The Day The Earth Stood Stilll
There's a reason why "The Day The Earth Stood Still" (1951) has remained at the top of many people's "Best Films." It's a thought provoking film high concept film that keeps you thinking about it's message long after the closing credits.
The basic premise of the idea is brilliant in it's simplicity - Klaatu (Michael Rennie) is a being from another world comes to Earth and lands in Washington D.C. with a message of hope and peace - that also comes with a dire warning. His landing in Presidential Park is viewed by the military as hostile. When he tries to present a gift, it's mistaken as a weapon. Klaatu is shot by one of the trigger happy soldiers which causes the guardian Gort to come out of the space craft and begins to eliminate the threat surrounding their craft. After being treated, Klaatu is put in "protective custody" for a brief day or two and thus escapes. During his time on the run, he learns more about life on Earth and sees life through those around him, specifically Helen Benson (Patricia Neal.) her son, Bobby, (Billy Gray) and Professor Jacob Barnhardt, (Sam Jaffe.)
After a heart-felt conversation with Professor Barnhardt, Klaatu promises to give his message to all the people whom Barnhardt can gather around his saucer after he gives a demonstration of his civilizations abilities. Hence the name of the title, the Earth literally stands still at a particular point in time with notable exceptions when the worlds power grid is shut off and all gas engines stall.
People have no choice but stop, pay attention, and think.
That night and before entering his space craft for the last time to return home, Klaatu gives one of the most memorable monologues in cinematic history to all those who were able to hear him speak per Barnhardt's invatation. This is a dire warning about what will happen to earth if humanity doesn't not change its ways...
I am leaving soon, and you will forgive me if I speak bluntly. The universe grows smaller every day, and the threat of aggression by any group, anywhere, can no longer be tolerated. There must be security for all, or no one is secure. Now, this does not mean giving up any freedom, except the freedom to act irresponsibly. Your ancestors knew this when they made laws to govern themselves and hired policemen to enforce them. We, of the other planets, have long accepted this principle. We have an organization for the mutual protection of all planets and for the complete elimination of aggression. The test of any such higher authority is, of course, the police force that supports it. For our policemen, we created a race of robots. Their function is to patrol the planets in spaceships like this one and preserve the peace. In matters of aggression, we have given them absolute power over us. This power cannot be revoked. At the first sign of violence, they act automatically against the aggressor. The penalty for provoking their action is too terrible to risk. The result is, we live in peace, without arms or armies, secure in the knowledge that we are free from aggression and war. Free to pursue more... profitable enterprises.
Now, we do not pretend to have achieved perfection, but we do have a system, and it works. I came here to give you these facts. It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.
This dialog still gives me goose bumps whether or not it's read or spoken out-loud. The words are just as powerful today as when they were first spoken on the set and the motion picture was released. We are given a choice, "join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration." The end of the motion picture is both dire and hopeful at the same time. And at the time when "The Day The Earth Stood Still," there was a very real possibility that we would face our own destruction, not by aliens wishing to force their own pacifism on us for their own good, but by an atomic holocaust by our own hand.
If anything, Klaatu stands as a metaphor or the embodiment of a voice of reason: It is our choice whether or not we destroy our selves with the weapons of our own creation. It's nobody for else to chose for us, and it's up to us alone to make sure that we do not kill ourselves nor spread out violent nature across the stars. Honestly, this might be the only warning we have - were we to encounter a more advanced race and try to do to them what conquers did in the past when encountering indigenous people, they might simply snuff us out with the cosmic equivalent to a backhand.
Klaatu and those who he represents (whom we never see, and would make an interesting film if we did were there ever a follow-up to this verion...) prove that they are much more advanced then we are by giving humanity one good solid warning with one final chance. Here's your options, here are the consequences.
"The Day The Earth Stood Still" is an essential film for every classics fan, something that all retrocentrics need to see at least once to get a better understanding of the period in time we enjoy and the type of people and heroes we want to emulate. Klaatu is also a precursor to other SF heroes such as "Doctor Who" and any one of the various Captains/Vulcan First Officers of the ubiquitous Space Opera franchise.
