Day the Earth Stood Still vs War of the Worlds
#1
I watched both The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and The War of the Worlds (1953) this weekend, two science-fiction classics that have stood the test of time and spawned modern remakes.

Watching the extra features on the War of the Worlds disc, there's plenty of talk by those who were involved about it being a big, historic movie. It may have been, but if feels like a B movie to me. I haven't read the H.G. Wells story, so I don't know how it ends, but I was very surprised at the ending to the film, because it was so unsatisfying. It was as though they had no idea what to do, so they just ended it. This is really the first piece of writing that I've encountered where one can apply the term "deus ex machina" perfectly.

As described by dictionary.com, it is "any artificial or improbable device resolving the difficulties of a plot." Apparently the history is that it comes from Greek and Roman dramas in which a god would appear and resolve the plot. It seems in times past a statue of a deity would be lowered by some mechanical means (hence machina) into the play, rather than an actor portraying the god. Therefore the term evolved out of that and has become a term used in literary /artistic critisism.

With that in mind, that's exactly what we get with War of the Worlds. Just when the Martians have the people on their knees (quite literally, in church praying for deliverance), the alien craft suddenly start dropping out of the skies, and the narrator tells us they fell victims to the Earth bacteria that "God, in his wisdom," had placed here. It's not that the religious element isn't introduced before that time, but it's still a flimsy ending, to imply that the Almighty placed bacteria on Earth specifically to repel Martian invasion in the future is more absurd than the idea of Martians attacking in the first place.

The screenplay, coupled with decent, if not remarkable acting from Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, left me rather unimpressed with the film.

Not so with The Day the Earth Stood Still. First of all, Robert Wise. How many great films did this guy direct? What a brilliant mind he had for film making.

I really can't say enough good things about this movie. I like it all. It's sci-fi, but it's really carried by the character drama. Michael Rennie is perfect as Klaatu, he's likable but also alien and menacing. Where War of the Worlds is disposable entertainment, I found this film to be clever and left me thinking about it afterwards.

I enjoyed the idea of Gort and his fellow robot policemen zooming around in their flying saucers keeping an eye on the universe. It's a smart way to explain the UFO phenomenon in context of the film, but it's something it never dwells on. In fact, it doesn't dwell on any of the sci-fi aspects, but the film is executed in such a way that they don't have to. You believe it, because they've presented everything so seriously.

I also like the idea of aliens coming to Earth and really putting us in our place as the irresponsible, dangerous jerks of the universe. :bg:

As Klaatu says, we may do as we please on Earth, but keep it to ourselves! The message is still very relevant, because humans still hold the same nationalistic/tribal attitudes that Klaatu condemns. And I think that the film is right, until we all give up those attitudes and dedicate ourselves to living in peace, it'll never happen.

The film suggests, between the lines, we should put all power in the hands of the United Nations like the people of the other planets have given supreme authority to the robots. That can certainly be argued, and when you get right down to it, I don't think it would work. But the theory is sound: if we could give up 'policing' to a fair, impartial third party who distributed justice equally to all offenders, things would no doubt be better.

Anyway, very good film, and in the tradition of all great science fiction, it has something to say about society.

I highly recommend it to any Sci-Fi buffs who haven't seen it yet.
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#2
Quote:I haven't read the H.G. Wells story, so I don't know how it ends, but I was very surprised at the ending to the film, because it was so unsatisfying. It was as though they had no idea what to do, so they just ended it. This is really the first piece of writing that I've encountered where one can apply the term "deus ex machina" perfectly

That's exactly the way the book ends. The Martians simply fall victims to Earth's bacteria, keel over and die. Wells has some line about the humblest of God's creatures triumphing where man had failed. (I guess once something has passed the 110-year mark, no spoiler tags are necessary. Wink )

But that was a very radical surprise ending, with a huge message, and a radically modern use of straight science..... for 1898 that is. Wink

But yeah - it was basically a B-movie, but done with a little bigger budget and all the effort that an A-movie would have. (You could say the same about Casablanca or The Maltese Falcon too, and for that matter, A New Hope.) The director's main background was in special effects, and had been a camera man before that, and George Pal the producer's main background was in cartoons (w/ titles like Tubby the Tuba and Jasper's in a Jam.) He had just started doing live action low budget genre films, incl. When Worlds Collide (said George Pal to his bride...) and Destination Moon that had made a surprising profit, and so they let him go all out for this one. And Gene Barry, one of my favorite actors, was just barely a B-list actor; his only 2 previous features had been The Girls of Pleasure Island and The Atomic City. So this was clearly not a group that they were expecting anything deep from.

