The Day the Earth Stood Still
|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|
|Editing 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 American science fiction film directed by Robert Wise. It was written by Edmund H. North, based on the short story "Farewell to the Master" (1940) by Harry Bates. The film stars Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Sam Jaffe, and Hugh Marlowe. In the film, a humanoid alien visitor comes to Earth, accompanied by a powerful robot, to deliver a message of utmost importance to humanity.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Cast
- 3 Themes
- 4 Production
- 5 Reception
- 6 Legacy
- 7 Music and soundtrack
- 8 Adaptations
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
An extraterrestrial flying saucer is tracked by radar flying at high altitude around the Earth until it lands on the President's Park Ellipse in Washington, D.C. The military quickly encircles the spaceship. An alien figure, Klaatu (Michael Rennie), emerges from the ship, announcing that he has come in peace and is on a goodwill mission. From inside his flight suit he takes out a small cylindrical device, opening it as he approaches the military; suddenly, Klaatu is wounded by a deflected bullet, fired by a nervous soldier shooting at the alien device. In response, Gort, a large, dull silver humanoid robot, who has suddenly emerged from the spaceship, begins disintegrating all the military weapons present, using a bright ray coming from the robot's now opened head visor. Gort continues until Klaatu orders a halt to the destruction. The wounded Klaatu explains to the military that the destroyed object was a viewing device, a gift for the president, which he could have used to view life on other planets.
Klaatu is taken to an Army hospital, where tests and X-rays show he is physically human. He stuns his Army doctors with the quickness of his healing ability. Meanwhile, the military attempts to enter Klaatu's spaceship, finding its alien metal impregnable to their diamond drills and cutting torches; Gort stands by, mute and unmoving.
Klaatu reveals to the president's secretary, Harley (Frank Conroy), that he bears a message so momentous and urgent that it must be revealed to all the world's leaders simultaneously. Harley tells him that it would be impossible to get all of the world leaders to agree to meet. Klaatu wants to get to know the ordinary people. Harley forbids it and leaves Klaatu locked up under guard.
Klaatu escapes and lodges at a boarding house, assuming the alias "Mr. Carpenter", the name he finds on the cleaners tag on the suit he "borrowed". Among the residents are Helen Benson (Patricia Neal), a World War II widow, and her son Bobby (Billy Gray). At breakfast the next morning, during alarming radio reports, Klaatu takes in his fellow boarders' suspicions and speculations about the alien visit.
While Helen and her boyfriend Tom Stephens (Hugh Marlowe) go on a day trip, Klaatu babysits 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, impressed by the Gettysburg Address inscription, queries Bobby for the greatest person living in the world. Bobby suggests a leading American scientist, professor Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe), who lives in Washington, D.C. Bobby takes Klaatu to Barnhardt's home, but the professor is absent. Klaatu enters and adds a key mathematical equation to an advanced problem on the professor's blackboard, and then leaves his contact information with the suspicious housekeeper who attempts to rub out the equation with an eraser, but is told not to by Klaatu.
Later, government agents escort Klaatu to see Barnhardt. Klaatu introduces himself and 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 returns to his spaceship the next evening to implement the idea, unaware that Bobby has followed him.
Bobby tells the unbelieving Helen and Tom what has transpired, but not until Tom finds a diamond on the floor of Klaatu's room do they begin to accept his story. 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, tells Helen his true identity, and asks for her help. A montage sequence shows that Klaatu has neutralized all electric power everywhere around the planet except in situations that would compromise human safety, such as hospitals and aeroplanes.
After the thirty-minute blackout ends, the manhunt for Klaatu intensifies and Tom informs authorities of his suspicions. Helen is very upset by Tom's betrayal of Klaatu and breaks off their relationship. 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 "Klaatu barada nikto". When they are spotted, Klaatu is shot by military personnel. Helen heads to the spaceship. Gort awakens and kills two guards before Helen can relay Klaatu's message. Gort gently deposits her in the spaceship, then goes to fetch Klaatu's corpse. Gort then revives Klaatu while the amazed Helen watches. Klaatu explains that his revival is only temporary; even with their advanced technology, they cannot truly overcome death, that power being reserved for the "Almighty Spirit".
Klaatu steps out of the spaceship and addresses the assembled scientists, explaining that humanity's penchant for violence and first steps into space have caused concern among other inhabitants of the universe who have created and empowered a race of robot enforcers including Gort to deter such aggression. He warns that, if the people of Earth threaten to extend their violence into space, the robots will destroy Earth, adding: "The decision rests with you." He enters the spaceship and departs.
- Michael Rennie as Klaatu
- Patricia Neal as Helen Benson
- Billy Gray as Bobby Benson
- Hugh Marlowe as Tom Stevens
- Sam Jaffe as Professor Jacob Barnhardt
- Frances Bavier as Mrs. Barley
- Lock Martin as Gort
- Frank Conroy as Mr. Harley
- Tyler McVey as Brady (uncredited)
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, 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. The 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, then stationed at Ft. Meade, provided the soldiers and armored vehicles for the movie.
The robot Gort, who serves Klaatu, was played by the naturally tall Lock Martin, who worked as an usher at Graumann'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 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".
Klaatu barada nikto
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 Isacc 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.
Professor Jacob Barnhardt's blackboard problem
The blackboard problem seen in the film is the three-body problem.
Music and soundtrack
|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|
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- Julian Blaustein, Robert Wise, Patricia Neal, Billy Gray (1995). Making the Earth Stand Still (LaserDisc; DVD). Fox Video; 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Retrieved 2007-07-22.
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- The Day the Earth Stood Still at the Internet Movie Database
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- The Day the Earth Stood Still at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Day the Earth Stood Still at the Internet Movie Script Database
- The Day the Earth Stood Still on Lux Radio Theater: January 4, 1954