The Day the Earth Stood Still

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(1951) ★★★★

More4: Saturday 12 September, 11.10am

The film that gave the 1950s its oddest catchphrase: “Klaatu barada nikto!” Which remains untranslated to this day. Michael Rennie is Klaatu, a human-like alien emissary who travels 250 million miles across space to discuss global peace plans with world leaders in Washington. The military has other ideas. Greeted on Capitol Hill’s lawns by troops and tanks and a trigger-happy soldier, Rennie still summons the strength to proclaim: “We have come to visit you in peace and with good will.”

Demonised in the media as a monster, a menace to be destroyed, he books into a boarding house under the name Mr Carpenter. Which is not the only allusion to his Christ-like fortitude. “I am fearful when I see people substituting fear for reason,” says Rennie to sympathetic Patricia Neal, a war widow with a young son. The boy’s not a brat, which is a blessing. Robert Wise’s moralising science fiction drama deserves its classic status for its creepy depiction of post-war paranoia.

Rennie, a rangy, remote British-born actor of patrician bearing, was rather impressive in the right role – the alien emissary here, the apostle Paul in The Robe, Harry Lime in the Third Man TV series. And Bernard Herrmann’s typically vibrant score is distinctive even before the unearthly theremin kicks in (Dimitri Tiomkin also deployed it in his score for The Thing from Another World). There are doomy organ phrases here that may have influenced Ennio Morricone’s iconic score for John Carpenter’s The Thing. 

20th Century Fox’s 2008 remake (Film4, 7pm) of their 1951 Cold War classic is an abject example of how to turn cinematic gold into dross. The shameless product placement doesn’t help, but the real damage is done by a dumbed-down script that can’t tell the difference between telling a story simply and being simplistic. Just to rub it in, Sky Movies Sci-fi/Horror has Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) at 6.30pm and ITV2 has ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (1981) at 6.55pm.

Certificate: U

Duration: 89min

IMDB – The Day the Earth Stood Still

TMDB – The Day the Earth Stood Still

Rotten Tomatoes – The Day the Earth Stood Still

Other Showings Time & Date
Film4 Saturday, 12 September at 7:00PM
More4 Friday, 18 September at 11:05AM