The Day the Earth Stood Still: Special Edition (1951)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 17-Oct-2005

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Trailer-70 Years Of Fox
Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Robert Wise (Director) And Nicholas Meyer
Web Links
Featurette-A Warning And An Ultimatum
Featurette-Making Of
Featurette-Restoration Comparison
Featurette-Fox Movietone News
Trailer-Journey To The Center Of The Earth, One Million Years B.C.
Trailer-Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea
Theatrical Trailer
Gallery-Still Galleries (6)
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1951
Running Time 88:25
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (57:14)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Robert Wise
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Michael Rennie
Patricia Neal
Hugh Marlowe
Sam Jaffe
Billy Gray
Frances Bavier
Lock Martin
H.V. Kaltenborn
Elmer Davis
Drew Pearson
Gabriel Heatter
Case ?
RPI $31.95 Music Bernard Herrmann


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
English Audio Commentary
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    One fine day in Washington a flying saucer lands in a public park. Not long after, once the army has arrived, a humanoid in a spacesuit disembarks from the space vehicle. The being offers a device to one of the soldiers which is mistaken for a weapon, and the creature is shot. This causes the creature's robot to destroy a few military vehicles and weapons. Taken to hospital, the medical staff discover that the creature looks very much like a tall human. And a lot like Michael Rennie. The being soon identifies himself as Klaatu, who has come to Earth with a message for all mankind. He refuses to simply deliver the message to the Americans and wants to speak to the leaders of all nations. As is explained to him, this is impossible given the political climate, and he is kept under hospital arrest. But Klaatu is more resourceful than the humans, and manages to escape.

    Taking on the identity of a Mr Carpenter, Klaatu decides to spend some time with some typical humans, and rents a room in a boarding house. This house is also home to widow Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) and her son Bobby (Billy Gray), and Klaatu soon forms a friendship with the boy. Mrs Benson is planning a second marriage, this time to the dull Tom (Hugh Marlowe). As the forces of law and order try to track down the alien, Klaatu reveals his identity to noted scientist Professor Barnhart (Sam Jaffe), who he hopes will arrange for a meeting with the world's top brains, so that he can warn them of the danger that the Earth faces.

    I had not seen this movie for more than two decades, and while I remembered that it was quite good I was in two minds about reviewing it, given that most of the movies I enjoyed in my youth turn out on later viewings to be dated or just disappointing. I need not have worried, as this is undoubtedly not just one of the best science fiction movies ever made, but one of the best films to come out of Hollywood during the 1950s. While in retrospect it has comparatively little action and not so many special effects as later genre pieces of the decade, the story is so compelling and the film so well made that such considerations are unimportant.

    The direction by the late Robert Wise is exemplary. While he freely admitted that the religious overtones of the story escaped him at the time, just about every nuance of the script is effectively realised on the screen. There are some fine lighting effects (for example when Klaatu and Helen are trapped in the lift) and the film moves at a perfect pace to an exciting conclusion. The only sour note is that the restoration on this disc makes the wires used in a scene where Gort carries Mrs Benson quite obvious.

    The acting, especially by Rennie and Neal, is first rate, though Marlowe would do better work a few years later when defending Earth from those flying saucers. Billy Gray must be one of the least annoying and cloying child actors I have seen, though the intelligent dialogue he is given by Edmund H. North helps immeasurably. Sam Jaffe's character is obviously inspired by Albert Einstein, and he plays it with restraint and dignity.

    The screenplay is based on a short story by Harry Bates called Farewell to the Master. Having read the story at some point between my last viewing of this movie and now, I had a phantom recollection of the movie having the surprise ending of the story (in which Gort is revealed as the true alien messenger), but this plot point was not used in the film. Probably just as well, as it would have distracted viewers of the era from the real message of the story. The other strength of the film is the superbly eerie score by Bernard Herrmann.

    The Day the Earth Stood Still reveals that even while the Hollywood studio system was crumbling, companies with intelligence and talent coupled with imaginative studio leadership determined to make fine films (in this case Darryl F. Zanuck) could still produce works to rival anything made in the so-called Golden Age.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, not far from the original 1.37:1.

    This is an excellent transfer from a fine grain master print one generation from the original negative elements, if I understand the restoration information included in the extras correctly. The film has probably not looked as good as this since, say, the 2003 Region 4 release. Seriously though this is an identical transfer to that release, the difference in the package being the additional extras and remastered audio.

    There is very little to report on in relation to the transfer. It is very sharp and clear, with little in the way of film grain. Contrast levels are very good though there is an occasional problem with shadow detail. The black and white cinematography is well rendered, with the chiaroscuro lighting a visual standout.

