- Author Simon Osborne-Walker
- Published November 13, 2013
Why I love… The Day The Earth Stood Still
And that’s the 1951 one version – not the Keanu version – insists Stuff magazine’s editor Simon Osborne-Walker. Don’t muddle that – and don’t judge him…
My long-standing answer when asked to name my favourite film has always been, pretentious as it may seem, Kenneth Brannagh’s Henry V. Flawless acting and casting, perfect pacing and editing, and even Brian Blessed appears to realise the importance of bringing such a script to life. I forget who wrote it, but he showed promise.
And then an event occurred recently that bubbled to the surface another epic flick about a tiny group achieving an amazing feat against all odds. I sat down with my four-year-old son to watch the wonderful Finding Nemo.
“Daddy, that was the best film ever! Better than Monsters, Inc.”
I didn’t argue but it did make me realise that my true feelings lay somewhere in between lighthearted cartoon fantasy and worthy historic bloodletting.
I know, you’re thinking: ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol. It must be!’ But it isn’t.
My favourite film is, I think, The Day The Earth Stood Still. (The 1951 original, of course, and not the remake in which terrible CGI managed to out-act terrible Keanu Reeves.)
Father to son to alien
I remember watching it at an early age, and loving it because it was one of my dad’s favourite films – alongside The Crimson Pirate and Genevieve. The more I watched it, the more I loved it for being simply a great movie.
There’s no mucking about in TDTESS. It’s tight, no flab. Within a few minutes humans have made first contact with aliens and the story has been set up, leaving plenty of time to flesh out the characters as the rest of the tale unfolds.
Amazingly, the charismatic Michael Rennie wasn’t the first choice for Klaatu, the alien being who’s not very alien but more like the posh neighbour your mum always fancied. It’s impossible to imagine any of Rennie’s contemporaries bringing such humanity (ha, the irony!) to the role. Patricia Neal is also perfect as the reserved, wary single mother whose son he befriends, and even the child actor playing her little boy manages not to be totally crap.
Please don’t dismiss this as just another cheesy ’50s B-movie sci-fi flick, though. The spooky alien soundtrack and wonderful use of shadow help to create suspense of which Hitchcock would be proud. And as Klaatu evades capture and learns more about mankind, it’s very soon the debonnaire alien you’re rooting for not the dimwitted earthlings.
Sure, it’s aged terribly in places. The giant robot, Gort, is too obviously a man in a rubber suit, and you never get much sense of it being gigantic. But at times Gort still manages to menace – and that silver latex onesie is no more offensive than much of today’s unconvincing CGI.
The film’s message is still relevant, though: stop making war, ban the bomb, etc. More enduring than anything else about The Day The Earth Stood Still, however, is the legendary command that initiates the movie’s climax:
“Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!” Well, quite.
Simon Osborne-Walker is editor of Stuff magazine
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