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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that at the core of this film is the powerful, and potentially disturbing notion that because of Earth's volatility and war-addicted nature, the planet is in danger of self-destructing. The production is old-fashioned, with none of the gore, in-your-face brutality, or heavy realism seen in later science fiction movies. Government and military officials are shown as impulsive and violence-prone; in several action sequences, they threaten and shoot out of fear and without cause. There are tanks, all sorts of guns and weaponry and one character is shot on two separate occasions. An alien vaporizes threatening objects and demobilizes guards. In other suspense-filled moments the leads are seen running for their lives. Since it's set in the 1950s, many characters smoke.
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What's the story?
In this classic 1951 sci-fi film, a charismatic foreigner lands on Earth, determined to deliver a message of peace despite people's fear and distrust. When a flying saucer lands in Washington, D.C., the army cordons it off. Spectators watch as a panel opens and Klaatu, a human-looking alien, emerges. While he declares his peaceful intentions, a trigger-happy soldier shoots him, provoking Klaatu's indestructible robot, Gort, to vaporize the army's entire arsenal. After escaping from the hospital where he's being observed, Klaatu borrows some earth clothes and seeks out the brilliant Professor Barnhardt, to whom he reveals his mission. He has come as an emissary to warn earthlings that their atomic weapons pose a threat to the peace and security of other planets, and that they must disarm or their planet will be "eliminated." But can Klaatu impart his message to all of the nations' representatives before alien paranoia causes panic?
Is it any good?
One of the finest science fiction movies of the 1950s, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL retains its impact and its dignity half a century later. Hopefully no one will ever try to remake this movie, because the earnestness that drives it would be near impossible to recapture. The effects, understated and very competent, would resemble those in 1999's soulless Lost in Space. So please, movie-remaking people, leave this one alone!
Michael Rennie's striking posture and stern, hatchet-like face make for a convincing alien. Patricia Neal is also admirable as Helen, the woman who unwittingly boards her spare room to him but then tries to help him. Children will find a character to relate to in Bobby, Helen's young son who finds a father figure in the man from space. Released during the Cold War, this film was a rarity for depicting its otherworldly visitor as an ambassador of peace. Though young viewers may find the robot and spaceship unimpressive by modern standards, Klaatu's mission will engage them, and the message of non-violence could spur good discussions about the importance of world peace.
Talk to your kids about ...
- In theaters: September 28, 1951
- On DVD or streaming: June 30, 1998
- Cast: Billy Gray, Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal
- Director: Robert Wise
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Space and Aliens
- Character strengths: Teamwork
- Run time: 92 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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