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Film / The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

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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."

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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:

  • 30-Second Blackout: Klaatu has a small demonstration where he deliberately, briefly shuts down all power except hospitals and planes.
  • Adaptation Name Change: In the original story, "Farewell to the Master", the robot's name was Gnut, not Gort.
  • Adaptational Villainy: In the original short story, Gort doesn't attack anyone at all. He tries to resurrect the dead Klaatu, eventually succeeds (after causing some damage and scaring the bejeezus out of some Earthlings), then they both leave.
  • 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.
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  • 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: If you ignore the deathbot and the closing threat, Klaatu is a decent enough guy. The closing threat is that if humanity doesn't abide by the aliens' rules, the whole world will be destroyed. That's pretty clearly an invasion, even if it is for our own good.
  • Big Blackout: Klaatu demonstrates his power by causing a global blackout for exactly thirty minutes. He thoughtfully makes exceptions for such things as hospitals and airplanes in flight.
  • Broken Aesop: The intended message is Humans Are the Real Monsters because Klaatu is a peaceful ambassador whose home planet fears Earth will expand into outer space due to its advances in space and nuclear technology, makes the Earth stand still to deliver a message of peace, which culminates in Klaatu's accidental death. Except, Klaatu arrives with zero warning, shuts down all power on Earth (with the exception of hospitals and in-flight airplanes) — which potentially caused thousands of deaths — all to deliver a message of complete annihilation if they do anything remotely "threatening" to a planet they didn't even know existed solely because Earth has the theoretical capability to attack them, not because of any action Earth intentionally or unintentionally made against them. This makes Klaatu's planet look extremely hostile and xenophobic, ruining the film's intended message.
  • Commercial Pop-Up: During a showing on AMC, an ad filled the entire bottom of the screen for a western mini-series, accompanied by loud horse noises. Rather annoying, to say the least.
  • 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 Klaatu's spaceship first lands at the park, the crowds of people there run away in terror.
    • Sometime later, a crowd of people (and Army personnel) surround the spaceship. When Gort first appears the crowd panics and take off.
  • 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 fires his disintegration beam from a single ominous point under his opened visor. In the remake, Gort has a single glowing red eye behind the visor — there's a good moment when one of the characters realises the eye is following him as he walks across the room.
  • Deus Est Machina: Perhaps Gort. "Nothing he cannot do", raises the dead (all the way in the original script), name sounds like 'God'.
  • Disintegrator Ray: Gort's eye beam is used to disintegrate tanks, artillery pieces and individual weapons. After Klatuu is killed, his programming changes, and he uses it on humans, nearly doing so to Helen, but she manages to tell him the code word to make him stop.
  • Doomsday Device: Whether he counts as a "weapon" or a "character" is hard to say, but Gort might qualify. Never mind the fact that he defeated a whole unit of the U.S. Army by himself; according to Klaatu, he could have destroyed the Earth if he had to.
  • E = MC Hammer: Klaatu visits Professor Barnhardt, but the man is not home. Klaatu makes an addition to a blackboard-covering equation, then leaves his contact information with the scientist's housekeeper. The addition to the equation was apparently intended to convince the professor not to write off his unknown caller as a joke.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: Klaatu warns that if humanity continues to be so violent, his society will have to do this.
  • Einstein Hair: Professor Barnhardt, who's clearly a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Einstein.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Klaatu says that the earth will be destroyed if they choose to not live in peace.
  • Fake Shemp: Doubles were used for Klaatu and Bobby in long shots of them walking around Washington, DC. In reality, none of the principal cast ever went to Washington, and the scenes with Klaatu and Bobby at the Lincoln Memorial and at Arlington Cemetery were shot in front of background screens using footage shot by the second unit crew in Washington, DC.
  • First Contact: Klaatu arrives as an ambassador from outer space.
  • First Contact Team: When they can't do a world leader group meeting with Klaatu, due to everyone's squabbling, they send in the best people from a number of different fields for the big formal meeting with him.
  • 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.
  • Hide Your Otherness: Klaatu spends a good chunk of the film hiding from the military by posing as a man named Mister Carpenter who's renting an apartment with a local family, he soon becomes trusting enough of the family to let them in on his secret and elicit their help in getting back to his ship and preventing The End of the World as We Know It.
  • 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 identical to a human being. It's been said that the filmmakers cast a British actor virtually unknown in the United States so audiences would have an easier time believing he was an alien than if he was a familiar face.
