How do I talk about a classic? A masterpiece. One so synonymous with People you will hear it referenced without people knowing what it comes from. Well time to try once more.
The Day The Earth Stood Still is a classic, one of the all time classics of science fiction, even to this day. It has inspired many a director of the genera including famous names like Steven Spielberg and his own classics like E.T and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
It’s a film made in the 50s the early Cold War, the height of the UFO obsession and many, many sci fi movies involving them and their occupants coming to invade and conquer our world. And yet, here is a movie with an alien who is completely benevolent and peaceful. In fact Klaatu is a very friendly man, his first line being that he comes in peace and good will. He walks forward with a device intended as a gift but one of the army men shoots him interpreting it as a weapon.
It is then we get the other icon of the film, an image burned into science fiction fans heads. The robot Gort. He walks out the ship and from a cycloptic eye that fires and destroys the weapons the army was aiming at him. Before Gort brings his power on living targets Klaatu, still reeling from the shot, wouldn’t tell him to stand down before picking himself up and informing the army men the nature of the gift that was now destroyed by their own violent action.
The opening helps set the main point across, a benevolent being has come to give us a message. He openly says without any malice ever that he has a message for all the world, yet all the governments continue their own squabbles refusing to all meet so he can do it. They then lock him in hospital when he says he would like to go out and learn more about people so he can understand why. Of course he gets out but then they start instantly treating him as an enemy because they fear what he COULD do rather than what he actually has done. Remember Gort only acted after he was harmed and then while wounded Klaatu told him to stand down while holding no malice to the gunman. Yet the government and media act out of fear, a comment he himself will bring up later.
But it’s not all negative on Man’s fearful or petty nature. Contrasting this you see the innocence of a child and Klaatu bonding with him, the child represents the future and we see him not act out of fear but curiosity and wonder.
What’s more Klaatu manages to reach the understanding ear of a scientist in the form of Professor Barnhardt by helping him solve a maths equation – maths being something universal even to other planets. Many films of the time would often show the army as the heroic people while the scientist is lured to folly by forbidden knowledge – here it’s the reverse. The army and government are acting out of fear and refusing to put differences aside even for a small moment, openly talking down to the alien as if their small issues (as Klaatu sees it) are more important than the fact that a alien has a message for them. The scientists, the learned men, are ready to listen as they do understand the importance of what’s going on. Klaatu also points out how odd it is the scientists aren’t listened to as much as they should be (wasn’t intending this to be topical but…) Another reason it stands out.
I will stop there as I do want you to watch the film… assuming you have not already, if not? Get it out and see it! It’s a classic why aren’t you? No not the remake, I’m not going to judge that one – I don’t know if it’s good or not but that’s not what I’m reviewing.
The film presents what man can be, and what man could be. It leaves with a message that man continuing its current path, as expressed by the army and government… as well as media’s actions would ultimately lead us to ruin. But the kinder and more optimistic views of Bobby and Professor Barnhardt could lead man to a much better age. Sadly as I look at many of the things happening in the world I still see us on that path of destruction. I do however do see many times we can finally get off that road and want to think we will one day.
I’ve watched it many times, and, every time, there’s another nuance to notice. You’ve summed it up, perfectly.
We are a very strange species.
The re-make, with Keanu Reeves is good, too – same kind of ideas.
We don’t change much.
and yet we keep thinking we are smarter than the last generation. Only to make the same mistakes over and over again. Just as they say “those who dont learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.