Saturday, May 24, 2014

Space Alien for Memorial Day

Klaatu:  "I am fearful when I see people substituting fear for reason."

If the kids won't think that an old black and white science-fiction movie is corny, I have a recommendation for one to watch with them during the Memorial Day weekend.  It's long been one of my favorites ever since I was a kid and watched it on television.  I've grown to appreciate it much, much more in my adult years and have rented the DVD quite a few times.

Tall, slim Michael Rennie plays the visitor from another planet who lands in Washington, D.C. to deliver an urgent global message to the people of Earth.  To help him get his message across, there's Gort.  You don't mess with Gort.  That is not a CD shuffle in his head.  Work his last good robot nerve and he can turn you into dust.
           
                                                                                          
The 1951 movie is The Day the Earth Stood Still.


World War 2 was over.  Greater weapons of mass destruction have been created.  America is in the age of the atom bomb.  The Day the Earth Stood Still is a suspenseful and intelligent plea for peace.  It surpasses most sci-fi fare of the time with its fine production qualities and thoughtful writing.  The mysterious but kind space alien's name is Klaatu.  But there's already a lot of hate and anti-diversity feelings towards him simply because he's...well...an intergalactic immigrant.  To blend in with earthlings, he calls himself "Carpenter."  He's Mr. Carpenter.  His space craft has landed.  It's arrival is the international headline of the day.  The visitors have come in peace.  But how do American men deal with it even before the visitors have uttered one word?  They whip out big guns.

Mr. Carpenter has blended in with the residents of a boarding house in Washington, D.C.  He wins the immediate friendship of a sweet little boy named Bobby  Benson.  His mom, Helen, is a single working mother.  A widow.  Her husband was killed serving in World War 2.  Mr. Carpenter wants to know more about his surroundings.  He's fond of Bobby.  Bobby's mother embraces diversity.  The man she's dating does not and neither do some of the other residents.  Some don't even like Democrats.

The literature of film -- the way scenes are photographed and the information we're given -- tells us that Mr. Carpenter is good and wants to see an end to wars.  Look at how he and Bobby are framed when touring our nation's capital.
There's a symmetry with young Bobby, Mr. Bobby and the Lincoln Memorial.  Mr. Carpenter reads The Gettysburg Address and says "Those are great words."

Here's why this is fine for Memorial Day weekend:  Bobby takes Mr. Carpenter to Arlington National Cemetery where his soldier father is buried.  Mr. Carpenter is awed to see so many headstones, so many dead because of war.  We sense this gives Klaatu/Mr. Carpenter more urgency to deliver his message.
He must meet with the most brilliant scientist he can.  Bobby suggests Professor Barnhardt.  The professor has been grappling with a theory, complicated equation for days.  It's on a blackboard.  To Klaatu, it's like grade school math.  He solves it within seconds.  The professor then realizes he's been visited by the space alien.  He understands the message of peace Klaatu needs to deliver.  By the replica of Abraham Lincoln, the way Michael Rennie's character was framed, we could see that Mr. Carpenter is a man of peace.  In this shot, the way it's framed with Professor Barnhardt, we see that Mr. Carpenter is also a man of extraordinary intelligence.
But earth men are still whipping out the big guns and they're after Mr. Carpenter.  His truest allies are Bobby and his mother.  I loved Patricia Neal.  Her Best Actress Oscar-winning performance in Hud is my favorite of her onscreen performances.  This is my second favorite.  She brings such intelligence and dimension to this working class woman role.  She believes her little boy.  She believes Mr. Carpenter when he reveals his true identity.  After he's shot and killed by the military, she keeps a promise to deliver a special message -- in space alien message -- to Klaatu's huge robot bodyguard.  She's scared as all get out -- but she delivers the message:  "Klaatu barada nikto."
There are Bible story overtones to this movie.  Think about it.  Our Heavenly Father needed the world to have a messenger of peace.  Who is contacted to help get that message out there?  Mary, the woman who will become the mother of Jesus.  She's not married.  Bobby's mother is not married.  She's a widow.  What did Jesus do before going on the road with his message?  He was a carpenter.  What does Klaatu call himself on earth?  Carpenter.  Then...there was another major element.  Gort takes Bobby's mother into the space ship.  She sees the body of the slain friendly alien.

With super-advanced technology, Mr. Carpenter is resurrected.

He eventually gets the attention of world leaders gathered in Washington.  First, he shut off all the world's electricity at the same time for a while.  Folks still wouldn't listen.  Klaatu has said "I'm impatient with stupidity.  My people have learned to live without it."  Klaatu is fatally gunned down.  When Gort met aggression with aggression and proved "mine is way bigger than yours," earth men started paying attention.  Klaatu reunites his friend, Helen, with her son, Bobby.  He address the People of Earth before he returns to his planet.  He reminds America that its Founding Fathers made laws to govern themselves.  He says "There must be security for all, or no one is secure."

Klaatu adds "...if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder.  Your choice is simple.  Join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration.  We shall be waiting for your answer..."

In modern terms, that was Klattu's way of "dropping the mic."

I don't know about you, but I wish that would happen.  I wish a peaceful, more advanced being from another planet would land in Washington, D.C. and tell Earth that we'd better get it together. And global warming is real.  Polar bears weren't meant to be skinny and look like supermodel Kate Moss wearing a fur coat.  I really wish we'd be visited by a Klaatu.

The Day the Earth Stood Still  is simple, direct, smart, well-acted and the script is still relevant.  I prefer this version to the overdone remake that came out a few years ago.  The 1951 original was directed by Robert Wise.  He went on to direct West Side Story, The Haunting and The Sound of Music.

Happy Memorial Day.  Take care of the kids.




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