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The Day the Earth Stood Still

#187 - The Day the Earth Stood Still
Robert Wise, 1951

An alien lands his spacecraft in Washington D.C. with peaceful intentions but the resident humans don't trust him.

The weird thing about watching black-and-white science-fiction films from the 1950s in the present day is how a lot of the best ones feel almost indistinguishable from the memorably awful B-movies from the same era. The Day the Earth Stood Still does feel like a glorified B-movie at times, especially considering the relative simplicity of its premise and characterisation. It's a novel enough premise given the time period - an alien invading Earth is familiar, but making them a good alien who means no harm yet is still considered a threat simply because they're an alien - that definitely stands the test of time no matter how many other pieces of fiction about benevolent invaders have appeared in its wake. My main problem is that how it struggles a bit to make the most of that premise and fill out its relatively short running time.

The first act is decent enough and introduces protagonist Klaatu (Michael Rennie), an alien who comes in peace but the effects of his peacekeeping equipment (disintegrating the military's weapons and artillery) make the top brass deem him enough of a threat to detain. The second act involves Klaatu escaping military custody and going incognito as a human so as to learn more about the real inhabitants of the Earth (as opposed to the incredibly restrictive military personnel he initially encounters), which is nice and all but doesn't hold my interest at all despite being of some importance to the film's message about tolerance. It's not like I was expecting this to be some effects-heavy action-packed kind of film, but even so I couldn't help but be a little bored by it during the middle part. This leads me to the third act, which naturally ramps up the tension and features a climax and denouement that demonstrates its core message (perhaps a bit too hard, as any movie that tries to get its point across in a climatic filibuster tends to do). At least with this film the effects that are featured are reasonably good and the acting isn't terrible (not by '50s sci-fi standards, anyway), but even so it's more than a little underwhelming for a sci-fi classic.