    At times there appears to be a digital edge to figures, probably a result of edge enhancement though I did not see any of the telltale haloes. Otherwise I saw no film to video artefacts. I did not notice any film artefacts either.

    Both discs are RSDL-formatted. The layer break occurs in the movie at 57:14 when the screen is black. There is also a layer change during the lengthy documentary on disc two occurring at a chapter break.

    Optional English subtitles are provided in a clear white font which is easy to read. They appear to transcribe the audio verbatim and include information for the hard of hearing. There are also welcome subtitles for the audio commentary.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Three audio tracks are provided. New to this release and not on the Region 1 is a Dolby Digital 5.1 remaster. There is also a 2.0 version and an audio commentary. I listened to the surround remix, though purists may prefer the 2.0 track.

    The surround remix is a bit of a mixed bag, with good elements and not so good elements, but generally speaking it is well done as these things go. While the dialogue is at all times clear and audible, it has a slight digital edge that is thrown into relief by the quality of the music score. The dialogue sounds slightly distorted at times and slight boxy in true mono fashion.

    By contrast the music sounds as though it comes from a genuine stereo recording, which is of course not the case. There is excellent dynamic range and depth to the sound, with rich bass into the bargain. The subwoofer is used very well to add to this depth without being intrusive. Surround effects are limited to the music, and such sounds as do come from the rear channels are tastefully integrated into the overall sound picture rather than drawing attention to themselves.

    The music score by Bernard Herrmann, whom Wise knew from his RKO days, is possibly the best ever written for a science fiction film. While the Theremin had been used in films before, notably by Franz Waxman, its use for eerie effect in science fiction material was defined by this score. Even apart from the Theremin the score is an excellent one, adding not only that sense of other-worldliness but also heightening the suspense in crucial scenes.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The same extras as the previous Region 4 release plus a lot more, necessitating the inclusion of a second disc. All bar the commentary and web links are on disc two.

Trailer-70 Years Of Fox (1:40)

    After sticking disc one in the player, this skippable celebration of seven decades of Twentieth Century Fox is played, but only one of those annoying anti-piracy ads, which can also be skipped. Or you could rip a copy of the DVD and remove it completely, but of course that would be illegal.

Main Menu Introduction

    A brief Fox DVD animation precedes the static main menu.

Main Menu Audio

    The audio is music from the film.

Audio Commentary-Robert Wise (Director) And Nicholas Meyer

    I believe that this commentary comes from the laserdisc release. Wise has a good memory for details and discusses not only the film, but the pre-production phase and aspects of his career prior to the film. Well worth a listen.

Web Links

    Disc one also includes a page displaying the website address of the Australian Fox concern. This is not a website specific to this movie.

Featurette-A Warning And An Ultimatum (14:16)

    This is a new brief piece giving an overall summary of the movie and the impact it had on science fiction fans in the 1950s, including several memorabilia collectors. One such is the near-legendary fan and magazine editor Forrest J. Ackerman.

Featurette-Making Of (80:43)

    This featurette comes from the laserdisc release of about a decade ago and gives a lengthy background to the making of the film, including interviews with surviving participants like the director, Patricia Neal and Billy Gray. There's also producer Julian Blaustein, who died not long after this was recorded (he looks about 95 years old), director Joe Dante and Herrmann biographer Steven C. Smith, as well as a few memorabilia collectors at the end.

Featurette-Restoration Comparison (4:37)

    Essentially a few comparative scenes from four different restorations, the latest seeming the best.

Featurette-Fox Movietone News (6:22)

    A very brief snippet about the film receiving an award is the justification for the inclusion of this 1951 newsreel. The Red-baiting during the first sequence (the signing of a treaty between the US and Japan) gives a flavour of the times.

Trailers-Journey To The Center Of The Earth, One Million Years B.C., Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (9:43)

    Some unintentionally funny trailers for these older movies, none of which are in perfect condition (the trailers, that is).

Theatrical Trailer (2:10)

    A somewhat dramatic but effective original trailer.

Gallery-Still Galleries

    Many, many more stills than I could count, but at least several hundred in six galleries. There are production stills, set designs, the complete shooting script, blueprints, press books, lobby cards and models. A veritable treasure trove.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The previous Region 4 release only appears to have included the extras on disc one, plus the Movietone News, Restoration Comparison and trailer.

    The new Region 4 looks to be a clone of the Region 1, but in the reviews of that release that I have looked at there is no mention of the shorter introductory featurette, so on that basis the new Region 4 is marginally to be preferred.

Summary

    One of the great science fiction movies, which should appeal even to those not normally interested in the genre.

    A superb video transfer in most respects.

    A satisfactory audio transfer.

    A wealth of extra material.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
You d*** kangaroo jockies! -
R1 Cost is Much Cheaper - Michael Q (read my bio)