DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

The Day The Earth Stood Still, Blu-ray (1951/2008)

Widely regarded as the best sci-fi film ever made, now remastered in hi-def B&W to compare with the big budget remake just opening in theaters.

Published on December 15, 2008

The Day The Earth Stood Still, Blu-ray (1951/2008)
The Day The Earth Stood Still, Blu-ray (1951/2008)

Director: Robert Wise
Starring: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Sam Jaffe

Music: Bernard Hermann
Studio: 20th Century Fox [Release date: Dec. 12, 08]
Video: 1.33:1 full frame B&W, 1080p HD
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DD mono, Spanish DD 5.1
Subtitles: English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Captioned
Extras: Commentary track by Robert Wise and Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek director); New commentary track by film & music historians John Morgan, Steven Smith, Wm. Stromberg & Nick Redman; “The Mysterious Theremin” featurette; “Interactive Theremin: Create Your Own Score Game; Isolated track of just the music in DTS 5.1, Live performance of main theme on theremin by Peter Pringle; “The Making of TDTESS,” “Decoding Klaatu Barada Nikto;” “Science Fiction as Metaphor;” “A Brief History of Flying Saucers;” “The Astounding Harry Bates;” “Edmund North: The Man Who Made the Earth Stand Still;” “Race to Oblivion” doc. short; James K. Price reads the original Harry Bates short story; Fox Movietonews clip 1951; Trailers; Interactive pressbook; Still galleries; Sneak peak at the new Fox feature with Keanu Reeves
Length: 92 minutes
Rating: *****

I haven’t seen the new remake in the theaters, but it’s about as difficult to imagine a remake of this 1951 classic – widely regarded as the best sci-fi film ever made – to be any more successful than a remake of Casablanca or Citizen Kane.  This Blu-ray reissue is up to the highest standards of The Criterion Collection in providing a crystal-clear B&W image with a deep tonal range, a somewhat effective surround track as well as the mono original, and so many bonus items that I couldn’t make it thru all of them although those I did view fully held my interest.

This was the perfect story for the difficult Cold War period of the 50s.  Concerns about nuclear Armageddon were rife everywhere, and other sci-fi movies of the period featured horrible destructive aliens – light years different from the aliens of Close Encounters.  It opens with a spaceship landing in Washington D.C. Its peaceful emissary  Klaatu (Rennie) captures the world’s attention by stopping all electrical activity (except hospitals and planes in the air) for exactly 30 minutes. A young boy and his mother befriend him in his struggle to assemble the world’s leaders to hear his message. Klaatu’s speech to the multitudes at the conclusion of the film still stands as a wonderful statement that the world should strive for but will probably never achieve.  One expert expressed his opinion that The Day The Earth Stood Still was not really a sci-fi film but a political one.

The acting is fine, although it was interesting to hear Patricia Neal reveal in one of the interviews that she was constantly laughing at what she felt was the ridiculousness of the plot and dialog. Although of course it takes place in the 50s the film really doesn’t seem that dated now.  The special effects are reasonable and not at all embarrassing by today’s standards.  Hearing in the extras about the seven-foot-tall doorman they put in the robot’s suit was fascinating.  Since this was the first feature film to employ the theremin in its soundtrack score, it’s appropriate to have three extras on that unusual electronic instrument.  The one on its invention by Leon Theremin in 1929 and some of its history afterwards is good viewing. It might stimulate some to want to view the two fine DVD documentaries concerning the instrument: Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey, and The Moog.  We also have reviewed several CDs of music performed on the theremin – check out our site Search box.

 - John Sunier




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