The Day the Earth Stood Still

1951
Directed by Robert Wise
Michael Rennie as Klaatu

This film is so simple that it’s beautiful. Klaatu, an alien from a distant planet, lands on Earth in a spaceship with his helper-robot, the retrofuturistically named Gort.

His plan is to warn human beings that, while no one in the universe really cares that Earthlings are aggressive dicks, the fact that they’re aggressive dicks with nuclear weapons and the ability to explore outer space is really raising some eyebrows in the Milky Way galaxy. His message: Get your shit together, or we’ll just blow up the whole planet, Vader style.

There’s one catch, however: He refuses to deliver the message to just one leader. He wants every leader of every nation in one room. The world just rolls its collective eyes at that notion.

After he gets accidentally gunned down by one of the many trigger-happy slobs dressed in haphazard uniforms, which we’re supposed to believe is the U.S. military, he decides to go on the lamb and meet the real folk. He befriends a widowed mom on the dating scene and her naive son — played by Billy Gray from Father Knows Best — who introduces him to basically Albert Einstein. Klaatu totally schools basically Einstein in math to prove his real identity, and this is where we’re supposed to feel some hope for humanity, in spite of the scientist’s monologue about how no one really cares what scientists say.

As we’ve learned here in the future from every alien movie up through and beyond E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, human beings aren’t ready for any of this.

War widow Helen Benson is skeeved out by Gort

Watching this thoroughly enjoyable movie that really holds up, I couldn’t help but notice how it aesthetically influenced so many other films and TV shows, from the original Battlestar Galactica to The Man Who Fell to Earth.

I’m also a sucker for that 1950s ideal of super-clean streets and litter-free cities, which as we all know was an utter myth. Even when we’re discussing our worst traits, apparently, we feel the need to sweep the clutter under the rug. I’m in.

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