Welcome to Earth [Smack!], now go home!

Review of The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

Welcome to Earth [Smack!], now go home!

About 15 minutes into this movie, that’s what I wanted to see some Earthling say(and do) to the alien Klaatu, who, after only a couple hours on Earth, was throwing his weight around and acting like he owned the place. Of course, “Welcome to Earth!” was the line famously uttered by Will Smith in Independence Day as he’s punching an invading alien in the head, but I guess Earthlings had more spunk and defiance in the 1990’s than in the early 1950’s when this movie was set. Klaatu, at this point, is demanding (among other things) an audience with all the world’s leaders, indifferent, apparently, to whether we could or even wanted to do such a thing. At this point he was talking to some diplomat type, who should have shown some backbone and said something like: “Who the hell crowned you Emperor of the Universe? You come to our planet, unannounced and uninvited, giving no indication whether you were hostile or friendly, pull out a device without telling us what it is, making an already nervous bunch of soldiers even more nervous, one of them shoots it, slightly injuring you in the process, we apologize profusely and take you into one of our hospitals, and then you start telling us what YOU want US to do!” Or he could just skip most of that and say “Welcome to Earth [punch in mouth], now go home!”

At this point Klaatu had merely been pushy, overbearing, and a bit condescending, but things soon got much worse. About halfway through the film he is meeting with a scientist. At first they just talk science stuff, specifically how to solve an equation the professor was working on. But he soon gets to the meat of the matter. They don’t like that we have nuclear weapons and are working on rockets. Their fear is we will soon use them on other planets, never mind no one on Earth has suggested any such thing. So, to defend against this [nonexistent] threat, they have robots that can kill everything on the planet, humans, animals, everything. At which point the scientist is in awe that such technology exists, apparently missing entirely the moral (or, more accurately, utterly immoral) nature of such a proposition. The scientist, like the diplomat, is apparently a wimp and lacks the guts to stand up to this spacegoing threatener of global genocide. What are we to think of a form of “Justice” administered by planet smashing robots who apparently cannot or will not distinguish between guilty and innocent, who will engage in mass murder on a scale unimagined even by a Hitler or Stalin, and all out of fear of a species which, according to Klaatu and his kind, are way behind them in terms of technology? Indeed, if Klaatu really wanted peace with Earth, he could have gone about it the civilized way. Announced in advance via radio communication that he was coming so we would have been prepared, requested permission before landing, and then asked (not demanded) that we sign a peace treaty with them. That’s the civilized method of handling such matters, showing respect for the people he was dealing with, as opposed to the heavy handed approach he used in the movie.

Ironically, although this movie is clearly intended to have a message, the true message may be the opposite of what the filmmakers intended. Namely, that totalitarianism done in the name of “Idealism” may in fact be worse than totalitarianism served straight up. Klaatu is presented as an idealist, a man (or alien) of peace, but in reality his morality is that of a thug, the classic bully’s line of “Do as I say, or I’ll bash your face in!” Give me the aliens of Independence Day over Klaatu and his ilk any time. They, too, threaten to wipe us out, but at least they’re not claiming to do it in the name of “Peace”.

Anyway, so much for that. Putting aside the rather disturbing moral and philosophical issues raised by this movie, how does it rate purely as entertainment? On that scale, pretty good. The story itself is simple and well told, the acting generally solid. Patricia Neal is the only real star in this movie, and it shows, since her acting is on a level well above the rest. The filmmakers seemed to recognize the low level of special effects available at the time, so, for example, they simply have KLaatu played by a human actor with no attempts to make him look “Alien”, not even such gimmicks as Spock style pointy ears. The ship is your basic flying saucer, no attempt is made to explain its propulsion system nor other forms of alien technology. This was the early 1950’s and the science fiction movie genre was in its infancy. Later movies, like the Star Wars, Terminator, Alien, and Matrix series would be far more sophisticated, but then they had earlier movies such as this one to learn from.

22 Comments

  1. The best ’50s SciFi movie was Forbidden Planet, hands down. It introduced Jungian psychology’s collective unconscious to ordinary Americans and showed humans traveling in space instead of having aliens arrive here uninvited. The movie had great color, electronic music, CDs, Robby the Robot, a very pretty girl, and a scary monster from the id roaring like MGM’s lion.

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  3. One of the things I found interesting about the 1951 version was the the sort-of small town feel of Washington DC, where Michael Rennie could just walk into the professors open study to see his problematic equation on the blackboard.

  4. Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but didn’t Klaatu “merely” warn Earth that if it took its destructive ways to the stars, then the planet would pay the price of utter obliteration?

    Consider: Is Klaatu’s attitude any different from the US’s with regards to, say, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons?

  5. Hube asked:

    Consider: Is Klaatu’s attitude any different from the US’s with regards to, say, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons?

    Well, maybe: Klaatu was promising actual action, while the United States, under President Obama, is merely uttering words. And Iran developing atomic weapons would be a far more realistic threat, given that earth has no enemies in outer space, even if we knew about them and could get there, while Iran is run by Islamist fanatics — please, pardon the redundancy — who actually would want to strike if they could.

