Review By Paul Mount, 4.5 out of 5 >

Directed by Robert Wise

Starring: Michael Rennie, Patricial Neal, Sam Jaffe

Reviewed by Paul Mount

RATING: 4.5 out of 5

Some science-fiction films just don’t show their age. Some are dated by the time they reached home video. INDEPENDENCE DAY, for example, the huge rabble-rousing blockbuster no-brainer from 1996, whilst still fun to watch, creaks and groans under the weight of its own vacuity and visually, at least, we’ve come a long way very quickly. Films like 1951’s THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, however, proudly stand the test of time. This early black-and-white SF classic is over half a decade old but it’s as gripping and enthralling and chilling now as it was back when it first appeared ?perhaps even moreso considering the empty bluster of so many contemporary genre offerings. The movie’s arrival now on DVD is both timely and long-overdue.

It’s a simple story, well told. A flying saucer (literally!) lands in Washington DC. A helmeted humanoid figure emerges down the tongue-like ramp and before he can make contact with the human hordes he’s shot and injured by a jumpy soldier. The alien pilot Klaatu (Michael Rennie) is whisked away by the authorities leaving his scary giant visored robot Gort to silently safeguard his saucer. Klaatu quickly escapes his wary captors and ingratiates himself with an all-American family in order to learn more about these strange human creatures, their technology and their warlike ways. But Mankind’s paranoia quickly comes to the fore and Klaatu becomes a fugitive. In time he makes his way back to his saucer and issues a chilling ultimatum to the human racezp>

It’s an adventure, it’s a cautionary tale, it’s a religious parable (Klaatu poses as Mr Carpenter and he’s handily resurrected towards the end of the film when he’s shot down by soldiers) ?THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL is above all a marvellous piece of understated film-making. Robert Wise’s direction is unobtrusive, the performances are nicely understated and, modern film-makers please note, there’s a preponderence of story and little emphasis on visual spectacle. But the FX far from let the side down; Gort is an SF icon and the scenes of the saucer approaching and finally settling in Washington are legendary. An object lesson in how to make a truly great science-fiction film, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL belongs in the collection of any serious student of the genre.

THE DISC: The print has been beautifully restored (as demonstrated by the brief restoration featurette) and the film is supported by the usual crackly trailer and a rather pointless but amusing 1952 Movietone News programme included because of a brief reference to the movie in the shape of a presentation from some science-fiction association or other. There’s a pally commentary by Nicholas Meyer and the film’s director Robert Wise which wanders off into areas of general film-making rather too often but still contains a handy helping of behind-the-scenes anecdotes.

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