No review of the original "The Day The Earth Stood Still" would be complete with out saying a few words about the remake staring
The modern remake of “The Day The Earth Stood Still” missed a lot of what made the original perfect. Keanu Reeves’ “Klaatu” is not an alien with a message for all mankind. He’s not an observer who is desperately seeking an audience to tell his story to. He’s not someone from an advanced civilization who wants to tell us what the consequences of our actions will be.
In this version Klaatu is a would be mass-murder who is simple there to tell the people of the Earth that it’s too late. The united counsel of advanced civilizations have come to the conclusion that genocide is in order. After the super-spheres gather up enough of the Earths indigious creatures, the Earth is to be whipped clean, sterilized and then repopulated with the creatures that were temporarily taken off-world.
Klaatu: We can't risk the survival of this planet for the sake of one species.
Helen Benson: What are you saying?
Klaatu: If the Earth dies, you die. If you die, the Earth survives. There are only a handful of planets in the cosmos that are capable of supporting complex life...
Helen Benson: You can't do this.
Klaatu: ...this one can't be allowed to perish.
Wow, that’s very totalitarian of you… cleaning up our mess after exterminating us. You have the power to get out attention, you have the technology to help us mend our ways, but it’s just easier to implement your final solution? Are their any swastikas on any of your Intergalactic Environmental Police Force?
Klaatu is justified in committing genocide. He has reasons he thinks are valid. There’s a moment when he’s confronted by John Cleese's "Professor Barnhardt…"
Professor Barnhardt: There must be alternatives. You must have some technology that could solve our problem.
Klaatu: Your problem is not technology. The problem is you. You lack the will to change.
Professor Barnhardt: Then help us change.
Klaatu: I cannot change your nature. You treat the world as you treat each other.
Professor Barnhardt: But every civilization reaches a crisis point eventually.
Klaatu: Most of them don't make it.
Professor Barnhardt: Yours did. How?
Klaatu: Our sun was dying. We had to evolve in order to survive.
Professor Barnhardt: So it was only when your world was threatened with destruction that you became what you are now.
Professor Barnhardt: Well that's where we are. You say we're on the
brink of destruction and you're right. But it's only on the brink that
people find the will to change. Only at the precipice do we evolve. This
is our moment. Don't take it from us, we are close to an answer.
The rest of the motion picture is a Sci-Fi visual extravaganza and it’s easy to lose the message here: But what exactly is the message?
This Klaatu finally gets it after his point is reinforced after a conversation with Jaden Smith’s “Jacob Benson” who thought that he should have been killed all along because that’s what “all young boys are trained to think.” Since the boy is able to see the error of his ways and finally admit to peace being the best and only answer, then by goodness Humanity might be worthy of saving! Forget that bit about his step mom Dr. Helen Benson risking everything to save Klaatu and try and be a good example of human kind for him… DORTHY! Pay no attention to the plot hole behind that curtain! I am the great and all powerful Al Gore!
Speaking of Al Gore… had it never occurred to Helen or Professor Barnhardt to show Klaatu Mr. Gore’s “An Incontinent Truth” or even more effectively - some of my rants? There’s plenty of evidence that there are people regardless of ideology who are concerned about this planet. There are plenty of people like myself who are frightened out of our minds because Big Government is paving the way for Big Industry to feed the consumer-beast, raping the resources to take what they need, and then rape the environment again via landfills when we throw our unwanted gadgets away for the newest and greatest thing.
It never dawns on the film makers to have someone show Klaatu that there are some of us who want to fix things before the tipping point? There are those of us who want to work with anyone offering to help?
The most horrific aspect of this motion picture is the notion that not just one advanced civilization wants to exterminate humanity and over look our striving for something better through music or art, but there’s a whole group of advanced civilization who are thirsty for our destruction. Since bloodlust and the will to commit another holocaust is alive in beings that have evolved beyond us - no matter how justified they think they are, then what hope is there for “primitive” species like us? If they can't evolve past the need to use death as a tool, then what hope is there for us to do the same?
This version of “The Day The Earth Stood Still” is not as hopful and optimistic as the original. There is no message of “Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.” In this message: It’s clean up our mess before we’re exterminated for being the filthy insects that we are.