|The Day the Earth Stood Still|
Colorized reprint of the 1951 poster
|Directed by||Robert Wise|
|Produced by||Julian Blaustein|
|Screenplay by||Edmund H. North|
|Based on||Farewell to the Master
by Harry Bates
|Music by||Bernard Herrmann|
|Edited by||William H. Reynolds|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Running time||92 minutes|
|Box office||$1,850,000 (US theatrical rentals)|
The Day the Earth Stood Still is a 1951 20th Century Fox black-and-white science fiction film directed by Robert Wise. It was written by Edmund H. North, based on the 1940 short story "Farewell to the Master" by Harry Bates. The film stars Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal and Hugh Marlowe. A humanoid alien visitor comes to Earth, accompanied by a powerful robot, to deliver an important message to humanity.
A flying saucer approaches the Earth, eventually landing on the President's Park Ellipse in Washington, D.C. The military quickly encircles the spaceship. A humanoid (Michael Rennie) emerges from the saucer, announcing that he has come in peace. However, when he advances and unexpectedly opens a small cylindrical device, he is shot by a nervous soldier. Gort, a large robot, emerges and disintegrates all weapons using a ray emanating from its now-open facial visor. Gort is eventually ordered by the emissary to halt. The wounded being later explains that the object was just a gift for the President, with which "he could have studied life on the other planets."
He is taken to Walter Reed Hospital, where he reveals his name: Klaatu. He stuns his Army doctors when his salve quickly heals him. Meanwhile, the military attempts to enter the spaceship but finds it impenetrable. Gort stands by, silent and unmoving.
Klaatu tells the President's secretary, Mr. Harley (Frank Conroy), that he bears a message so momentous that it must be revealed to all the world's leaders simultaneously. Harley tells him that such a meeting is impossible. Then, when Klaatu suggests that he get to know ordinary humans to better understand their suspicions and attitudes, Harley rejects his proposal and leaves Klaatu under armed guard.
Through unknown means, Klaatu escapes and lodges at a boarding house, assuming the alias "Mr. Carpenter" (the name on a cleaners' tag on the suit he "borrowed"). Among the residents are World War II widow Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) and her son Bobby (Billy Gray). At breakfast the next morning, during alarming radio broadcasts about the alien, Klaatu listens to his fellow boarders' suspicions and speculations about the alien's purpose in coming to Earth.
While Helen and her boyfriend Tom Stephens (Hugh Marlowe) go on a day trip, Klaatu chaperones Bobby. The boy takes Klaatu on a tour of the city, including a visit to his father's grave in Arlington National Cemetery, where Klaatu is dismayed to learn that most of those buried there were killed in wars. The two visit the heavily guarded spaceship and the Lincoln Memorial. Klaatu asks Bobby who the greatest person living is; Bobby suggests Professor Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe), who lives in the city. Bobby takes Klaatu to Barnhardt's home, but the professor is absent. Klaatu adds a mathematical equation to a problem on Barnhardt's blackboard and leaves his contact information with the suspicious housekeeper.
Later, government agents escort Klaatu to see Barnhardt. Klaatu warns the professor that the people of the other planets have become concerned for their own safety after human beings developed atomic power. Klaatu declares that, if his message goes unheeded, "planet Earth will be eliminated". Barnhardt agrees to arrange a meeting of scientists at Klaatu's ship and suggests that Klaatu give a demonstration of his power. Klaatu asks Barnhardt, "You have faith?" Barnhardt replies, "It isn't faith that makes good science, Mr Klaatu ... it's curiosity." Klaatu returns to his spaceship the next evening, unaware that Bobby has followed him.
Bobby tells Helen and Tom what has transpired, but not until Tom finds a diamond on the floor of Klaatu's room do they begin to believe him. When Tom takes the diamond for appraisal, the jeweller informs him it is unlike any other on Earth.
Klaatu finds Helen at her workplace. She leads him to an unoccupied elevator which mysteriously stops at noon, trapping them together. Klaatu admits he is responsible, reveals his true identity and asks for her help. A montage sequence shows that Klaatu has neutralized all electric power around the planet except in situations that would compromise human safety, such as hospitals and aircraft in flight.
After the thirty-minute blackout ends, the manhunt for Klaatu intensifies. Against Helen's wishes, Tom informs the authorities of his suspicions, and when Helen realizes that Tom's motives for doing so are purely selfish she breaks up with him. Helen and Klaatu take a taxi to Barnhardt's home; en route, Klaatu instructs Helen that should anything happen to him, she must tell Gort three words. After being spotted by the military, Klaatu is shot and killed; Helen then heads to his spaceship. Gort awakens and disintegrates the two guards; as Helen approaches, he raises his visor once again, but she says "Klaatu barada nikto". Gort carries her into the saucer, then leaves to reclaim Klaatu's body. Gort revives Klaatu and Klaatu explains to Helen that his revival is only temporary; even his advanced technology cannot defeat death, that power being reserved for the "Almighty Spirit".
