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The Day the Earth Stood Still: 2-Disc Special Edition DVD Review

The Day the Earth Stood Still: 2-Disc Special Edition

December 8, 2008

Director: Robert Wise,
Starring: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe, Billy Gray, Frances Bavier, Lock Martin,

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DVD Review

One good thing that comes out of completely unnecessary Hollywood remakes of cinematic classics is that the original is usually given the deluxe treatment on home video. This year, Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly star in a remake of the science fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and to coincide with this new version, 20th Century Fox is re-releasing the original on an extras-laden two-disc special edition. The previous version was pretty good so is this one worth the double-dip?

An unidentified flying object is spotted orbiting the Earth at incredible speeds. The spacecraft eventually lands in Washington, D.C. The army is mobilized and quickly surrounds the craft. A being named Klaatu (Rennie) emerges saying that he comes in peace. Naturally, the military opens fire, wounding him. Another being appears, a large, silver robot named Gort (Martin) who proceeds to easily disintegrate a few weapons and a tank. Klaatu claims that the future of Earth is at stake and asks to speak to the leaders of all the countries of the world. However, none of the leaders can agree on a place where they can all meet.

Disappointed at this reaction, Klaatu escapes the hospital he was being held at and mingles in with the general populace – it helps that he looks like an average adult human male – in order to understand these frustrating attitudes. He rents a room at a nearby boarding house and meets an inviting group of people, including the kind Mrs. Benson (Neal) and her young boy Bobby (Gray), with whom Klaatu becomes fast friends. Klaatu meets with Professor Barnhardt (Jaffe sporting an Albert Einstein-esque hairdo), one of the smartest men on the planet, and appeals to his intellect while also repeating his intentions.

The 1950s was the golden age for science fiction with all kinds of films about alien invasions or insects mutated by atomic radiation. The Day the Earth Stood Still is among the very best from this decade (or from any decade for that matter) and also one of the most influential science fiction films. It tweaks the traditional alien invasion story so that they come in peace in order to save us from ourselves. If this sounds familiar, James Cameron would revisit this premise with his own sci-fi film, The Abyss (1989). Like all good films of this genre, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a warning for us to stop our aggressive capacity for war and the stupidity of such behaviour. It is one of those rare science fiction films that places an emphasis on conveying a thought-provoking message with intelligence while still containing the requisite action.

Special Features:

The first disc features an audio commentary by director Robert Wise and director Nicholas (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) Meyer. To start things off, Meyer asks Wise how he got involved in the project and what kind of input he had during the early stages. Meyer does a good job of asking Wise plenty of questions and keeps him talking. They cover a variety of topics like casting and themes in what amounts to an excellent conversation between two directors.

There is an additional commentary by film and music historians John Morgan, Steven Smith, William Stromberg, and Nick Redman that was not on any previous editions. Redman moderates while the others analyze and discuss the brilliance of Bernard Herrmann’s score. They point out that the music is used sparingly and judiciously. If you’re into film soundtracks, then this track is for you.

Also included is an isolated music track that allows one to listen to Herrmann’s score, which is brand new to this disc.

“The Making of The Day the Earth Stood Still” takes a look at how the film came together. It is pointed out that the filmmakers wanted to make an earthbound, realistic science fiction film. They wanted to capitalize on the public’s fascination with UFOs. Some of the topics covered in the Wise commentary are repeated here. This is apparently an edited version of the original, 70-minute version on the previous edition.

Also new, is “The Mysterious, Melodious Theremin,” which examines one of the most unique musical instruments that is played through gestures. This featurette gives a brief history of the instrument and we are shown how it works.

The Day the Earth Stood Still Main Title Live Performance by Peter Pringle” features the man actually performing the Theremin parts of this song. This is also a new feature and a nice addition.

“Farewell to the Master: A Reading by Jamieson K. Price” is another new extra that features an audio reading of the original short story by Harry Bates broken up into three chapters.

“Fox Movietone News (1951)” shows the Cold War heating up and the U.S. and Japan signing a security act, which did not help our relations with the Russians.

Also included are teaser and theatrical trailers, as well as one for the 2008 remake.

Disc two features all brand new extra material.

“Decoding ‘Klaatu Barada Nikto’” examines how the Cold War, the Red Scare in the U.S., and the Korean War contributed to the fear of the unknown depicted in the film.

“A Brief History of Flying Saucers” runs just over 30 minutes and takes a look at the UFO phenomenon. Their emergence in the public consciousness began in 1947 with a citing by Kenneth Arnold and the infamous citing in Roswell, New Mexico. Experts both legitimate and of rather dubious nature are interviewed.

“The Astounding Harry Bates” examines this legendary pulp author. He was not a fan of science fiction even though he was good at writing them. He was an editor and writer for Astounding Stories magazine and later Amazing Stories.

“Edmund North: The Man Who Made the Earth Stand Still” takes a look at the life and career of the film’s screenwriter. He was a firm believer of less is more when it came to his writing.

“Race to Oblivion” is a short documentary written and produced by North in 1982 about nuclear disarmament. Burt Lancaster appears and talks to a survivor of one of the nuclear attacks on Japan.

Finally, there are a collection of galleries that feature an interactive pressbook, advertising, behind-the-scenes, portraits, production photographs, spaceship construction blueprints, and the shooting script.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 99%

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