  • 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.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Klaatu shows up and tries to give humanity a machine that would allow for interstellar communication. And how do the humans respond? By shooting him. After he recovers he spends some time observing humanity and eventually decides to show he means business by disabling all human technology on the planet (with a few exceptions, he left alone planes in flight, hospitals, and the like) for a short period of time. Then the humans shoot him again, this time killing him. He gets better, scolds them for being so violent, and essentially says that if humanity keeps this up the interstellar community will have no choice to put them down in order to prevent humanity from carrying its warlike ways out into space.
  • I Come in Peace: Klaatu steps out of his ship in the presence of roughly half the U.S. military, who are already a bit jumpy on account of the aforementioned spaceship. He wordlessly thrusts an alien device in their direction (actually trying to offer a gift), and somebody twitches and shoots him.
  • 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.
  • In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves: Klaatu visits Earth because, now that we're developing space travel technology, we could potentially take our self-destructive tendencies off world and threaten galactic peace. The aliens want us to outgrow our childish ways and will gladly accept us as equals when we do, but until then, if we start trouble, unstoppable alien robots will be waiting to destroy us in retaliation.
  • Intimidation Demonstration: The titular Day The Earth Stood Still is caused by Klaatu using an EMP to short out all devices on earth from thirty minutes, as a show of what the world is up against.
  • Jerkass: Tom, who rats Klaatu out to the Feds.
  • Killer Robot: Gort apparently could wipe out all of Earth if he wanted.
  • Mechanical Lifeforms: Possibly applies to Gort, based on Klaatu's statement.
    Klaatu:...We created a race of robots, and gave them absolute power over us."
    • Klaatu also seems to indicate the Gorts are sentient to a point or at least capable of making decisions, when he says that without him, Gort could destroy the Earth.
  • 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.
  • Perfect Pacifist People: Klaatu says that his people live in peace and are free from aggression and war because of the creation of the Gorts and giving them absolute, irrevocable power over the people.
  • 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.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Klatuu tells Helen that if he is killed, Gort will destroy the Earth, and to stop him, she must use the code word "Klaatu Barada Nikto". She successfully does so, but exactly what the phrase means (obviously, it's something in Klatuu's language) has never been truly revealed. Robert Wise, related a story he had with Edmund North, the screenplay writer, saying North told him, "Well, it's just something I kind of cooked up. I thought it sounded good." On the other hand, Billy Gray, who played Bobby Benson in the film, said that "barada nikto must mean... save earth". Florence Blaustein, widow of the producer Julian Blaustein, said North had to pass a street called Baroda every day going to work and said, "I think that's how that was born." Film historian Stephan Jay Rubin claimed that in an interview he had with North when he asked the question, "What is the direct translation of Klaatu barada nikto, and Edmund North said to me 'There's hope for earth, if the scientists can be reached'."
  • Scare Chord: The Piano got some really bad abuse during the making of this film.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense Of Distance: Klaatu claims to have arrived from a planet "250 million miles" from Earth. This would place his homeworld somewhere in the Sun's asteroid belt.
  • 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: The film starts off with Klaatu pulling out a strange device, his gift to the president, and getting shot by military personnel.
  • Slave Race: The Reveal makes it clear that Klaatu and his people deliberately did this to themselves by establishing a robot-controlled police state.
  • Space Police: Gort and Klaatu. In a twist, Gort turns out to be the officer, and Klaatu is his assistant. In the short story on which the movie is based, Klaatu is only an artificial construct created to make it possible for Gort to communicate with humans
  • 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".
  • Sword of Damocles: Klaatu claims that this is why his people built Gort and other robots like him; the robots were purposely programmed to destroy Klaatu's planet if war ever started, preventing the species from ever doing so.
  • That Was the Reward: At the beginning of the movie, after Klaatu gets out of his saucer he approaches the U.S. Army soldiers surrounding it. He offers a device that suddenly juts out spines and a soldier panics and shoots the device. Klaatu later explains its true nature.
    Klaatu: It was a gift for your President. With this, he could have studied life on the other planets.
  • Two of Your Earth Minutes: When Klaatu is telling the President's representative how long and how far he's traveled to reach Earth.
  • Verbal Weakness: The shutdown code for Gort is Klaatu Barada Nikto.
  • Washington D.C. Invasion: The film starts with a spaceship landing on the National Mall. Not an invasion, but no one told the Army.
  • 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.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Klaatu goes around with a pocketful of cut diamonds which function as small change on his planet; he tries to buy things with them on Earth, attracting the attention of the authorities.

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