Klaatu addresses the assembled scientists, explaining that humanity's penchant for violence and first steps into space have caused concern. He warns that, if the people of Earth threaten to extend their violence into space, "the Earth will be reduced to a burned out cinder...the decision rests with you. We will be waiting for your answer." Klaatu and Gort depart in the saucer.
In a 1995 interview, producer Julian Blaustein explained that Joseph Breen, the film censor installed by the Motion Picture Association of America at the Twentieth Century Fox studios, balked at the portrayal of Klaatu's resurrection and limitless power. At the behest of the MPAA, a line was inserted into the film; when Helen asks Klaatu whether Gort has unlimited power over life and death, Klaatu explains that he has only been revived temporarily and "that power is reserved to the Almighty Spirit." Of the elements that he added to Klaatu's character, screenwriter Edmund North said, "It was my private little joke. I never discussed this angle with Blaustein or Wise because I didn't want it expressed. I had originally hoped that the Christ comparison would be subliminal." The fact that the question even came up in an interview is proof enough that such comparisons did not remain subliminal, but they are subtle enough that it is not immediately obvious to all viewers which elements were intended to compare Klaatu to Christ. For example, when Klaatu escapes from the hospital, he steals the clothing of a "Maj. Carpenter," carpentry being the profession Jesus learned from his father Joseph. At the end, he rises from the dead and ascends into the sky. Other similarities include his apprehension at night, being a friend to children, having wisdom and knowledge far beyond any human being, and the people wanting a sign.
Producer Julian Blaustein set out to make a film that illustrated the fear and suspicion that characterized the early Cold War and Atomic Age. He reviewed over 200 science fiction short stories and novels in search of a storyline that could be used, since this film genre was well suited for a metaphorical discussion of such grave issues. Studio head Darryl F. Zanuck gave the go-ahead for this project, and Blaustein hired Edmund North to write the screenplay based on elements from Harry Bates's short story Farewell to the Master. The revised final screenplay was completed on February 21, 1951. Raymond F. Jones worked as an uncredited adviser.
The set was designed by Thomas Little and Claude Carpenter. They collaborated with the noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright for the design of the spacecraft. Paul Laffoley has suggested that the futuristic interior was inspired by Wright's Johnson Wax Headquarters, completed in 1936. Laffoley quotes Wright and his attempt in designing the exterior: "... to imitate an experimental substance that I have heard about which acts like living tissue. If cut, the rift would appear to heal like a wound, leaving a continuous surface with no scar."
Principal outdoor photography for The Day the Earth Stood Still was shot on the 20th Century Fox sound stages and on its studio back lot (now located in Century City, California), with a second unit shooting background plates and other scenes in Washington DC and at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland. The primary actors never traveled to Washington for the making of the film. Robert Wise indicated in the DVD commentary that the War Department refused participation in the movie based on a reading of the script. The military equipment shown came from the Virginia Army National Guard although one of the tanks bears the "Brave Rifles" insignia of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, then stationed at Ft. Meade.
The robot Gort, who serves Klaatu, was played by the naturally tall Lock Martin, who worked as an usher at Grauman's Chinese Theater and stood seven feet tall. He worked carefully with the metallic suit, for he was not used to being in such a costume. The costume also had wires for the robot's other parts. Wise decided that Martin's segments would be filmed at half hour intervals, so Martin would not face discomfort. The segments, in turn, went into the film's final print.
In a commentary track on DVD, interviewed by fellow director Nicholas Meyer, the director Robert Wise stated that he wanted the film to appear as realistic and believable as possible, in order to drive home the motion picture's core message against armed conflict in the real world. Also mentioned in the DVD's documentary interview was the original title for the movie, "The Day the World Stops". Blaustein said his aim with the film was to promote a "strong United Nations".
The music score was composed by Bernard Herrmann in August 1951, and was his first score after he moved from New York to Hollywood. Herrmann chose unusual instrumentation for the film: violin, cello, and bass (all three electric), two theremin electronic instruments (played by Dr. Samuel Hoffman and Paul Shure), two Hammond organs, a large studio electric organ, three vibraphones, two glockenspiels, marimba, tam-tam, 2 bass drums, 3 sets of timpani, two pianos, celesta, two harps, 1 horn, three trumpets, three trombones, and four tubas. Unusual overdubbing and tape-reversal techniques were used, as well. Later, after release, Michael Rennie combined with actress Jean Peters to do a radio production on Lux Radio Theater/Hollywood Radio Theater.
The Day the Earth Stood Still was well received by critics and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1951. It holds a 94% "Certified Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. The film was moderately successful when released, accruing US$1,850,000 in distributors' domestic (U.S. and Canada) rentals, making it the year's 52nd biggest earner. Variety praised the film's documentary style, and the Los Angeles Times praised its seriousness, though it also found "certain subversive elements". Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it "tepid entertainment". The film earned more plaudits overseas: the Hollywood Foreign Press Association gave the filmmakers a special Golden Globe Award for "promoting international understanding." Bernard Herrmann's score also received a nomination at the Golden Globes. The French magazine Cahiers du cinéma was also impressed, with Pierre Kast calling it "almost literally stunning" and praising its "moral relativism".
