There are generally two things that prompt me to do a movie review: 1) I’ve gone to see it in theatres, and 2) It just came out on DVD. 2b) and I feel like it. The Day the Earth Stood Still falls under the first category. My younger brothers and sisters had gone to see The Tale of Despereaux, which I really wasn’t interested in (it wasn’t Pixar), but I couldn’t stand to be left out. So this movie looked like a better alternative.
As far as Sci-Fi Disaster movies go, this remake from the fifties was all right. It could have used more action, but nevertheless it put me on the edge of my seat till the end.
Helen Benson lived a somewhat quiet life with her rebellious and upset stepson Jacob, working a job as an astro-bioligist, until one day she is taken away by government agents with no explanation whatsoever. After a helicopter ride with a team of other scientists, equally clueless, she learns the reason: There’s something “out there.” And that something is moving at an alarming speed straight toward -where else?- Manhattan. Fortunately, it slows down enough to make a nice soft landing in Central Park. Well, sort of soft. It doesn’t destroy the city or anything. As our Scientist Heroine approaches it, which they now see is a large, glowing sphere, out steps our extra terrestrial visitor, and after he is shot by a sniper, he is followed by his robot buddy, Gort, who takes vengeance on all the law enforcement officials, soldiers, tanks, Hummers, et cetera, that have surrounded the park.
We learn as time goes on that the non-robotic character is an alien turned human (thanks to a DNA sample taken eighty years earlier), who has special powers, mostly over anything automated. He has come as an ambassador representing several civilizations to warn Earth’s leaders that the planet is on the brink of destruction, but he cannot possibly get past the thick skulled government officials. So he takes off to meet an old friend -an alien who had come to live amongst us seventy years earlier- to decide what had best be done. And he goes with the only human who thought to treat him with respect, Helen. At an unfolding point, while they are getting in her car, she asks whether or not Klaatu is a friend. “I am a friend of the Earth.” is his simple answer. A lot of the movie’s message touches on that. It shows that humans are destroying the Earth, that they are a “Destructive race.” as Klaatu’s friend puts it.
After his conference with alien-human number two, Klaatu decides there is but one thing left to do. After taking samples from the Earth various environments, the humans will be destroyed. Nothin’ to it. Helen tries her best to dissuade him, but to no avail. He said that as the world leaders will not reason with him, this must be done. She, in desperation, takes him to an older scientists friend with hopes that he will help talk him out of it. Nothing daunts the determined extraterrestrial being. The elderly scientists leads Helen aside, and utters what was probably the pivotal line of the film: “You must change him, not with reason, but with yourself.” Show him, by her “witness” that the human race is more than what he thought.
Several things in the film are of note. The very fact that the filmmakers showed restraint in areas such as language and inappropriate material is a point in their favour. Jacob is unable to except Helen as his mom, and for the greater part of the movie the are constantly at odds. Of course, this changes for both of them, in the face of “The end” and gives rise to a heart-warming reunion scene. The older alien says that he has grown to love the people he’s lived with for so long, and chooses to stay and die with them rather than be shipped out. Klaatu ends up laying down his life, in more ways than one, to save his friends and the human race. On the flip side, in one scene, evolution is used to refer to a change in the heart of a species. Klaatu says that “The precipice” is what drives species to change, or have the will to. “The Universe” is referred to in the supernatural sense in one scene.
This movie has lots of important dialogue in it, but it still carries a lot of the weight of an action thriller. Whilst all the emotional struggles are going on with Klaatu, Helen and Jacob, and the various spheres that have landed around the globe are collecting samples of life on Earth, the government (which is pictured as being quite ruthless, by the way) is trying desperately to stop the alien and even more, Gort. The robot only activates in the presence o violence, so no matter how many missile and remote-controlled jets and tanks go in, he still ends up smashing every one. Klaatu, though he is non-violent for the most part, uses his power to smash a police man between two cars (he restores the man afterwards) and later bashes two helicopters together by manipulating their flight systems. And, at the climax of the movie, a cloud of cyber-organic insects attacks, sweeping through everything like a hyper-cane, from a military lab to a semi-truck, a football stadium, and Manhattan. An army of tank, firing as hard as they can, is cleared away.
So, to sum up, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a well-produced, enjoyable movie, with an engaging story and a lot of positive messages. But it’s no ride in the park for the typical five year old. Or twelve-year old. The reoccurring frightening or gross images, and the occasional splattering blood, give it a kinda bad-for-kid edge. It was fun to see, but once you’ve seen it and know the story, it won’t be the same twice. It’s worth the wait for the DVD, though.