Mr. Klaatu goes to Washington
After watching the 2008 remake of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and being less than impressed I decided to re-watch the 1951 version of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" a movie which I had only ever seen once but had left an impression on me. And it has to be said that despite being 60 years old the original the original "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is still a brilliant movie. The one major reason why the 1951 version of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is so good is that it is a movie all about the storyline which uses the effects to embellish it rather than the other way around as in the inferior remake.
When an UFO lands on the Mall in Washington DC the whole world is gripped by this unexpected visitor, even more so when the lone passage an alien called Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and his giant robot Gort (Lock Martin) emerge. But despite coming in peace a jumpy American soldier fires on the alien visitor. It soon become apparent that Klaatu is here on a mission to warn everyone on the planet that unless they change their ways bad things will happen. But unfortunately it proves difficult for Klaatu to deliver his message to a World which is fractured by war.
It has to be said that "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is a movie of it's time with the whole sci-fi factor when it comes to aliens visiting earth and at the same time building a storyline around the split countries and the threat of war. As such the storyline is dated, there are elements which almost seem comical as the world has changed but the overall message of the movie still remains strong. Yes "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is very much a movie with a message and that of as humans we need to change or else we will end up destroying the world, not through environmental issues as such but through war and destruction. It has to be said that the delivery of the message goes from subtle to in your face but it works for the simple reason it makes you think.
Aside from this movie message with Klaatu coming to the earth to warn us of what may happen "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is very much a movie which revels in the whole sci-fi, men from out of space thing and it is so enjoyable. The special effects may not be brilliant but they are there to act purely as a way of telling the story rather than being the main focus. But what is special is the whole sense of mystery, intrigue and threat which having a "man from Mars" roaming about on the planet especially as the American police are so edgy towards him, ready to shoot first speak later. As such and as the storyline unfolds it does get you close to the edge of your seat in anticipation. You wonder what Klaatu will do, whether his giant robot Gort will spring into action or whether the police will capture him.
These two things, the whole movie message and the way the story unfolds gripping you with what will happen is a major part why watching "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is so entertaining. The special effects, especially those revolving around Gort may be weak, but you are drawn into every single moment, every single scene as you want to know what happens. And to make it that bit more special it manages to squeeze in lighter moments, the smile and knowing look of Klaatu as he marvels at the almost primitive technology on Earth or the slightly amusing interactions with Professor Jacob Barnhardt.
What also helps is that the acting works through out "The Day the Earth Stood Still". Patricia Neal works well as the slightly wide eyed Helen who ends up befriending Klaatu and Billy Gray gives plenty of Boy's Own oomph to his performance as Helen's son Bobby. But it is Michael Rennie as Klaatu who really carries the movie on his shoulders and does a good job. In Klaatu, Rennie exudes a quietness, an alien peace which makes him mysterious especially with everything going on around him, yet it is those knowing looks he gives at the primitive ways on earth which gives him an essence of being human like. It means that we instantly warm to Klaatu because we know he is a good guy despite being mysterious and possibly a threat.
What this all boils down to is that the original, 1951 version of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is not only the better version of the movie but also a pretty good movie in it's own right. The fact that the emphasis of the movie is solely on the story telling makes it much more interesting especially as it draws you into a dramatic ending and the message it tries to deliver still works just as well now. But it is also the performance of Michael Rennie which takes it to another level as he makes for a perfect visitor from another planet, mysterious yet likeable.