But hey - don't knock deus ex machina's. (Tecnically I guess that would be dei ex machina. :poke: ) I actually played one, in Shakespeare's As You Like It. All the good guys are about to get wiped out by the evil Duke's army, until in the last 60 seconds the hitherto-unknown middle brother (me) of the two leads, who's supposedly been away at college, suddenly shows up out of the blue to announce that the evil Duke ran into a holy man in the forest, who counseled him to give up his evil ways. So he did. Ta da. The end. :bg:
August  - Jack's Pack Fan # 1, Keeper of the List, 3-Time Speaker of the JoAT Fan Quote of the Week, and the only person ever to have Back 2 Back Jack and Cleo fan quotes !
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#3
Ah, ha! So the truth comes out! You do have some acting under your belt! Seriously, though, I'd been meaning to ask you that, since you're into theater, I wondered if you acted in any productions yourself.

I haven't seen the Tom Cruise "War of the Worlds" yet, but I'm interested to compare that one with the Keanu Reeves "The Day the Earth Stood Still" remake that comes out next month.
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#4
Given the differing social contexts, both films represent a cutting edge science.

As a microbiologist, I know that the advances in studying bacteria were on the edge of science -the forward edge! This was just as sharp as moon travel and relatively more accessible. Just plain old hard science fiction for its day. So, as unsatisfactory as it seems, it is the "right" ending. (And virology is similarly poised today, not to mention prions, proteinaceous plaques, and obligate intracellular organisms).

Same for the Day. In the context of the times.

REmakes have better special effects, but the B&W versions capture a quality about the vision of the orignals that makes them worthwhile visually as well as in terms of script.
inked
"Aslan is not a tame lion. Safe?
No, he's not safe, but he's good."
CSL/LWW
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#5
Boomstick Wrote:I haven't seen the Tom Cruise "War of the Worlds" yet, but I'm interested to compare that one with the Keanu Reeves "The Day the Earth Stood Still" remake that comes out next month.

I really enjoyed the Cruise/Speilberg effort. I thought it was a decent story, and took a different view of the conflict from some (though not all) previous alien invasion movies. Instead of seeing what's going on world-wide, or from a government/media standpoint, we get the view of one guy trying to survive and get his children to safety. So the confusion, the fear, the escapes are much easier to empathize/sympathize with.

Depsite my dislike of Keanu Reeves, I will likely see the new The Day the Earth Stood Still. As with Boomer, I can't say enough good about the original (and the homage used in Army of Darkness). I own it on DVD, and have watched it a number of times. The plot is very tight, the acting is very good, and the story moves along at a steady clip.
All your base are belong to us.

It could be that the purpose of my life is only to serve as a warning to others.
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#6
RobRoy Wrote:Depsite my dislike of Keanu Reeves, I will likely see the new The Day the Earth Stood Still. As with Boomer, I can't say enough good about the original (and the homage used in Army of Darkness). I own it on DVD, and have watched it a number of times. The plot is very tight, the acting is very good, and the story moves along at a steady clip.

I'm looking forward to it. In many ways, the trailers make it look more like "War of the Worlds" than the original "Day the Earth Stood Still." Which isn't surprising, a film as low-key as the original would be a hard sell these days, I'd imagine.
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#7
Boomstick Wrote:Ah, ha! So the truth comes out! You do have some acting under your belt! Seriously, though, I'd been meaning to ask you that, since you're into theater, I wondered if you acted in any productions yourself.

:laugh: - where have you been? I was a theatre major! I've done a jillion plays locally, even directed a few, even got paid for a few. I think you just missed various threads over the years....

ed. to add: our memories are the first thing to go :poke: check out this post and then your response.
August  - Jack's Pack Fan # 1, Keeper of the List, 3-Time Speaker of the JoAT Fan Quote of the Week, and the only person ever to have Back 2 Back Jack and Cleo fan quotes !
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