The Day the Earth Stood Still is a wake-up call to our planet that bluntly states through an entertaining science-fiction medium, “Get your act together or else you are all doomed.” Our leaders and military are depicted as heartless warmongering fools who can’t take a hint despite an eight-foot tall robot named Gort with the ability to disintegrate matter standing on the National Mall. Despite facing possible annihilation of the human race, leaders of the world are more concerned about having to travel to an enemy country than saving the world.
In the film the messenger of this warning is Klaatu, a humanoid being from another planet who wants nothing more than to talk to our planet’s leaders about his fears of Earth’s bickering extending beyond the planet’s atmosphere. Klaatu’s intelligence, sincerity and urgency in his message seep through his emotionless façade. Time is short after he’s greeted with a bullet rather than open arms, so he must make the Earth “stand still” to get his message across.
As Klaatu, relative newcomer at the time Michael Reddie brings these traits to life with dignity, as if a God amongst peasant men. His befriending of a local working single mother is authentic, developing from an initial disinterest towards her and her son into openness and honesty that prove to be mankind’s last hope for survival. He embodies Klaatu whereas a more seasoned actor of the time may have proven more a distraction than alien.
The Day the Earth Stood Still offered then-cutting edge special effects, such as landing a flying saucer in Washington DC and melting military weapons with a laser beam, that hold up better than effects filmed decades later. It was, and still is, a landmark film on both a psychological and technical level. If you’ve ever heard the mysterious saying “Klaatu Nikto Barada” before, look no further than The Day the Earth Stood Still. It’s a classic and timeless film that deserved a high-definition treatment and, fortunately, was forced into one by its remake (starring Keanu Reeves).
The Day the Earth Stood Still on Blu-ray Disc appears in 1.33:1 format, but it’s been remastered in a 1080p AVC MPEG-4 codec. Neither black-and-white nor full-screen presentations are associated with high definition, but don’t let those generalities fool you. This is a surprising crisp and clean presentation for a film shot almost half a century ago. The specks and dirt found on previous DVD releases are almost entirely removed, and the grain that remains is likely how it appeared on film for its 1951 release. Detail is astounding for a black-and-white presentation. From the slight folds in Gort’s armor to individual strands in Klaatu’s hair, the benefit of 1080p is clear. Most importantly for a film sans color, contrast is smooth and deep enough to discern between the lighter and darker areas without muddying the picture.
The original 1.0 mono soundtrack and an all-new 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track are both available, and although the 5.1 mix was never even technically possible 50-plus years ago, most of the dialogue and sound effects come straight from the center channel and are equally mixed so one doesn’t overpower the other. The surrounds simply receive a gentle replication of what’s going on in the front to fill out the room.
The only reason we’re getting this film on Blu-ray Disc, of course, is due to the remake with Neo, I mean, Keanu Reeves. And considering the lineup of bonus features, it’s clear that the marketing folks wanted to draw as much attention to the new version as possible. The Day the Earth Stood Still Remake Preview (7:49, HD) is an extensive preview that’s immediately force-fed before reaching the main title screen. It includes an extended scene of Klaatu being question by the government, which helps get the juices flowing for the original, though its real intent is to get you to go buy a ticket to see the new film theatrically.
Aside from two new Blu-ray exclusive interactive features, the remaining bonus features are mostly shared with the companion DVD special edition set with the added benefit of many being presented in high definition. The Audio Commentary with Director Robert Wise and Nicholas Meyer feels more like an interview than a real commentary track. The first words out of Meyer’s mouth are a question for Wise and this format continues throughout for the most part. Meyer does break away from questions for a few stretches and relaxes a bit, but otherwise he’s relatively reserved as if in the presence of an elder. Fortunately, there’s a Second Audio Commentary with film and music historians John Morgan, Steven Smith, William Stromberg and Nick Redman, although to be fair, this track isn’t as informative as Robert Wise. But, they are more animated in their dissection of the film, and they pull in a lot of film history that’s not necessarily a part of the film.
