Gort! Klaatu Barada Nikto! Cinema's coolest robot is back
as he and his alien emissary partner try to convince mankind
to ditch nuclear weapons, set aside warfare and work in union.
By the way, their message does have a codicil: it's 'Goodnight
Vienna', Washington, Baghdad and everywhere else if we don't
a film that works both as great entertainment and as a passionate
antiwar call, promoting the United Nations as the only viable
forum for conflict resolution. Even if it were more than 50
years old, many, perhaps most of you would wholeheartedly
endorse its message today.
imagine another film. It is also classic cinema. However,
it states that if a rogue entity threatens its neighbours
and is poised to extend its reach, it must be given this ultimatum:
fall into line or face total annihilation. Again, you can
see the nods of recognition - and quite a few of you would
concur with this argument.
let's imagine just one film - because both readings can apply
to The Day The Earth Stood Still.
DTESS was primarily intended to have the first message,
as director Robert Wise and producer Julian Blaustein note
on a timely Region 1 edition of this 1951 masterpiece (unfortunately,
we don't get Blaunstein's input on the also just-out Region
2 disc - more of that later).
a time when other flying saucer/invader entries played up
McCarthyite paranoia about 'reds under the bed', Blaustein
got 20th Century Fox to put its full resources behind a movie
with an opposed point of view. One character, a thinly fictionalised
Albert Einstein, is even played by a then blacklisted actor,
In an excellent 70-minute documentary, Blaustein reveals how
the idea for DTESS began when he saw press reports
of a "peace offensive" and noted the obvious contradiction.
Sci-fi could be the ideal genre to tackle the subject, he
thought, and sought out an appropriate story as his vehicle,
finally lighting on Harry Bates' 'Farewell To The Master'.
completely reworked by screenwriter Edmund North - the robot
Gort (originally Gnut) and Klattu are virtually all that survives
from the original and even their relationship is radically
changed - DTESS also gained a strong Messiah theme:
its alien adopts the pseudonym Carpenter and undergoes a type
this in mind, one might cheekily ask if the film's 1999 theatrical
re-release in France influenced the long-term thinking of
Jacques Chirac. That is until you dig a little deeper. Then
you conclude that perhaps Tony Blair's speechwriters should
rent the disc.
is no negotiator; he arrives with an ultimatum. Mankind now
has the capability to reach into space and visit its violence
upon galactic neighbours. In response, he is "blunt": join
the other 'planets' in renouncing weapons of mass destruction
or carry on as you are and suffer a pre-emptive strike that
will turn Earth into a "burnt cinder".
have debated the central contradiction in DTESS since
its release - encouraged by an open-ended climax - and events
today suggest we are no nearer a solution. The one thing that
is agreed upon is that the work's intelligence in tackling
the subject puts its head, shoulders and upper torso above
almost all its peers.
script - with dialogue that remains crisp and natural in 2003
- seamlessly interweaves its themes with the essential drama
of the 'peaceful' alien coming up against mankind in 'shoot
first' mode. Wise's direction is note perfect, pulling on
his own experiences making B&W horror features for RKO, film
noir, and the documentary realist style that was filtering
into Hollywood from Europe back in the early 1950s.
is also a welcome economy to the film. 'Less is more' is the
overriding dictum from the shooting style and plotting to
the understated but sensitive performances, and the sleek
lines that make Gort a classic movie menace. In just 92 minutes,
the movie carries you along, rapt in attention and admiration.
no surprise that an acknowledged classic has got excellent
treatment on DVD. What is disappointing is that Fox has opted
to put out a significantly inferior package in Europe.
2 gets some valuable extras. Most notably, the disc features
a superb, new black and white transfer and a 2.0 Dolby Digital
stereo remix. As Wise is a director who knows how to make
light and shadow work (as indeed did cinematographer Leo Tover),
the master restores an important dimension to a familiar film.
Wise's wishes also dictated the soundtrack options - he dislikes
surround sound as a distraction from the on-screen image -
but justice is nonetheless done to Bernard Hermann's famous
and, at the time, hugely innovative score.
Also, for Region 2, Wise joins up with fellow director Nicholas
Meyer for an informative, witty and, in parts, sparky commentary.
Meyer followed Wise into the Star Trek movie director's
chair with The Wrath of Khan and is not afraid of saying
what he does not like about DTESS, while also putting
some acute questions. The 'informed' Q&A format is rapidly
emerging as the best approach to this extra.
other miscellaneous goodies include clips to illustrate the
restoration process, the original trailer, and a useful and
amusing compilation from 1950s Movietone newsreels, cutely
mixing the 'cheese' with a contextual history lesson.
you'd normally consider this pretty good , particularly given
the age of the film. But flip the Region 1 disc and the fun
First, there is the documentary. True, its interview with
Wise duplicates much of his commentary, but Blaustein's views
are invaluable to better understanding the film, and there
are further useful contributions from actress Patricia Neal
and fan-turned-director Joe Dante.
America also gets stills galleries - including the US and
UK press books- and a copy of the shooting script. Almost
all of these extras have been carried straight across from
Fox's 1995 laserdisc release, and the studio apparently owns
Given that Michael Rennie's starring role made DTESS,
if anything, an even bigger event in the UK than the US (it
was his first Hollywood job, although he had been an established
British star for some years), and greatly contributed to its
European status, the decision to drop these features in Region
2 seems perverse. French and Spanish speakers may also care
to note that they will get their own mono soundtracks and
there are Spanish subtitles on the import version.
With this in mind, the European release merits 7/10. The film,
after all, is what really matters and its basic presentation
is terrific. However, for those with multi-region players,
there really is only one option. That import is quite simply
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