    Klaatu was claiming that the human race was violent in general; we are a bit more nuanced than that. We have no objections to civilized nations like the United Kingdom, France and Israel having atomic weapons; we just don’t like it that some of the savages have them or might get them.

  6. Consider: Is Klaatu’s attitude any different from the US’s with regards to, say, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons?

    One big difference is we are not threatening Iran with the extermination of every man, woman, and child in the country if they continue to develop nuclear weapons. That was one of the turnoffs of this movie – the drastic nature of the threat (Planetary extinction) if we don’t comply with their orders. In fact, if their technology is so advanced, couldn’t they just disarm our weapons peacefully without having to kill anyone?

    In a way, there’s an analogy to the fight over Reagan’s proposed SDI program in the 80′s. Reagan’s idea was, if the technology worked, you could deter nuclear war by threatening to destroy enemy missiles in flight. Reagan thought this was a far more moral solution than the old method of deterrence, which relied on threatening to destroy their country in retaliation. And yet the left wingers came out hardcore against it, and remain so to this day. It’s almost as if they prefer, Klaatu style, the threat of total annihilation over a more advanced approach that would end any threatened nuclear attack peacefully.

  7. One of the things I found interesting about the 1951 version was the the sort-of small town feel of Washington DC, where Michael Rennie could just walk into the professors open study to see his problematic equation on the blackboard.

    Actually, what he did, in legal terms, is known as “Breaking and entering”. Indeed, the professor’s secretary gives him quite a chewing out for just barging in and messing with the writing on the blackboard.

    But the movie does show a more innocent time (of sorts). People [chuckle, snort!] actually trust the government, for one thing. But I doubt things were so innocent even then that a mother would just let her 8 year old son wander all over town with a stranger she had just met.

  8. Nothing to do with the movie but…I did not get the RR Silver Seraph. I drove it today to go for brunch and liked it but when I got hold of the title it was Salvage. Now I realize it was salvage just because it was in an accident and the parts are so damn expensive they just salvage it but I think it would be very hard for me to turn a good profit on a salvage title. The guy had photos of the accident. A Ford Explorer rear ended the Rolls at about 20mph. But to make it right there was over $100,000 worth of body parts, body work and paint. I know that sounds like a lot but on this car ($277,000 new in 2001) it’s not.

    Anyway, I had to pass. There will be others, there always are.

  9. I think you guys are reading a whole lot more into an old sci-fi movie than the damn thing deserves.

    Maybe. Still, the thing did set a tone, was a trendsetter of sorts. Although the movie is not explicitly political, it does seem to make the aliens the way left wing “Progressives” see themselves – more intelligent, more enlightened, morally better – in other words, pretty much superior all the way around. And, of course, if you’re “Superior”, then you get to tell the “Inferiors” how to live. Klaatu acts the way left wing “Progressives” would behave if they had no constraints at all. And this theme has been picted up by other Sci-Fi novels and movies. The aliens are always “Progressive” whereas the Earthlings (meaning, conservatives and regular folks generally) are stupid, greedy, and violent, and thus need the “Progressives” to run their lives for them.

  10. I guess you have a point there Eric. I notice that the movies (not just sci-fi) portray the military, especially our military as a bunch of knuckle draggin’ boobs. And there never, ever seems to be a businessman, large or small who isn’t a cheat or in some way corrupt. But every scientist, teacher and college professor no matter how ineffective, bumbling or plain stupid is portrayed as some kind of self-sacrificing saint.

  11. One big difference is we are not threatening Iran with the extermination of every man, woman, and child in the country if they continue to develop nuclear weapons.

    I don’t recall Klaatu claiming we’d be annihilated if we continued to develop nukes, only if we appeared to threaten to use them anywhere other than Earth. And as such, this isn’t different from what we (or any other attacked nation) would do to Iran if they used them after developing them. Indeed, if they set one off in one of our cities, we’d turn all of Persia to glass.

  12. Hoagie wrote, I know that sounds like a lot but on this car ($277,000 new in 2001) it’s not.

    Sounds like a lot to me. The best pinwheelers I know, guys from grade school who went into auto sales after high school and college, and continued to turn cars on the side, all followed the same rule: never buy more than one at a time, and never buy a car you’re not willing to keep yourself. Not your wife or kids, yourself.

    No matter how good at it your are, sooner rather than later you’re going to have to eat one. It’s the nature of the business. Being willing to drive it yourself for a year or two helps take the sting out it. And, it keeps you humble.

  13. You’re right ropelight, I try not to buy any car I’m not willing to keep regardless of the price. But I have always had a thing for British cars, Corvettes and classic cars. My personal rule #1 is “Never fall in Love with a car”. I’ve bought cars fully intending to drive them 3-6 months and some A-hole makes me an offer I can’t refuse in two weeks. Oh well, that’s the way it goes. There’s always another up the road. And my rule #2 is “never sell a car to a friend or family”. I don’t care how much he loves it and has to have it. If he asks it’s either not for sale or already sold (and if the sale falls through, you’ll be the first to know). That’s not to say I haven’t sold a guy a car who became a friend. I met a guy named Dennis who I sold a ’59 Vette to and we became good pals. He still has the car. Drives it to The Club all summer.

