Halloween Endurance Test (2009): The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

[Another Halloween Endurance Test entry, this one circa 2009. A year where I watched one film a day, but gave up typing the reviews when the roller derby season dominated all my time.]

This review is about the original The Day the Earth Stood Still, not the Keanu Reeves remake. I’ll save that one for when we’re a couple weeks into this Endurance Test and I desperately want to stop. It’s way too early to start torturing myself so soon. [Fortunately for me, I never sank that low.]

Now I’m going to stop with all the usual stuff that gets talked about when discussing this classic. Everyone knows how far its influence stretches. How Klaatu’s name was “borrowed” for a Simpson’s alien character. How Sam Raimi re-immortalized the password “klaatu barata nikto” in Army of Darkness. Or about how the film preached against the ’50s nuclear arms race; serving as the ultimate sci-fi peace-nik statement during the Cold War. ‘Cuz while all that’s true, there is a seedier, underlying plot running through it.

This seedy underbelly is, of course, being pro-nuclear power. An agenda that steals much of this film’s alleged majesty for me. Klaatu does want the Earth to disarm, but he also promotes nuclear energy as a powerful and limitless resource that’s just waiting to be taken.

A powerful, limitless, and literally in-disposable resource. As in “there’s no way to get rid of it.” Klaatu conveniently leaves that part out. He offers no suggestions on where to store our spent nuclear waste. Not to sound like John Stauber and/or Sheldon Rampton but I know toxic sludge isn’t good for me!

Maybe it’s more of my modern cynicism clashing with its ’50s optimism, but am I the only one shocked by the mother in this movie? There’s an alien on the loose, a UFO parked front and center in Washington, D.C., and a mysterious stranger shows up at this lady’s boarding house with absolutely no concept of money. No idea for what money’s used for, but with a handful of flawless diamonds nonetheless.

So what does this woman do? Well, she needs a baby-sitter, so a mere six hours after meeting this mysterious stranger, she takes him up on his offer to watch her son. I mean, just like that, with no concern that this stranger might be the alien, a drug dealer, or a nuclear lobbyist.

We were so innocent back then. Nowadays people get scared whenever the President wants to address our school children. Back then, we didn’t care if Martians did it!

(Also of note is this film’s unsung hero, the Moog. Since no ’50s sci-fi/propaganda flick is complete without the Moog’s eerie synth-sounds.)

If you thought I could possibly write about the Day… without mentioning the murderous, rampage-prone robot Gort, you sir, are gravely mistaken! Gort rules, as all harbingers of doom should: silent and deadly.


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