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Day the Earth Stood Still, The

Entry updated 2 August 2020. Tagged: Film.

1. Film (1951). Twentieth Century Fox. Directed by Robert Wise. Written by Edmund H North, based on "Farewell to the Master" (October 1940 Astounding) by Harry Bates. Cast includes Sam Jaffe, Hugh Marlowe, Patricia Neal and Michael Rennie. 92 minutes. Black and white.

Produced at the beginning of the sf boom of the 1950s, this is generally regarded as a classic, though its ethics might be regarded as intemperate; it is, however, directed with pace and impressive economy. An emissary from outer space arrives by flying saucer in Washington, accompanied by an eight-foot (2.4 metre) Robot. The military gets very excited. The soft-spoken, human-seeming Alien, Klaatu, has come to warn Earth that his people will not tolerate an extension of human violence into space, but before he can deliver the message he is wounded by a soldier, escapes, and takes a room in a boarding house, where he learns about ordinary people. Later he arranges a demonstration of his powers – the stopping of all electrical equipment, all over the world. Then, his warning still undelivered, he is again shot, this time fatally. But like Christ – the parallel seems deliberate – he rises again and gives his message: unless human violence is curbed the true masters, who are in fact the robots, will "reduce this Earth of yours to a burnt-out cinder". Submission to the rule of implacable, disinterested robots is an authoritarian proposal for a supposedly liberal film. [PN/JB]

2. Film (2008). 20th Century Fox presents a 3 Arts Entertainment production in association with Dune Entertainment III/Earth Canada Productions/Hammerhead Productions. Directed by Scott Derrickson. Written by David Scarpa, based on the 1951 screenplay. Cast includes Kathy Bates, John Cleese, Jennifer Connelly, Keanu Reeves and Jaden Smith. 104 minutes. Colour.

Harry Bates's novella is no longer credited in this somnolent remake designed for IMAX screens, which enlarges Gort and his ship to colossal proportions while jettisoning the last vestiges of the original story's twist ending (where Gort reveals "I am the master"), and updating war widow Helen from secretary to boffin and humanity's offence from nuclear armaments to ecological incontinence. Klaatu is no longer resurrected, but in other respects is still more Christ-like: an incomprehensibly alien spirit who literally puts on human flesh to walk among us, and sacrifices himself for our sins when the titanic Gort (marginalized in early drafts) brings the apocalypse in the form of a plague of matter-eating insectoid nanobots (see Nanotechnology). [NL]

see also: Stranger from Venus.


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