The Day The Earth Stood Still
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
Release Date: March 4, 2003
Reviewed by Jack Briggs