The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Day the Earth Stood Still</strong> (1951)

(On TV, July 2018) To today’s audiences, there’s no denying that the original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still is incredibly dated. But, as a comparison with its 2008 remake quickly shows, that’s a large part of its charm. As a reflection of Cold War preoccupations, it’s quite interesting. It never gets any better than when it shows (in montage, even!) the world of 1951 reacting to an alien invasion, with contemporary newscasters offering information and opinions, period cars rushing through Washington DC streets, and serious people trying to come to grasp with the intrusion. This original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still is, with its boarding houses, romantic conventions, Cold War calculations and anti-nuclear message, integral to its time period. It does suffer from creaky execution issues (special effects, staging and acting are not exactly seamless) and sometimes veers into unintentional hilarity (“How can this alien be so old and yet look so young?”, doctors wonder while lighting up cigarettes) but focusing on those details is missing the point—at the time, and maybe even today, having aliens land to deliver a semi-peaceful “denuclearize or else” message was a daring statement. The Day the Earth Stood Still remains perfectly respectable as an idea-driven science-fiction film, not interested in aliens as monsters but as judges delivering a moral message to contemplate. The period feel of the time is now interesting in its own right, adding a new dimension to the film that wasn’t there originally. Big ideas, anthropological tourism, touches of humour, religious allegory and an unsettling ending? Not bad for a film having reached retirement age.

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