DVD Review HTF REVIEW: "The Day The Earth Stood Still" (guest review by Jack Briggs)

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  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator
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    The Day The Earth Stood Still





    Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
    Year: 1951
    Rated: G
    Film Length: 92 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: Full Frame (1.33:1)
    Subtitles: English and Spanish




    Editor's Note: Jack Briggs came to me and asked if
    he could review the upcoming DVD release of one of
    his all-time favorite films. I could think of no
    better person to give this movie the kind of review
    it deserves than Jack Briggs. I hope you enjoy his
    guest review



    According to producer Julian Blaustein, he and
    director Robert Wise felt it was essential that
    their proposed science-fiction allegory and
    cautionary tale be played with an absolute emphasis
    on realism. The story had, he says, to be anchored
    in the day-to-day reality of the paranoia-driven
    politics of 1950s America. Otherwise, audiences
    would have dismissed The Day the Earth Stood Still
    as yet another low-budget outer-space tale not to
    be taken seriously.

    Too, says Blaustein, in order for him and Wise to
    get their core point across—i.e., that an external
    solution to an ever-deepening nuclear crisis is
    necessary, perhaps in the form of United Nations
    intervention—wrapping their tale in a science-fiction
    veneer was necessary in order to enhance the film’s
    chances of slipping past the censorship-wary studio
    wags.

    It was, after all, the zenith of the McCarthy era.

    A search for suitable source material ensued, and
    soon they stumbled across a Harry Bates short story
    called “Farewell to the Master.” And from there one
    of the all-time classics of filmed science fiction
    began to take shape.

    Another critical decision made very early in the
    preproduction process was not to cast a name star
    in the lead role of Klaatu, the interplanetary
    emissary. Blaustein, during his interview for the
    disc’s 70-minute documentary extra, Making the Earth
    Stand Still
    , states that he correctly believed a
    recognizable star would draw audience attention to
    the actor instead of the role. (Blaustein even had
    to resist studio boss Darryl Zanuck’s insistence on
    casting Spencer Tracey in the Klaatu/“Carpenter” role.)

    Shortly afterward, British stage actor Michael Rennie
    came to their attention, and Blaustein and Wise knew
    they had their man. The rest of the cast soon fell in
    place with Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe (as
    the Einstein-like Professor Barnhardt), and Billy Gray
    (as little Billy Benson, in one of the most memorable
    performances ever by a child actor).

    The resulting film is familiar enough: A saucer-shaped
    spacecraft lands on a baseball field in Washington
    D.C. Shortly after, a spacesuit-clad Klaatu emerges,
    bearing a gift in his left hand. But a trigger-happy
    GI mistakes it for a weapon and shoots the spaceman,
    seriously wounding him. This forces the spacecraft’s
    other occupant to emerge, an eight-foot-tall robot
    called Gort. Immediately, the robot’s visor-weapon
    vaporizes all guns, rifles, and artillery in the
    vicinity. Bystanders flee in terror.

    A presidential envoy visits the convalescent Klaatu
    at Walter Reed Hospital, whereupon the spaceman
    informs the aide that he has a message that must be
    delivered simultaneously to all heads of state. When
    this proves unworkable, Klaatu clandestinely escapes
    the hospital and assumes the identity of an officer
    named Carpenter. As Carpenter, Klaatu is able to
    immerse himself in society, taking a room in a
    Washington boarding house and befriending the
    widowed Mrs. Benson (Neal) and her son Billy, despite
    a jealous suitor’s (Marlowe) concerns.

    The rest of the story unfolds with Klaatu’s cover
    eventually being discovered. However, Klaatu confides
    in Professor Barnhardt, who attempts to arrange a
    meeting with the visitor and the world’s leading
    scientists. The military, though, intervenes before
    the meeting can take place.

    And the fate of the planet hangs in the balance.
    Will humanity respond to the challenge posed by Klaatu's
    arrival? How will Gort respond?

    The Day the Earth Stood Still, at heart, is a
    human message for inhuman times, having lost none
    of its relevance in the decades since. Its theme of
    an enforced peace in the face of nuclear annihilation
    is eerily resonant in the current era. As a result,
    the film possesses a timeliness that transcends
    its 1950s sensibilities—proof positive of its status
    as art as opposed to mere entertainment.

    Thus, it’s unfair to summarily dismiss the film
    as “just” science fiction. But as science fiction,
    The Day the Earth Stood Still has, to this day,
    been surpassed only by two or three films. It’s a
    classic, a story for the ages.


    How is the transfer?


    The studio meticulously restored the original
    elements, and it shows. Robert Wise’s film has
    probably not looked this good since those first prints
    were struck in 1951. This reviewer’s exposure to a
    pair of good 35mm prints as well as joint ownership
    of an excellent 16mm print in the 1970s was not
    preparation enough for how good this two-sided
    DVD looks.

