The Day the Earth Stood Still Blu-ray Review (with D-BOX)December 12, 2008
Bemoaning a remake has evolved into a second nature response for more than the majority of armchair critics. 99 times out of 100, a remake fails to improve upon its original source material. But if remakes were to be wiped off the face of the planet, like The Day the Earth Stood Still starring Keanu Reeves, I wouldn't be here talking today about the spectacular Blu-ray Disc edition of the original 1951 classic by Fox Home Entertainment.
1951 was a different world but in some respects uncannily similar to ours today. Different nations and beliefs around the globe were/are either at war with one another or constantly involved in bickering and skirmishes. Coupled with our oftentimes blatant disregard for caring for our planets ecosystem and you could say we were on a path to eventually destroy ourselves then and may still be today.
The Day the Earth Stood Still, as originally authored by Harry Bates in the short story Farewell to the Master, is a wake-up call to our planet that bluntly states through an entertaining science fiction medium, "Get your act together or else you are all doomed." Our leaders and military are depicted as heartless warmongering fools who can't take a hint despite an eight-foot tall robot named Gort with the ability to disintegrate matter standing on the National Mall. Despite facing possible annihilation of the human race, leaders of the world are more concerned about having to travel to an enemy country than saving the world.
In the film the messenger of this warning is Klaatu, a humanoid being from another planet who wants nothing more than to talk to our planet's leaders about his fears of Earth's bickering extending beyond the planet's atmosphere. Klaatu's intelligence, sincerity and urgency in his message seep through his emotionless faηade. Time is short after he's greeted with a bullet rather than open arms, so he must make the Earth "stand still" to get his message across.
As Klaatu, relative newcomer at the time Michael Reddie brings these traits to life with dignity, as if a God amongst peasant men. His befriending of a local working single mother is authentic, developing from an initial disinterest towards her and her son into openness and honesty that prove to be mankind's last hope for survival. He embodies Klaatu whereas a more seasoned actor of the time may have proven more a distraction than alien.
The Day the Earth Stood Still offered then-cutting edge special effects, such as landing a flying saucer in Washington DC and melting military weapons with a laser beam, that hold up better than effects filmed decades later. It was, and still is, a landmark film on both a psychological and technical level. If you've ever heard the mysterious saying "Klaatu Nikto Barada" before, look no further than The Day the Earth Stood Still. It's a classic and timeless film that deserved a high definition treatment and, fortunately, was forced into one by its new remake.
Fox presents The Day the Earth Stood Still on Blu-ray Disc in a re-mastered 1.33:1 1080p transfers encoded with AVC MPEG-4. Neither black-and-white nor full-screen presentations are associated with high definition but don't let those generalities fool you. This is a surprising crisp and clean presentation for a film shot almost half a century ago. The specks and dirt found on previous DVD releases are almost entirely removed yet the original grain is intake as it likely appeared on film so many years ago. Detail is astounding for a black-and-white presentation. From the slight folds in Gort's armor to individual strands in Klaatu's hair, the benefit of 1080p is clear. Most importantly for a film sans color, contrast is smooth and deep enough to discern between the lighter and darker areas without muddying the picture.
Aside from a small speck on the print here and there, the other detriment to the transfer is scattered instances of edge enhancement. I picked up on some slight haloing in select scenes, especially around Klaatu's dark suit against a light background. Given how everything else looks it's hard to gripe about this minor inconsistency.
The original 1.0 mono soundtrack and an all-new 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track are available to choose from. Fears the 5.1 mix will somehow ruin the filmmakers original sound design can be laid to rest. Most of the dialogue and sound effects come straight from the center channel and are equally mixed so one doesn't overpower the other. The other two front channels are used less frequently but further extend the soundtrack, while the surrounds receive a gentle replication of what's going on in the front to fill out the room.
I found the 5.1 mix especially aggressive and satisfying in its treatment of the score. The deep bass combined with the Theremin create a great eerie atmosphere that, while not competing with modern soundtracks, best anything I ever expected from a 1951 film. An additional option to watch the film with the score isolated is available, as is the theme song playing on top of the disc menus which can be optionally muted.
D-BOX Motion Code
Klaatu's arrival ushers in a thumping score which D-BOX mimics through subtle chair movements designed to build intensity. Military vehicles dispatching to intercept Klaatu's ship on the National Mall offer additional lateral movements with a touch of engine rumbling for good measure.
The entire second act is devoid of motion as Klaatu begins his mission to simultaneously understand Earth's people and gather its leaders. Once Klaatu's presence is rediscovered by the military, D-BOX is awoken with more vehicle action as the military tries to intercept Klaatu in a taxicab.
D-BOX's most impacting moments are saved for two sequences in the finale. The first involves the resuscitation of Klaatu by Gort using a machine that fires off a vibration noise steadily building in intensity. D-BOX engineers brilliantly replicated gradual increase through carefully timed and synched chair vibrations. The second and finale D-BOX sequence occurs when Klaatu fires up his ship and blasts off into space. A steady combination of movement and vibration throughout this scene make it worth a rewind or two to experience again.
To reiterate, the only reason we're getting this film on Blu-ray Disc now is due to the remake. Fox's marketing team has their handprints all over this edition starting with the cover art. The imagery looks derived from the remake and not the original, a deliberate attempt to draw attention to the sequel via the original. Also included inside the package is a voucher for a free ticket to see the remake theatrically. Once the disc is popped into a player the marketing for the new film continues.