    You have to understand ropelight, it just can’t cost the same to fix a Rolls as a Chevy….even a ’59 Vette. Plus I don’t “need” the Seraph, wife has a Bentley if I want to drive something posh (er) than my Lincoln. I figured if the price was right I could turn it. Beside, the color Parchment exterior with a Parchment interior piped in Blueberry with Maple inlay wood……..Oy Vay! Suuuueeeet!

  14. And as such, this isn’t different from what we (or any other attacked nation) would do to Iran if they used them after developing them. Indeed, if they set one off in one of our cities, we’d turn all of Persia to glass.

    I think one big difference is, since we already perceive Iran’s nuclear program as a threat, there’s a good chance we or the Israelis will take it out with precision guided weapons and not have to kill tens of nillions of innocent people.

  15. I never had a Viper Eric, they never interested me. However, I knew a guy who owned a local tavern (say it ain’t so Hoagie) and he had a 2004 SRT-10 (?) I think that’s the model. Anyway I rode in but never drove it. It was fast as hell but very Spartan in it’s interior and ambiance. Frankly, I’d rather have a Vette or even a Jag, but that’s just me. Years ago I did have a Ferrari and also a Lotus. I was younger then! I kinda liked the look of the Prowler but they have no balls. A few years ago (2009) I got a 2006 Thunderbird in YELLOW! with a black/yellow gut and hard top. Nice car but my wife made me sell it when I got a ticket. Seems yellow is a “bad luck” color for Asians. Go figure yellow is bad luck for yellow people. She reminded me the last time I got a ticket I was wearing a yellow tie. Who can argue rational arguments like those? So I sold it.

  16. Frankly, I’d rather have a Vette or even a Jag, but that’s just me.

    A few months ago I was in California. And the thoght occurred to me “Maybe I should look at getting a new car, being as my present car (a Honda Civic Si) has 190k miles.” And then the thought occurred to me “Maybe I should get a convertible”. Parked nearby to where I was staying was a gorgeous Jaguar convertivle, beautiful styling, etc., but only one problem – I don’t think you can get any Jaguar in a stick shift any more, and I definitely want a stick.

    But there are other options. A Camaro can be had in 1) a convertible, 2) a V-8, and 3) a stick. Ditto for a Corvette. A friend just bought a Mustang with all three and loves it. Or perhaps a BMW M3, which can also be had in convertivle with a stick.

    Also, I went to a Ferrari dealer in Newport Beach with the idea that (are you listening Pho? Cause I know damned well that you are) I might see what I would like to get should my writing project prove successful. Only problem is, about ten years ago Ferrari introduced a new type of transmission that eliminated the clutch and the shift stick and replaced it with something called the F-1 style sequential shifter where you changed gears by flipping two paddles connected to the steering wheel. It’s very high tech and very cool and owners seem to love it, but it’s become so popular that Ferrari rarely offers the standard manual transmission on their cars any longer. No doubt the new trnsmission is better for performance, especially on the racetrack because it can shift gears almost instantly, but call me a traditionalist because I prefer an old fashioned stick, but nowadays they’re very hard to find, at least on recent model Ferraris.

  17. You’re correct on two things: first the “speed shifter”, usually steering wheel paddles is the rage. That’s what the new Jag X-type has. They are faster than standard after all they were made for race cars. I assume you’re a lot younger than I since I have no desire to shift gears any longer on my daily driver. Well, that plus my wife doesn’t and I need her to be able to drive in an emergency. My Vette has a six speed and she hates it. But that’s just for me…for fun….for weekends. (Secretly as a chauvinist I don’t think chicks should drive Vettes anyway….Vettes are for men!)

    Second, you can bet he’s listening since it seems he’s stalking your career. Perhaps our little kiwi has a man-crush? He can’t seem to get you out of his mind. It would be cute if it weren’t so creepy.

  18. BTW Eric, I think the Camaro is a “Best Buy” in todays market. Especially if you go convertible SS/RS and load it up. If you go to the National Auto Dealers Ass’n website, nadaguides.com you click on “Build your new car” and select anything you like and screw around with colors, options, equipment etc. They will price it out for you wholesale and retail. That’s actually how I do my preliminary shopping for cars. Then I go buy whatever the hell I want!

  19. You’re correct on two things: first the “speed shifter”, usually steering wheel paddles is the rage. That’s what the new Jag X-type has.

    There seems to be two types of these transmissions. One is the automatic that you can shift manually. My parents have this on their cars, and my Mom’s Mercedes even has the paddle shifters on the steering wheel. But it’s still an automatic, meaning shifts are sometimes slow and the transmission doesn’t always do what you tell it to.

    But the Ferrari transmission is a true manual that just happens to have an automatic clutch. YOU have to tell it when to shift, unlike an automatic, it won’t do it on its own.

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