    Such overused DVD-review clichés as “filmlike” and
    “silky smooth” apply but do not do this disc justice.
    Few black-and-white film-to-video transfers are
    this good. One never gets the acute sense of “watching
    video” when screening this DVD. It truly is like
    screening a film print. Perhaps a 1080i high-def
    master would look better, but not by much. Owning
    this DVD is tantamount to owning the film itself.

    The transfer is that good.


    Special Features


    Similarly, Fox has managed to squeeze every last
    ounce of high fidelity out of this film’s monophonic
    soundtrack. Frequency response at the extremes is
    exemplary. An optional stereo soundtrack showcases
    Bernard Herrmann’s brilliant, theramin-propelled score
    to great effect. But the monophonic track dazzles.

    Besides the film itself, Side One features a
    well-reproduced Movietone newsreel. Side Two features
    the Making the Earth Stand Still documentary as well
    as a fascinating look at the film’s restoration. The
    trailer, a photo gallery, and shooting-script
    reproduction round out the extras.

    Fox has packed an awful lot onto one disc.


    Final thoughts


    The appearance of The Day the Earth Stood Still on
    DVD has been an on-again off-again rumor for years.
    When the present management team at 20th Century Fox
    Home Entertainment took the helm and announced that
    this title was in the works, fans just knew something
    special was in the offing. It can be stated without
    equivocation the disc has been worth the wait. One
    of the classics of modern science fiction has been
    given the treatment it so richly deserves. It’s a
    black-and-white film with a monophonic soundtrack,
    and the result is a DVD that’s as good as it gets.

    A must-have, this DVD cannot be recommended highly
    enough.


    Release Date: March 4, 2003

    Reviewed by Jack Briggs
     
  2. Kwang Suh

    Kwang Suh Supporting Actor

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    Looks like a buy for me.
     
  3. Jeff_HR

    Jeff_HR Producer

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    Very nice review Jack. Thank you very much. You have me salivating waiting for my copy to arrive next week. I can't wait to hear the Herrmann soundtrack. I hope all the films in this series are treated with this sort of care. This DVD is fabulous value for the money.
     
  4. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    Great review!

    I'll be buying this as soon as I get the chance. I've only seen clips, so this will be wonderful to see.
     
  5. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    maybe that review gives away too much of the plot when it reveals what happens to klaatu in the cab.

    otherwise a great review.

    i can't wait till next week so i can watch this movie
     
  6. Richard Smith

    Richard Smith Stunt Coordinator

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    Excellent review Jack! I've been waiting for this to come to DVD for a long time and I'm happy to hear its been treated so well. Thank you Fox. I received shipping notice on my copy earlier today, so hopefully I'll be watching it this weekend.
     
  7. Nick Graham

    Nick Graham Screenwriter

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    1:33:1? Fool screen only on a sc-fi classic? BOYCOTT FOX!!!!


    Oh, wait.......
     
  8. Jeff_HR

    Jeff_HR Producer

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  9. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    jeff you didnt quote his entire post.

    nick was kidding.
     
  10. Dennis Nicholls

    Dennis Nicholls Lead Actor

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    I'll skip on this release and wait for the colorized widescreen version....... Plus some of those special effects need to get redone in CGI.....
     
  11. Mark_vdH

    Mark_vdH Screenwriter

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    The "sadness" of reading such a great review of a favorite title you already know you're gonna get, is that it doesn't serve its purpose of "winning you over", but instead only frustrates you about not owning it yet. [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Non-US members should get the R1 version and NOT the PAL edition. That is if you want the 70 minute documentary.....
     
  12. SteveGon

    SteveGon Executive Producer

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    Talk about anticipation...
     
  13. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

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    Hi Mark

    Don't worry as I am eagerly awaiting my copy.

    Jack

    Outstanding review indeed and as has been said before, I am waiting for my copy to arrive

    [​IMG]
     
  14. Tim RH

    Tim RH Second Unit

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    Wait, what about the Robert Wise audio commentary? It is still on the disc, right?
     
  15. Steve Christou

    Steve Christou Long Member

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    Great review Jack, TDTESS has always been one of my favorite SF films, and I can't wait to get my hands on this dvd.[​IMG]

    "Klaatu... barada... Necktie Nikto!" [​IMG]
     
  16. Zen Butler

    Zen Butler Producer

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    Jack, thank you so much for your review. I have anticipated this release for some time.

     
  17. Randy A Salas

    Randy A Salas Screenwriter

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  18. Jeff_HR

    Jeff_HR Producer

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  19. Lou Sytsma

    Lou Sytsma Producer

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    Great review Jack! I'm right there with you. This is MY
    Citizen Kane!
     
  20. Peter Apruzzese

    Peter Apruzzese Producer

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    Well done, Mr. Briggs. One of my most anticipated DVDs of the year! Even though I'm running this film in 35mm on March 8th, I'm still looking forward to picking this up immediately.
     

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