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Unquestionably, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL ($20) is one of the most significant science fiction films ever made. While I don't want to bore anyone with an analysis of the various levels upon which this film works (i.e. fifties paranoia and the red menace), I find it most interesting that the film's early anti-nuke message was transformed (intentionally or unintentionally) into a Christ allegory. Those unfamiliar with THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL should skip ahead to the next paragraph, since the next few sentences contain some spoilers. Anyone who has seen THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL will recognized various bits of religious symbolism contained in the film-- a light in the sky heralds the arrival of a celestial being, who assumes the identity of a "Carpenter." After performing a "miracle" this "Carpenter" finds himself persecuted and executed by the powers-that-be for trying to deliver a message of peace and universal brotherhood. It is only after the "Carpenter" is resurrected and ascends into the heavens that his message is allowed to spread amongst the peoples of the world.

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL opens with the arrival of a spaceship in Washington D.C. Emerging from the spaceship is a very human looking alien named Klaatu (Michael Rennie), who is wounded by the heavily armed military that lay in wait outside of his craft. While hospitalized, Klaatu makes it known that he has come to Earth with an important message for mankind and wants to meet with representatives of all the world's governments. Unfortunately mistrust and political turmoil makes such a meeting impossible. Undeterred, Klaatu escapes from the hospital, but not before borrowing the clothing and identity of another patient, which will give him the opportunity to understand the people of the Earth by mixing with the common man. Taking a room in a Washington D.C. boardinghouse, Klaatu is befriended by widow Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) and her young son Bobby (Billy Gray). While learning about America from Bobby, Klaatu is encouraged to pay a visit to noted scientist Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe), whose connections to the worldwide scientific community, may offer the alien a way of delivering his all important message. The cast of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL also features Hugh Marlowe, Frances Bavier, Lock Martin and Frank Conroy.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL available on DVD in a terrific looking full screen transfer that frames the movie in its proper 1.37:1 aspect ratio. This is an absolutely marvelous transfer black and white transfer that comes from newly restored film elements. The image on the DVD is sharper and better defined than any previous video incarnation of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, even besting a very fine mid-nineties Laserdisc transfer by a good margin. There is more fine detail in the image here than in the past, which does have the unfortunate effect of revealing some of the film's trickery. Blacks are perfectly inky, plus the whites are crisp and completely stable. Contrast is generally excellent, with only a bit of intentional harshness. The restored film element and digitally fine tuned transfer still displays occasional blemishes, as well as a somewhat perceivable grain structure. Digital compression artifacts are well camouflaged throughout.

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL features Dolby Digital stereo and monaural soundtrack options. While the stereo track does decode to standard surround, only Bernard Herrmann's brilliant score shows any sign of having a stereo-surround presence. I should note that the fully directional stereo surround soundtrack created for a previous Laserdisc release of the film is not included on this DVD. However, the stereo soundtrack provided her is still preferable to the original monaural track because it allows Herrmann's theremin flavored score to envelop the viewer, without distracting them with artificial sounding sound effect pans. Dialogue and the rest of the sounds remain pretty much localized to the center, while being reproduced with crispness and tonal clarity. Fidelity is what one might expect from a movie that is more than half a century old- lacking the extreme frequencies at the top and bottom end. French and Spanish language tracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English and Spanish subtitles.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVDís nifty retro style interactive menus. Through the menus one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplements, which have been spread across both sides of the DVD. Complementing the film is director Robert Wise and fellow his director Nicholas Meyer, who are on hand to discuss THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL during a running audio commentary that was produced for the special edition Laserdisc from the mid-1990s. This is a terrific commentary filled with plenty of insight into the making of this pivotal science fiction classic. Side one also includes a Movie Tone News segment from 1951 and a theatrical trailer.

Side two features Making The Earth Stand Still, a seventy-minute program produced for the aforementioned special edition Laserdisc release. Featuring interviews with Robert Wise, producer Julian Blaustein, cast members Patricia Neal and Billy Gray, this fascinating program covers every aspect of the films production in terrific detail. Also included on side two is a Restoration Comparison that shows various video incarnations of ranging from an excellent Laserdisc master to awful video masters and finally to the latest restorative efforts. Five extensive photo galleries and bonus trailers for ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH close out the supplements.

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL remains on of the most significant science fiction movies ever made, and it has lost none of its impact, even after more than a half a century. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has done a tremendous job with the movie's presentation, as well as supplements, making this important film something that every movie fan should add to their DVD library without reservation. Absolutely recommended.



The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2003 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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