Film / The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

The Day the Earth Stood Still is a 1951 black-and-white science fiction movie based on the short story Farewell to the Master. The Human Alien Klaatu lands in Washington DC (in a classic flying saucer) during the Cold War era. The paranoid military shoots him, prompting his robot Gort to go on a rampage. Klaatu stops Gort, then tells the President of a message for all the world's leaders (who can't agree on a meeting place). Klaatu later escapes to live among the people of Earth and learns of their penchant for war — but also of their message of peace and understanding.

As a demonstration of power, Klaatu freezes everything mechanical in the entire world (except for airplanes in flight and hospital electronics) for exactly half an hour. (This is the event referred to in the title, though nobody calls it such within the story.) The military takes this as a sign of hostile intent and responds by hunting Klaatu down and killing him. Shortly before they catch up with him, Klaatu gives one of his newfound human friends, Helen, a message to deliver to Gort in his own language: "Klaatu barada nikto." Gort re-activates upon Klaatu's death and begins destroying the city, but Helen's message diverts Gort into retrieving Klaatu's body. The robot temporarily revives Klaatu, who tells the people of Earth of Gort's true purpose: he, and other robots like him, were built to enforce peace in the galaxy — and if humans bring their warlike ways into space, they will be destroyed. Klaatu leaves Earth with a simple phrase to mull over: "The choice is yours."

This film's plot was copied in Plan 9 from Outer Space.

There was a remake made in 2008 starring Keanu Reeves.

This film provides examples of:

  • Aliens Steal Cable: Klaatu says that his people have been monitoring Earth's radio signals, and that this is the source of his knowledge of Earth culture and language; however, the common subtrope of aliens being unable to distinguish fiction from reality is avoided.
  • All Nations Are Super Powers: Surprisingly averted. Klaatu landed in the Washington, D.C. because he thought that landing in the capital of the world's most powerful country would get the entire world's attention, but he repeatedly insists that his message is for all of humanity, no matter how large or small the country. He brushes off U.S. warnings about the Soviets as internal bickering that doesn't concern him. Moreover, when it is suggested that he could give his message to the whole world by addressing the United Nations, he actually declines, because he feels that not every nation or state-group is represented by it (when the film was made, the People's Republic of China was an unrecognized state, and would not be until 1971, when it replaced Taiwan - but then Taiwan wasn't represented). Ultimately, pressed for time he comes up with the impromptu solution of addressing an international conference of scientists, who are generally apolitical.
  • Benevolent Alien Invasion: Played mostly straight in the original.
  • Covers Always Lie: You know that famous poster with Gort holding a woman and firing lasers from his eyes? Yeah, he's not evil.
  • Crowd Panic: When the spaceship first lands and when Gort first appears.
  • Crush. Kill. Destroy!: Plays with the then-common robot rampage tropes. Gort's rampage is brief, has a particular goal, and occurs in complete silence in contrast to the usual depiction of rampaging robots spouting hostile catchphrases.
  • Cyber Cyclops: Gort has a single visor from which he can shoot death rays.
  • Disintegrator Ray: Gort's eye beam
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: Klaatu warns that if humanity continues to be so violent, his society will have to do this.
  • Einstein Hair: Professor Barnhardt
  • The End of the World as We Know It
  • First Contact: Klaatu arrives as an ambassador from outer space.
  • Flying Saucer: The classic circular upside-down-plate shape.
  • God Test: As a demonstration that he is a powerful alien, Klaatu cuts power all over the globe with the exception of hospitals and airplanes in flight.
  • Hanlon's Razor: For the most part, Klaatu blames human aggression and violence on irresponsibility, not malicious intent. On the other hand, the entire purpose for his visit is to tell us that if we don't get our act together, we'll be wiped out by the galactic community for being a threat regardless.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: At one point Klaatu joins the crowd of gawkers looking at his spacecraft.
  • Holographic Terminal: The Ur-Example. Being a movie from the 1950's, Klaatu of course does not have access to CGI hologram special effects, but he does wave at his computer to control it from a distance.
  • Human Aliens: Klaatu is apparently physically identical to human beings.
  • Humanity on Trial: The other intelligent beings in the galaxy are essentially evaluating whether humanity needs to be destroyed.
  • Humans Are Morons: If Klaatu is typical, humans are a long way behind the galaxy at large technologically and scientifically. But the real problem, Klaatu suggests, is that we're so dangerously irresponsible with the technology we have.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: One of the doctors treating Klaatu marvels at the medical advancements of his people. A simple salve has healed all evidence of a gunshot wound in under twenty-four hours.
    "I'm going to take this to be tested. And then I don't know if I'm going to get drunk, or quit practicing medicine altogether."
  • Innocent Aliens: Gentle, kindly Klaatu.
  • Jerkass: Tom, who rats Klaatu out to the Feds.
  • Killer Robot: Gort apparently could wipe out all of Earth if he wanted.
  • Messianic Archetype: Klaatu is an All-Loving Hero who comes from the heavens to save humanity, meets resistance from people not prepared to listen to his message, is killed, is resurrected, gives his last message, and returns to the heavens.
  • Newscaster Cameo: H.V. Kaltenborn, Drew Pearson, and other Real Life journalists and broadcasters give news reports of the alien landing.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: The item shot out of Klaatu's hand was a gift for the President that would have advanced science significantly.
    • Wearing a face concealing — and unnecessary — helmet and extending an unidentified object without a word of explanation is very poor First Contact protocol.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Professor Barnhardt is a clear stand-in for Albert Einstein.
  • Older Than They Look: The doctors who treat Klaatu learn he is actually 75, while he looks 35.
  • Poor Communication Kills:
    • Almost. Klaatu refuses to deliver his message until he can deliver it to representatives of each nation in person, all at once. The 'kills' part comes from the threat of global destruction if everyone doesn't listen. He also never communicates this threat to the appropriate people.
    • He also assumes that walking right up to the military with a strange object that pops open unexpectedly couldn't be misconstrued at all.
    • Helen tells Tom not to tell the authorities about Klaatu, but doesn't say why it's such a bad idea — that Klaatu's people will destroy Earth.
  • Scare Chord: The Piano got some really bad abuse during the making of this film.
  • Screaming Woman: Helen is a subversion. The dramatic climax of the movie comes when she keeps a cool head and relays Klaatu's last message to Gort clearly and calmly, ensuring the film's somewhat-bittersweet conclusion. She does scream when Gort approaches her, but she quickly calms down after that.
  • Shout-Out: Klaatu uses the name Carpenter.
  • Shoot Him, He Has a Wallet!: Happens to Klaatu in the beginning.
  • Space Police: The race of robots that Gort belongs to are the policing force of the intergalactic community.
  • Space Whale Aesop: Give up war or be destroyed by robots from outer space.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Although Klaatu dies in both the original story, "Farewell to the Master", and in this film, he lasts longer in the film and specifically survives the event that killed him in the original. The story had Klaatu dying immediately after arriving on Earth (he only gets as far as introducing himself and Gort before he's shot by a fanatic with a gun). In this film, although he is shot while introducing himself, it's not fatal and he quickly recovers, but dies at the end of the film after being shot again during the manhunt. The screenwriter had intended for him to survive the film, too, being revived at the end by his alien technology, but the studio found the idea of technology alone being able to bring someone back from the dead too controversial; in the final film, although Klaatu is revived long enough to deliver a final message, he states explicitly that it's temporary and that true resurrection is "reserved for the Almighty Spirit".
  • Two of Your Earth Minutes: When Klaatu is telling the President's representative how long and how far he's traveled to reach Earth.
  • We Come in Peace — Shoot to Kill: Of the "peaceful alien met with hostility" variety. Klaatu is treated with suspicion from the outset, though at first the only overt hostility is from one nervous soldier. After the Earth Stands Still (a harmless demonstration of power, meant to get Earth to recognize the seriousness of the situation), everyone starts trying to kill him.