is worth saving.” It says, “If humanity wants to be worth saving, it better become worthy,” and that’s tremendous at its core. It was slow, it was thoughtful, it was ballsy, it was beautiful. I give The Day the Earth Stood Still a well-deserved 9/10.