The Day the Earth Stood Still

In this 1951 sci fi classic a mysterious spaceship lands in the heart of Washington DC. A man emerges proclaiming that he has come in peace, and is apprehended by the authorities. His mission on Earth is to encourage humans to become peaceful so their space travel and nuclear weapon technologies don’t combine to pose a threat to neighbouring planets, but he is not welcomed immediately, so goes undercover to seek help from more enlightened people.

The set up of this film is sort of like an episode of Star Trek in reverse. Rather than the enlightened humans of the Federation arriving on a planet and teaching them the error in their barbaric ways, an enlightened alien arrives on Earth to teach the humans of the 1950s a lesson against conflict. Like classic Star Trek the ideas on display can overcome the film’s dated appearance and the fact the aliens look like humans.

The alien, Klaatu (Michael Rennie), seeks out not the President or a military leader, but a great scientist, for help in speaking to the international community about finding peace before people from other worlds are forced to wipe out humanity. Here is a slight plot hole. We know of the abilities of the alien race and their awesome technology. We also know the accuracy with which they can target specific points with great accuracy. Yet this peaceful species, who finds human actions barbarous, needs to threaten the whole planet to get their way. Nevertheless, this is interesting not least from the perspective of the Cold War.

When the stranger arrives he is immediately eyed with the suspicion that was all-too common at the time, (and, indeed, seems to prevail now, if Edward Snowden is to be believed) with people even speculating that the visitors are Russians. The trigger happy military response is detrimental to the search for further knowledge as a gift from Klaatu to the human race is destroyed, and a moment that should be celebrated is spent with guns and tanks pointed at the visitor.

Altogether this is a well made and interesting film, in spite of being dated. The creepy Bernard Hermann score gives it atmosphere and earnest performances make it easy to buy into.

If there are aliens out there, take my advice (I assume they read this blog): if you want to make contact with the human race follow the template of Star Trek: First Contact, not The Day the Earth Stood Still. Wait until humanity isn’t engaged in any major conflict and is advanced enough to have invented hyperspace travel for itself. Otherwise it may end badly.

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