Blu-ray Review: The Day the Earth Stood Still

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The Day the Earth Stood Still
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Review By Don Lindich

The Day the Earth Stood Still, released in 1951, is one of the two great and seminal science fiction films of the 1950s, the other being MGM’s Forbidden Planet.  A full color production, Forbidden Planet has seen high definition release on HD DVD and is due for release on Blu-ray sometime in 2009.  The HD DVD version of Forbidden Planet was exemplary and I was anxious to see how the black-and-white The Day the Earth Stood Still made the transition to high definition disc.  I am pleased to report that 20th Century Fox has done an amazing job in every respect, from the image and sound quality to the special features. Even the menus are reason to celebrate!  Just in time for the remake starring Keanu Reeves (opening this week) The Day the Earth Stood Still has come to Blu-ray.

Most sci-fi buffs have seen The Day the Earth Stood still, but if you haven’t, here’s an introduction.  A flying saucer is tracked flying 4,000 mph through Earth’s atmosphere.  It lands at the National Mall in Washington, DC and a crowd (including the military with a lot of firepower) gathers.  A man in a spacesuit emerges, saying he comes in peace and goodwill and advances towards the crowd.  The reaction is anything but peaceful, and the enigmatic robot Gort (Lock Martin) emerges from the spaceship to neutralize the threat.The visitor’s name is Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and he has an urgent message for the leaders of the world.  The government is not cooperating, so he must find another way to deliver the message as he melts into society, hiding and learning about humanity from a young boy, Bobby (Billy Gray) and his family.   Whether he will get his message out before he is harmed and humanity perhaps dooms itself as a result, you will have to find out by watching the movie.

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Image credit: Wikipedia

1951 Sci-Fi, meet Blu-ray

One would naturally wonder if a 1951 black-and-white film shot in 4:3 pillarbox aspect ratio would have much to gain from the high-def Blu-ray treatment, and the answer is an emphatic YES.  Fox has done a beautiful job transferring this movie to high-def and the look is crisp, clean and consistent throughout the film.  Besides having the sharpness and depth to match today’s HDTVs, new details are apparent, such as Klaatu’s transparent helmet.  It looked mostly opaque on the DVD, but in the Blu-ray version you can make out facial features and his hair underneath.  Klaatu’s spacesuit’s spongy texture is easy to make out and you can also see imperfections in the Gort costume worn by Lock Martin, as well as see differences between the stationary prop and the costume.  For example, the costume has small air holes under the chin of the helmet.  The stationary prop Gort statue is solid throughout without air holes, and it shows fewer rough edges and imperfections than the Gort suit does.  It’s almost like being on the sidelines as the movie is being made.

Masterful Menus

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Main Menu

Even the menus add to the experience, even more so than they usually do with Blu-ray Disc movies.  The imposing image of Gort and his eye beams looks awesome on a big high-def screen.  They are even done in black and white (save for the golden glow), true to the movie experience.

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Pop-Up Menu.  Gort lives!

This disc also has the coolest pop-up menu I have ever seen… a Gort with flashing eyebeams, complete with sound effects.  It makes nice use of screen space that would otherwise be wasted on this 4:3 presentation formatted with pillarboxes (vertical bars on the side.)ExtrasWhen you put the disc in the player, the first thing you will see is a high-def trailer for the new movie.  It’s well done and one of the few color features on the disc.The Day the Earth Stood Still Blu-ray Disc has a comprehensive, high-quality set of extras, including wide variety of commentary from historians and artists.

  • Interactive Theremin: Create Your Own Score
  • Commentary by Director Richard Weiss and Nicholas Meyer
  • All-New Commentary by Film and Music Historians John Morgan, Steven Smith, William Stromberg and Nick Redman
  • Isolated Score Track

Also included are some all-new featurettes:

  • The Mysterious, Melodious Theremin: Main Title Live Performance
  • The Making of The Day The Earth Stood Still
  • Decoding Klaatu Barada Nikto
  • Science Fiction as Metaphor
  • A Brief History of Flying Saucers
  • The Astounding Harry Bates
  • Edmund North: The Man Who Made The Earth Stand Still
  • Race to Oblivion Documentary Short
  • Farewell to the Master: A Reading by Jamieson K. Price
  • Fox Movietones
  • Trailers, Interactive Pressbook and Still Galleries

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Gort Command Interactive Game

Another extra is a Gort Command interactive game where you shoot assailants with Gort’s omnipotent eye blasts.  I spent a little bit of time playing the game and found it entertaining, but hard to place the crosshairs quickly enough.  It’s definitely fun looking out of the visor of Gort’s helmet from his perspective, though I doubt I will be going back for tons of rematches.

Conclusion

This is a great film, one of the American Film Institute’s top 250 films of all time and an important film that is a commentary of the time, as well. It is appropriate the Fox has devoted the resources to make this a truly exceptional Blu-ray Disc.The theme of man’s self-destructive nature and paranoia at the dawn of the nuclear age is weaved throughout, and there is even a religious reference when Klaatu speaks of “The Almighty Spirit,” an obvious nod towards the Judeo-Christian God.  There are similar references in Forbidden Planet when a crewmember makes the comment, “The Lord sure makes some beautiful worlds, eh, Captain?” as well as a comment made by the Captain towards the end that mortals “are not God.”  A friend and I debated these comments after I watched the movie for review.  Given the sensibilities of society at the time, it could be they were included in the films to keep them from being regarded as heretical or atheist.  It could also be their genuine sentiments, perhaps we will never know.  They would probably seem a bit out of place in a modern film.  I may have to see the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still when it opens this Friday to see if there is such a statement – in fact, if you buy the Blu-ray there is a $7.50 movie e-Cash certificate on a decal stuck to the cellophane wrap.  This brings me to the subject of the remake – I’ve never cared for them and believe great works should stand on their own and should be left alone.  I hope the new version does justice to the original. Still, I plan on being at the theater Friday when it opens.  I’ll put up a blog post with my thoughts after I see the new movie.The Day the Earth Stood Still is definitely a Blu-ray must have for sci-fi enthusiasts, and Fox has created a truly impressive, artful and thoughtful package that is worthy of the original film and provides great value for the price.  Highly, highly recommended.

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