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The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

By Courtland Hopkins

                  “Your choice is simple: Join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer; the decision rests with you.”

“The Day the Earth Stood Still” tells the story of an alien who comes to Earth to deliver a message to the people of Earth in the time of the Cold War and the paranoia of the 1950’s. This is science fiction at its best, using the fantastic to tackle difficult issues and to foster thought on difficult topics. “The Day the Earth Stood Still” tackles the threat of war and violence to humankind. Klaatu (Michael Rennie), the visitor, must find a way to proclaim to the people of Earth his message while the government tries to stop him. On his journey he meets Helen Benson (Patricia Neil) and her son Billy (Billy Gray) from whom he learns the secrets of humanity. We are taken along on his journey as he looks on our world as an outsider looking in. As the film progresses his time is running out and if he fails the consequences could mean the end of everything.

The film was shot in black and white to emphasize realism, since color was thought of as the frivolous medium at the time (much like 3D now.) The filmmakers wanted the audience to take this movie and its ideas seriously. The film’s realism is what contributes to it staying power. It tries to portray the real world as it interacts and reacts to this amazing event. The film takes its time with its characters, building them as real humans with their frailty, beauty, and cowardice intact. There is a sense of rising crisis and utter credibility at the films climax. It is wonderful to see a movie about the fantastic that isn’t a franchise.

The storytelling in The Day the Earth Stood Still is well crafted and thoughtful; it is not a polemic telling you what to think but rather invites you into that process. There are poignant scenes like when Klaatu and Bobby visits Arlington Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorials, the ultimate monuments to peace. The movie is still relevant today in our unstable times at home and abroad. The film uses an alien visitor to show people who they really are and what they are capable of doing when they truly believe in something like Justice or Equality.  A decision must be made as a citizen. A good story stimulates good thought and helps us view life’s trials from another angle so that we can understand. A good movie will tell us the truth, that is what a good story does, and this is a good story.

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Posted in All Reviews, By Courtland Hopkins, The Classic Movie Series.

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