Daily Mail - Daily Mail Weekend Magazine

The Day The Earth Stood Still

The Day The Earth Stood Still

- Oliver Burton

(1951) U

1.20PM, CH4

Classic sci-fi fable, conceived as Cold War paranoia tightened its grip on America. Michael Rennie is the alien who arrives on Earth bearing a message of great importance for humanity – but gets a decidedly frosty reception.

Thursday, 1.20pm, Ch4 Robert Wise’s film set a benchmark in sci-fi cinema, though its origins were scarcely so ambitious. Producer Julian Blaustein of 20th Century Fox had noted the popularity of pulp sci-fi magazines, and planned to translate it to the screen. He specifical­ly wanted a story set on Earth, as re-creating outer space would be expensive. A 1940 story by Harry Bates, Farewell To The Master, fitted the bill; the special effects required to tell the tale amount to little more than a glowing blob in the sky, a flying saucer with retractabl­e ramp and a silver-painted robot suit.

The film’s success lay in the timeliness and unusual directness of its message – Klaatu, the extraterre­strial emissary, explicitly gives nuclear advancemen­t and the developmen­t of rockets as the reasons for interplane­tary interventi­on; previously, Earth’s ‘petty squabbles’ could be ignored. Wise (below) said his films always have a comment to make, but that it should come from the story, ‘without having the actors say it in so many words’. But The Day The Earth Stood Still was an exception – ‘the whole purpose of it was for Klaatu to deliver that warning at the end.’

And there has, of course, never been a time when the film’s antiwar message has not been relevant – though it is a pacifism backed up by force, in the shape of the giant robot Gort, an intergalac­tic predecesso­r of RoboCop that could reduce Earth ‘to a burnt-out cinder’.

The story behind the film

A significan­t difference from Harry Bates’s story was forced on screenwrit­er Edmund H. North by the censors. Bates ends with the revelation from the robot (named Gnut, rather than Gort) that ‘I am the Master.’ But in the film, when Klaatu is asked if Gort has the power of life or death, his reply is ‘No, that is a power reserved to the Almighty Spirit.’ The line was a compromise to get past the censors, and sits uneasily with the rest of the film. Klaatu as a Christ allegory was intentiona­l (when he goes into hiding, he assumes the identity of Major Carpenter), but North had meant it to be subliminal.

 ??  ??
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom