The Day the DVD Stood Still

While there are a lot of platitudes that can be assigned to the film The Day the Earth Stood Still, such as ‘classic’, ‘landmark’, or ‘timeless’ , which all seem rather over used and loosely applied, do in fact still ring true for the film. Setting the standard for serious science fiction films is no easy mantel to carry, but watching the film again reenforces this idea tenfold.

Directed by Robert Wise in 1951 and set against the backdrop of the coming Cold War paranoia, the film’s religious symbology and allegorical structure are the key to this preservation. Even though the effects are dated, it is the utterly simplistic and poetic story telling that give the film its timeless quality and stake in history. Much like the early Twilight Zone episodes, this film uses its effects and music sparingly to focus on the black and white human drama unfolding on screen. However, it is this sparing use of the effects that also make Gort the robot so memorably scary, as well as the sparse use of the legendary theremin instrument that makes the score so endearingly creepy and original and immitated (not to mention its composer Bernard Herrmann). If you’ve yet to see this film, I’d recommend you stop reading and go watch it immediately.

While this film was already released on DVD back a few years ago, Fox has pulled all the stops out to promote the living hell out of their remake of the same title. While this is fairly common practice, it does concern me greatly to think people will always see the new movie in theaters and forget about the original, so that the title The Day the Earth Stood Still will be associated with a sub par, unnecessary effort rather than an enduring…’classic’. Why remakes can’t at least be titled something different is beyond my understanding, as even calling the new film Farewell to the Master (the original short story on which the film is based) would be a step up from confusing or distorting people’s idea of what to associate with the title. Perhaps Keanu Saves the World, AGAIN didn’t test well, or Keanu Boxoffice Notgood was a little too ominous for the executives.

Thankfully this DVD is somewhat light on the promotion factor for the new film, with its little preview at the DVD’s start (which you can thankfully skip through) and a single trailer included for the 2008 film. The rest of the DVD package is fairly awesome, improving pretty much everything from the initial release.

The picture and sound have been cleaned-up and made crisp (well as much as they could a film from 1951), the image being noticeably sharper at times (though this does reveal certain flaws such as the scene in front of the Lincoln Memorial revealed to be a back drop with the actor’s shadows against it, ah well), and the sound being given a 5.1 remix as well as the original Mono.

In the extras department there are two audio commentaries, one by the late director Robert Wise and Nicholas Meyer, the other by historian gurus John Morgan, Steven Smith. William Stromberg and Nick Redman. The rest of the extras I’ve listed are here:

• Isolated Score Track 5.1

• The Making of ” The Day The Earth Stood Still” (23:51)

• The Mysterious, Melodious Theremin (5:39)

• The Day the Earth Stood Still Main Title Live Performance by Peter Pringle (2:15)

• Farewell to the Master: a reading by Jameson K. Price

• Fox Movietonews from 1951 (6:21)

• 3 Trailers (teaser, theatrical, 2008 re-release)

• Decoding “Klaatu, Barada, Nikto”; Science Fiction as Metaphor (16:13)

• A Brief History of Flying Saucers (33:59)

• Edmund North: The Man Who Made The Earth Stand Still (15:42)

• The Astounding Harry Bates

Farewell to the Master: An Audio Presentation of the Original Short Story (11:01)

• Race to Oblivion : A Documentary Short Written and produced by Edmund North (26:41)

• 7 Galleries

Overall a wonderfully rich and expansive set of extras, which cover the short story, the film, and the historical lineage of the whole 1950’s flying saucer epidemic and its current place in our world. Unfortunately, the major extra they neglected to port over was the 70 minute documentary from the original DVD release, though portions of it were used. Hopefully the Blu-ray will correct this oversight, although the extras present do a good job of covering its absence. So run out and grab your copy today because, after all, when they’re here, we’re not.

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