The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) Review

If you look at any top [insert number here] Sci-Fi films list, you’ll find The Day the Earth Stood Still. With that in mind I decided I should probably see it. Now I’m always really wary of older films. The last couple of times I saw a film of any age resembling The Day the Earth Stood Still they were On the Waterfront and The Hustler. I didn’t really enjoy either of them. It seems that films of the past have a slower pacing than films today. I’m all for slow building tension but back then tension seemed to drag. Whole sections of film could go past and nothing seemed to happen. I’ll have to admit I’m the kind of person that likes to be engaged and entertained throughout. I can do drama and strong, personal performances but the film also has to have some sort of pace.

I have a really bad habit of checking to see how long a film is before it starts. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that I like to know if the film is going to take the rest of my evening or just be a quick watch and then I can do something else. It’s also a good indication to whether I am enjoying it or not. If the film finishes after two hours and I haven’t once looked at the time on the Blu-Ray player, I’ve enjoyed it. If my eyes begin to drift and my attention starts focusing on how long I have left, I’m beginning to struggle. Especially if this happens just twenty minutes in. I found myself doing this with the The Hustler and On the Waterfront.

Not enough pace – Not enough happening!

I wasn’t doing this with The Day the Earth Stood Still. I am well aware that this is a completely different film to the two I have previously mentioned but I was concerned that this would be a two and half hour epic film that really didn’t go anywhere, like my experience of films from that time had been. This film ran at a nice ninety minutes and had a great pace, with lots of good action.

I could see from the beginning why it is deemed a science fiction classic. It doesn’t waste any time in introducing the spaceship and the spaceman and the story kicks off immediately. I didn’t know anything about the film before it started so I went in completely without judgement. This meant that I didn’t expect it to be a story about an alien trying to examine the human race by integrating himself with us and then finding out the best way to tell the planet to stop fighting on threat of destruction. It’s an interesting concept and one that highlights the prejudice in the world against something new, as well as fitting perfectly in the time it was made. Within the film are hints towards the discovery of the atomic bomb and the tension building around the Cold War. A woman even goes as far as to drop a huge hint at the alien might actually be a Russian!

Don’t think the Russians had one of these in the 1950’s.

This meant that even though it maintained a science fiction feel throughout (it has a killer robot, a healing spaceship and incredible spaceman healing cream) it actually made a great observation on the fear and prejudice that was within America after the end of the Second World War and the early days of the Cold War. It also did this by never being preachy or accusing. It was never extremist or ridiculous, it just conveyed the thoughts that most people would have if the news told you that an alien was walking around amongst us, undetectable.

It also made me consider how you would move this film to the present day. I am aware that there has been a remake starring Keanu Reeves and that it wasn’t well received but that may be because this film probably wouldn’t work today. The alien comes down to Earth to warn us that other planets with intelligent life are becoming concerned that we are developing the ability to destroy them with nuclear weapons and that we can’t be trusted. If the new film is set in 2008, the aliens are late! We would have had nuclear weapons for a long time and definitely shown that we can’t be trusted. In that case, they probably would just blown us up rather than reason with us.

He’s lucky he looks human or trying to live among us would have been tricky…

The film also works because information and they way in which we spread news was so slow back then. At one point in the film, a boy runs up to a crowd and shouts “Extra Extra, Alien on loose in Washington” and everyone runs forward, desperate to read the newspaper. Nowadays, the camera’s would be on that spaceship constantly and there is no way you’d get away with the spaceman sneaking back to his ship to heal himself or cause a world wide catastrophe to show how powerful he is. In fact with the technology we have, there is no way that the alien would be able to escape his captors. In my opinion, you couldn’t remake this film without changing key, fundamental parts of it. Maybe that’s why it didn’t work. It has left me intrigued to watch the new one though.

BBC and Sky News 24 would have killed this film.

Overall,  I really enjoyed the film. It wasn’t so heavy on the science fiction that you were distracted by the special effects of the time and it is a great example of a film reflecting on the world it’s conveying. It captures the fear, the suspicion and the potential for disaster that we were on the brink of in the late 1950’s.

Rating 2

(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)

Interested to see why this film didn’t work.

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