Friday, July 10, 2020

The Day The Earth Stood Still Review

It was just a couple of weeks ago when I saw the theatrical trailer for the upcoming remake of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" starring Keanu Reeves. The first word that came to mind was ´blasphemy´ as I couldn´t understand why anybody would want to remake a classic film and put the wooden Reeves into the starring role. Then it occurred to me at that time that I had never actually seen "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and I was almost as shocked that for some reason I never took two hours to sit down and watch this 1951 science fiction landmark film. Did I perhaps always assume I had watched it? Or, for some other reasoning did I simply never have the opportunity to watch the film? The bigger question became whether or not I could question the decision or remaking the picture with Reeves when I had never watched the original in the first place.

As fate would have it, the DVD screener of the new 2-Disc Special Edition arrived just a few days ago and provided me the opportunity to finally sit down and digest the story and classic nature of the film. I could base my opinion on the upcoming remake upon experience and not just jump to conclusions. After all, I loved Reeves in "The Matrix" and always felt "Bill and Ted´s Excellent Adventure" was funny. It is never a good idea to be critical of something without any definite basis for an argument and the DVD screener provided the opportunity to finally enjoy this classic and to either look forward to the big budget remake with anticipation or load myself with enough ammunition to shoot it down. And since this film has been reviewed a million times before, readying the world for the remake seemed like a good hook for this review.

The first thing I noticed was that the lead character Klaatu is a role written for an actor that always seems as if he is oblivious to everything going on around him and comes across that he is consistently out of his element. I´ve never felt that the actor possesses much range and joke that is only capable of delivering the line "Woah!" with any true conviction. Watching Michael Rennie portray Klaatu as an alien stuck in an unfamiliar and unfriendly world was an instant comfort in knowing the actor from "Point Break" would be helming the new version of this film. I can honestly not name another film that starred Rennie, but rather enjoyed his performance in this classic film. He seemed like an outsider and a foreigner that had a kind heart and the open eyes of a child, but was deeply serious and prepared for anything under the surface. "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is hardly an action film and is far more character driven than anything and Rennie´s performance is one of the strongest assets of the film.

Aside from Rennie´s performance, the film´s story is the other shining element in "The Day the Earth Stood Still." It tells a tale of an alien who lands on Earth to meet with the world´s leaders and provide an ultimatum to either listen to his suggestions for peace of face annihilation to protect the rest of the Universe from the aggressive nature of humanity. Filmed less than a decade after World War II when a world at war was still fresh in the minds of mankind, "The Day the Earth Stood Still" carried with it a powerful message about man´s itchy trigger finger. Klaatu is shot and wounded when he tries to naively present a gift to those he first meets. From the onset of the film it becomes abundantly clear that mankind would rather fight than learn and the majority of the film finds Klaatu looking into the nature of mankind.

The supporting cast consists of other unfamiliar faces, but they too deliver strong performances. Young Billy Gray is the adolescent co-star who portrays young Bobby. Bobby befriends Mr. Klaatu as he rents a room where Bobby lives during his investigation into mankind. Gray was twelve years old during the filming of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and was asked to help carry the load of this character driven film and while there have certainly been better performances by young actors of the same age, Gray comes across as the perfect American boy. Will Smith´s son Jaden will have the corresponding role in the new film. Patricia Neal takes on the role of Bobby´s mother Helen and Hugh Marlowe is the whistle blowing boyfriend Tom Stevens. They give good performances and Jennifer Connolly steps into Neal´s role in the remake.

Many remember "The Day the Earth Stood Still" for the memorable robot Gort. It is the iconic image of this science fiction classic. Having finally seen the film I can comfortably call it a classic film that is deserving of the accolades and love it has received in the past fifty years. It tells an important story on the warring nature of mankind and is able to preach its story and provide convincing science fiction. This is not an action or adventure film. It requires strong performances and its story to keep audiences glued to the film and does so with ease. This film is to science fiction what "It´s A Wonderful Life" is to holiday films. I was one of those viewers that could only relate "The Day the Earth Stood Still" to the image of Gort and knew nothing of the depth and story contained in the film. This is not "War of the Worlds," but a dramatic film with depth and heart.

Films today rely on special effects and high tech wizardry to provide essence to science fiction. Story is of less importance and my gut reaction to seeing the trailer for the upcoming remake was that Keanu Reeves would be put in front of green screens and act in front of digitally created massive explosions and a relentless Gort that vaporizes everything in sight. That still may be the case, but I at least feel Reeves may be a good casting choice for the remake and the role is within his acting range. Instead of humanity and their predisposition to starting wars as the reason for Klaatu´s visit, the new film uses the current hot topic of global warming as its backdrop. I´m not sure how that will play out, but after completely enjoying this classic film I am looking forward to watching the remake and see what they can do with it. I´m still not sold on the decision to remake this picture after the less-than-stellar remake of the previously mentioned "War of the Worlds," but I´m no longer in panic mode.

Regardless of how the remake fares, "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is a classic and important science fiction motion picture. I am still surprised that I had never watched the film. I have seen "Metropolis" at least twice. I´ve watched the original "War of the Worlds" and "Forbidden Planet" on multiple occasions. Not having seen "The Day the Earth Stood Still" at least once almost feels sacrilegious on my part, but I have made amends and finally taken the time to find out why this movie is so well loved after more than half a century. It truly is one of the great science fiction films and created the blueprint for films such as "2001" and other dramatic science fiction films that would eventually follow its lead. I feel everybody should watch the original before subjecting themselves to the forthcoming 2008 remake. Then, everybody can draw their own conclusions and do so having seen one of the more important science fiction films produced.

The vintage "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is presented onto DVD with a clean looking full frame transfer preserving the film´s original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Back in 1951, not every film was exhibited in widescreen and "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is one such picture. The black and white image is very steady and the various shades of gray spread evenly between the very clean white and deep black coloring. The DVD showcases solid contrast and a detailed image. One or two minor instances in the film showed a little shimmering on car grills, but for the most part there are no complaints to be had with the transfer of this film. The source materials used were either very clean or a top-notch preservation effort was undertaken for "The Day the Earth Stood Still" because it looks incredibly clean on this new DVD release. Having not seen the film previously, I do not know how it compares to former DVD versions.