The Day the Earth Stood Still Remake Preview (7:49, HD) This extensive preview is immediately force-fed before reaching the main title screen. It includes an extended scene of Klaatu being question by the government which helps get the juices flowing for the original, though its real intent is to get you to go buy another ticket to see the new film theatrically.
Aside from two new Blu-ray exclusive interactive features, the remaining bonus features are mostly shared with the companion DVD special edition set with the added benefit of many being presented in high definition.
Audio Commentary - Director Robert Wise and Nicholas Meyer, the director of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, play interviewer and interviewee. The first words out of Meyer's mouth are a question for Wise and this format continues throughout for the most part. Meyer does break away from questions for a few stretches and relaxes a bit, but otherwise he's relatively reserved as if in the presence of an elder. Which technically, he is.
Audio Commentary Film and music historians John Morgan, Steven Smith, William Stromberg and Nick Redman aren't as informative as Robert Wise, but they are more animated in their dissection of the film and pull in a lot of film history related to the film but not necessarily a part of the film. It is almost overwhelming to digest the intricacies of filmmaking this crew delve into.
Gort Command! Game (HD, Blu-ray exclusive) This BD-J interactive game requires using the arrows on a remote or the D-Pad on a PS3 controller to move an aiming reticule around screen in order to target and shoot army soldiers and police officers. It starts relatively easy and then quickly grows progressively hard by the third level. The game is simple but fun, only hampered by pre-set movements for the aiming reticule instead of free movement anywhere on the screen and a lack of accompanying audio.
The next three bonus feature are all dedicated to the Theremin instrument which helps define the melodious and creepy theme music.
The Mysterious, Melodious Theremin (5:40, HD) A history lesson by Peter Pringle on the Theremin instrument that creates the freaky "out of this world" shimmering musical tones including a demonstration with the actual Theremin used on over 40 major motion picture soundtracks, including this one. This feature is extremely informative for those never introduced to the Theremin before.
The Day the Earth Stood Still Main Title Live Performance by Peter Pringle (2:17. HD) Peter returns to play the main title sequence on the Theremin. It is remarkable to watch the intense concentration Peter needs to get the pitch and volume at the perfect levels.
Interactive Theremin: Create Your Own Score (HD, Blu-ray exclusive) This is the perfect exclamation point to the Theremin after watching Peter show off on it. You "play" the Theremin by selecting from eight one-second notes and one one-second rest to create 30 seconds of music. Once previewed, edited and completed, you can insert your composition on top of the scene where Gort exits the spaceship. The spinning background behind this feature is hypnotizing which may be why I butchered my 30-second piece. Regardless, this is a fun feature and is right at home packaged with The Day the Earth Stood Still.
The Making of The Day the Earth Stood Still (23:53, HD) Due to the film's age this feature offers an historian's perspective on how the film came together conceptually and eventually into an actual motion picture. You learn more about the persona of the producers than how the film was made, but it is still an intriguing look into Hollywood's past akin to sitting in film class. For example, Spencer Tracy was wanted for Klaatu by the producers but director Robert Wise pushed, and won, for an unknown.
Decoding "Klaatu Barada Nikto": Science Fiction as Metaphor (16:14) A retrospective look into the times the film was made and how it spoke to crises occurring in the world at that time like the Korean War and nuclear arms race with Russia. The actual decoding, or what the filmmakers consider the translation to the phrase, does not occur until the final minutes.
A Brief History of Flying Saucers (34:02, HD) With a runtime over a half hour, this is not as brief as the name lets on. It does start in a gripping manner with intense bass to simulate a TV broadcast being interrupted by an otherworldly presence. The rest is as the name suggests: a history of flying saucer sightings presented by experts interspersed with archival footage and stills. Of course, Roswell is addressed. What makes this fun is the penetrating bass rumbling that goes in and out throughout the footage.
The Astounding Harry Bates (11:03, HD) A biographical look at author Bates' work in science fiction even though he supposedly wasn't a fan of the genre. Bates candidly offers his thoughts on the film from what is presumed old archival tapes but never addressed.
Edmund North: The Man Who Made The Earth Stand Still (14:43, HD) Another retrospective look back, this time focused on the screenwriter who took a lot of liberty with Bates' original story. His daughter describes how he did his best work.
Race to Oblivion: A Documentary Short Written & Produced by Edmund North (26:52) This old short is presented in standard definition and is a straightforward call for peace on earth as sung by children atop footage of war. In many respects it is still relevant today.
Farewell to the Master (1:36:56) Jamieson K Price reads the original Harry Bates short story against a flying saucer backdrop. Jamieson has an appropriately deep voice that makes this reading hard to turn off.
Fox Movietonnews 1951 (6:21) News clips of US and Japan signing a Security Plan at a NATO peace treaty conference.
Also included is an extensive Still Gallery and Teaser and Theatrical Trailer, both in standard definition with no work performed to clean up the prints. A Trailer for the 2008 remake is also included.
Had it not been for the new remake, we likely would not have seen the original The Day the Earth Stood Still on Blu-ray Disc until its 50th anniversary in 2011. Instead we get a classy treatment of a classic film, including hands-down the best video and audio presentation every bestowed to it and a pair of Blu-ray exclusives, with a sprinkle of promotion for the remake tossed in to make the marketing guys happy. I guarantee if they're happy with what they got to push ticket sales, you'll be even happier with the rest of this solid package.
- Dan Bradley
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