The Gort Command! Game is a Blu-ray exclusive BD-J game that requires using the arrows on a remote or the D-Pad on a PS3 controller to move an aiming reticule around screen to target and shoot soldiers and police officers. It starts relatively easy and then quickly grows progressively hard by the third level. The game is simple but fun, only hampered by pre-set movements for the aiming reticule instead of free movement anywhere on the screen and a lack of accompanying audio.
The next three bonus feature are all dedicated to the Theremin instrument which helps define the melodious and creepy theme music. The Mysterious, Melodious Theremin (5:40, HD) is a history lesson by Peter Pringle on the Theremin instrument that creates the freaky “out of this world” shimmering musical tones including a demonstration with the actual Theremin used on over 40 major motion picture soundtracks, including this one. This feature is extremely informative for those never introduced to the Theremin before.
In The Day the Earth Stood Still Main Title Live Performance by Peter Pringle (2:17. HD), Peter returns to play the main title sequence on the Theremin. It is remarkable to watch the intense concentration Peter needs to get the pitch and volume at the perfect levels. And Interactive Theremin: Create Your Own Score (HD, Blu-ray exclusive), viewers can “play” the Theremin by selecting from eight one-second notes and one one-second rest to create 30 seconds of music. Once previewed, edited and completed, you can insert your composition on top of the scene where Gort exits the spaceship. The spinning background behind this feature is hypnotizing which may be why I butchered my 30-second piece. Regardless, this is a fun feature and is right at home packaged with The Day the Earth Stood Still.
The Making of The Day the Earth Stood Still (23:53, HD) — Due to the film’s age this feature offers an historian’s perspective on how the film came together conceptually and eventually into an actual motion picture. You learn more about the persona of the producers than how the film was made, but it is still an intriguing look into Hollywood’s past akin to sitting in film class. For example, Spencer Tracy was wanted for Klaatu by the producers but director Robert Wise pushed, and won, for an unknown.
Decoding “Klaatu Barada Nikto”: Science Fiction as Metaphor (16:14) is a retrospective look into the times the film was made and how it spoke to crises occurring in the world at that time like the Korean War and nuclear arms race with Russia. The actual decoding, or what the filmmakers consider the translation to the phrase, does not occur until the final minutes. One of the most entertaining features, though, is A Brief History of Flying Saucers (34:02, HD), which isn’t as brief as the name lets on. It does start in a gripping manner with intense bass to simulate a TV broadcast being interrupted by an otherworldly presence. The rest is as the name suggests: a history of flying saucer sightings presented by experts interspersed with archival footage and stills. Of course, Roswell is addressed.
The Astounding Harry Bates (11:03, HD) is a biographical look at the author’s work in science fiction, even though he supposedly wasn’t a fan of the genre. Bates candidly offers his thoughts on the film from what is presumed old archival tapes but never addressed. Complementing this piece is Edmund North: The Man Who Made The Earth Stand Still (14:43, HD), which is focused on the screenwriter who took a lot of liberty with Bates’ original story. His daughter describes how he did his best work.
Race to Oblivion: A Documentary Short Written & Produced by Edmund North (26:52) is an old short that calls for peace on Earth as sung by children atop footage of war. In many respects it is still relevant today. Farewell to the Master (1:36:56) stars Jamieson K. Price as he reads the original Harry Bates short story against a flying saucer backdrop. Jamieson has an appropriately deep voice that makes this reading hard to turn off. And Fox Movietonnews 1951 (6:21) includes news clips of the U.S. and Japan signing a Security Plan at a NATO peace treaty conference.
Also included is an extensive Still Gallery and Teaser and Theatrical Trailer, both in standard definition with no work performed to clean up the prints. A Trailer for the 2008 remake is also included.
Had it not been for the new remake, we likely would not have seen the original The Day the Earth Stood Still on Blu-ray Disc until its 50th anniversary, in 2011. Instead, we get a classy treatment of a classic film, including hands-down the best video and audio presentation ever bestowed to it and a pair of Blu-ray exclusives that fit the tone of the film and provide a nice little next-gen bonus.
Buy The Day the Earth Stood Still (Special Edition) on Blu-ray at Amazon.com.
- Score: 8