27 July 2003 | bob the moo
Classic with surprising (for the time) pacifist message
When a space ship lands in the middle of a playing field in Washington, the military respond with an immediate shut down of the area. The inhabitant of the space ship exits bearing a gift, but is shot by soldiers mistaking it for a weapon. Seconds after the shot a large robot exits and destroys all the weapons. The alien, Klaatu, is taken to a hospital and asks for an audience with all the world leaders. When he is refused, he escapes the hospital and takes a room in a small guest home incognito. The man hunt starts as Klaatu seeks to deliver his message to earth and avert disaster.
In a sea of 1950's sci-fi this film easily stands out as a classic that gave so much to popular culture the score alone has been aped (or lifted in the Simpson's case) in many other films. The plot is very different to the others of the period as it is a peaceful message it sends, rather than a `beware the red menace' message of fear and hate. In fact one character even says she thinks the `alien' is from earth (ie Russia) only to be hushed! The film lacks action but makes up for it with a solemn mood and genuine thoughtfulness as Klaatu learns more about humans and tries to reconcile what he sees with what he sees in the wider world as a whole.
In recent hindsight it is impossible not to look at Klaatu's warning of `disarm or we'll remove your threat by destroying you' in the same light. Isn't this the same warning and actions that Bush and Blair made recently? I'll leave you with that thought but I found it difficult to understand Klaatu's pre-emptive strike, while holding a critical view of Bush's.
That aside the film's production is very polished. The score is excellent and really gives the film an alien feel to it. The direction makes use of ordinary sets to good effect the very idea of the space ship landing in Washington is obvious, but to have it land on a baseball field is a clever way to show it striking (sorry accidental pun) at the heart of ordinary America. The cast do well and mostly rise above the clichés set by the genre. Rennie does good work as Klaatu and Neal is more than just a screamer as Helen. Of course we have to have a wide-eyed all American boy (Bobby, but it could easily be Johnny or Jimmy) to see the whole thing, but he does OK.
Overall this is a classic of the genre that has passed on so much to modern audiences. The pacifist message is refreshing when viewed along side so many other of the period which used the aliens to warn against the spread of communism, but the ease with which you now accept Klaatu's threat of a pre-emptive strike will depend on your political views over the past few months.