The movie is ranked seventh in Arthur C. Clarke's list of the best Science-Fiction films of all time, just above Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, which Clarke himself co-wrote.
In 1995, The Day the Earth Stood Still was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". The film also received recognition from the American Film Institute. In 2001, it was ranked number 82 on 100 Years...100 Thrills, a list of America's most heart-pounding films. It placed number 67 on a similar list 100 Years...100 Cheers, a list of America's most inspiring films. In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its "10 Top 10" — the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres — after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. The Day the Earth Stood Still was acknowledged as the fifth best film in the science fiction genre. The film was also on the ballot for AFI's other lists including 100 Years...100 Movies, the tenth anniversary list, 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains for Klaatu in the heroes category, 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes for the famous line "Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!", and AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores. In 2004, the film was selected by The New York Times as one of The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made.
Lou Cannon and Colin Powell believed the film inspired Ronald Reagan to discuss uniting against an alien invasion when meeting Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985. Two years later, Reagan told the United Nations, "I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world".
Since the release of the movie, the phrase "Klaatu barada nikto" has appeared repeatedly in fiction and in popular culture. The Robot Hall of Fame described it as "one of the most famous commands in science fiction", while Frederick S. Clarke of Cinefantastique called it "the most famous phrase ever spoken by an extraterrestrial."
Edmund H. North, who wrote The Day the Earth Stood Still, also created the alien language used in the film, including the phrase "Klaatu barada nikto". The official spelling for the phrase comes directly from the script (as shown in the image to the left) and provides insight as to its proper pronunciation.
No translation was given in the film. Philosophy professor Aeon J. Skoble speculates the famous phrase is a "safe-word" that is part of a fail-safe feature used during the diplomatic missions such as the one Klaatu and Gort make to Earth. With the use of the safe-word, Gort's deadly force can be deactivated in the event the robot is mistakenly triggered into a defensive posture. Skoble observes that the theme has evolved into a "staple of science fiction that the machines charged with protecting us from ourselves will misuse or abuse their power." In this interpretation, the phrase apparently tells Gort that Klaatu considers escalation unnecessary.
Fantastic Films magazine explored the meaning of "Klaatu barada nikto" in a 1978 article titled The Language of Klaatu. The article, written by Tauna Le Marbe, who is listed as their "Alien Linguistics Editor", attempts to translate all the alien words Klaatu used throughout the film. In the article the literal translation for Klaatu barada nikto was "Stop Barbarism (I have) death, bind" and the free translation was "I die, repair me, do not retaliate."
The documentary Decoding "Klaatu Barada Nikto": Science Fiction as Metaphor examined the phrase "Klaatu barada nikto" with some of the people involved with The Day the Earth Stood Still. Robert Wise, director of the film, related a story he had with Edmund North saying North told him, "Well, it's just something I kind of cooked up. I thought it sounded good." Billy Gray, who played Bobby Benson in the film, said that he thought that the message was coming from Klaatu and that, "barada nikto must mean... save Earth". Florence Blaustein, widow of the producer Julian Blaustein, said North had to pass a street called Baroda every day going to work and said, "I think that's how that was born." Film historian Steven Jay Rubin, recalled an interview he had with North when he asked the question, "What is the direct translation of Klaatu barada nikto, and Edmund North said to me 'There's hope for earth, if the scientists can be reached.'"
Mozilla Firefox features an Easter egg that involves this phrase; when typing in "about:robots" into the address bar, the words "Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!" appears in the tab display. Other robot-related references on the page include nods to Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, the tears in rain soliloquy from the film Blade Runner, two lines from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a quote from the character Bender from Futurama, and a tagline from Battlestar Galactica. Klaatu and Barada are the names of two minor characters among the personnel on Jabba The Hutt's sail barge (featured in Return of the Jedi).
The blackboard problem seen in the film is the three-body problem.
|The Day the Earth Stood Still|
|Film score by Bernard Herrmann|
|Genre||Soundtracks, Film score|
|Label||20th Century Fox|
20th Century Fox later reused the Herrmann title theme in the original pilot episode for Irwin Allen's 1965 TV series Lost in Space. Danny Elfman noted The Day the Earth Stood Still's score inspired his interest in film composing, and made him a fan of Herrmann.
|1.||"Twentieth Century Fox Fanfare"||0:12|
|2.||"Prelude / Outer Space/Radar"||3:45|
|5.||"Gort / The Visor / The Telescope"||2:23|
|10.||"Nocturne / The Flashlight / The Robot / Space Control"||5:58|
|11.||"The Elevator / Magnetic Pull / The Study / The Conference / The Jewelry Store"||4:32|
|13.||"The Glowing / Alone / Gort's Rage / Nikto / The Captive / Terror"||5:11|
The film was dramatized as a radio play on the Lux Radio Theater on January 4, 1954; Michael Rennie repeated his lead role as Klaatu with actress Jean Peters as Helen Benson and William Conrad. This production was re-broadcast on the Hollywood Radio Theater, the re-titled Lux Radio Theater which aired on the Armed Forces Radio Service.
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