Celebrating Great Films

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Day The Earth Stood Still

The Day The Earth Stood Still#228 at time of writing.

The Time Machine got the treatment. So did The War of the Worlds. And the latest golden age sci-fi epic to be remade Noughties-style is The Day The Earth Stood Still.

I saw the remake last year, and I left the cinema feeling kind of empty. It should have been a great film - indeed it started excellently (as far as I can remember, the start is the only bit that's similar to the original, which tells you something) - but it ended up being special effects over substance.

(To be fair, the remake did have one or two good moments. I liked the "You came to save the Earth... from us" twist, even if it was awfully delivered. Oh stop whining at me for giving away the twist, just watch the original instead.)

So I was excited about seeing the original. Did it, as I hoped, better fulfil the potential of the idea?

Yes. Much better. And much simpler. The story focusses on the characters, with few special effects. The background of paranoia creates ample tension, injected as it is with the 1950s Cold War mentality. The extra-terrestrial visitor has moments of convincing alien-ness despite appearing to be human.

After being poisoned by the remake, I was expecting a climactic ending, but the original ends abruptly. I felt like I wanted more - but on reflection, I am thoroughly satisfied.

In an echo of Warner Bros' attitude to Casablanca (as previously blogged), actress Patricia Neal has admitted in interviews that she was completely unaware during filming that the film would be considered a great science-fiction classic. She assumed it would be just another one of the then-current and rather trashy flying saucer films that were popular at the time, and she found it difficult to keep a straight face while saying her lines.

As an aside, this is the 1950s version of special effects: To give the appearance of seamlessness to the space ship, the crack around the door was filled with putty, then painted over. When the door opened the putty was torn apart, making the door seem to simply appear.

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