The following is a real-time commentary on The Day the Earth Stood Still, a sci-fi classic from 1951 about an alien named Klaatu who comes to our planet in the hopes that he can teach us dumb earthlings to be less pointlessly violent. (Good luck with that, buddy.)
0:00:53 – I feel like I always have to comment on at least one weird name that shows up in the credits, so I'd like to point out that apparently one of these actors answers to "Lock Martin”. Who names their child “Lock”? (Other than the matriarch of the Ness-Monster family, that is.)
0:02:10 – Reporters are now announcing that an alien spacecraft has begun its descent into Earth's atmosphere. This kicks off “Stock Footage: The Movie” as we get shot after shot of crowds from around the world making shocked faces at broadcasting devices. Alas, none of the stock footage snippets depicts a train going into a tunnel so I guess there wasn't a single person on the entire planet who happened to be boning with the news on in the background...
0:05:05 – The spaceship passes over the White House and other famous American landmarks, so I guess Klaatu decided to land in D.C. Yeah, he knows who runs the third rock from the sun. Suck on that, Senegal!
0:06:00 – Klaatu does a fly-by past several potential landing sights before eventually parking in the dead center of a baseball field. I guess he decided that other more iconic locations like "on top of an apple pie" or "on top of the abstract concept of the 4th of July" were too impractical for his purposes?
0:06:15 – We resume "Stock Footage: The Movie", except this time its a bunch of clips of cops and military units mobilizing. However, there is one amazing shot where a soldier is standing in the middle of an intersection and ordering a tank to make a right turn. The tank hits the curve a bit too fast, it loses a bit of traction on a standing pool of water, then its back half begins to spin out... only to successfully correct itself at the last second. The traffic directing soldier doesn't even blink even though an out of control tank almost bowled him over. Then it happens a second time with another tank and he still doesn't react even though he almost got tanked to death twice in about ten seconds. That dude should be the hero of this movie.
0:08:06 – Back to the baseball diamond, where Klaatu's ship has now been surrounded by an assload of soldiers, most of them with their guns drawn. This seems like an unnecessarily hostile welcome to me. Why isn't there at least one proto-hippie waving a sign that says "TAKE ME WITH YOU WHEN YOU LEAVE"?
0:08:24 – A door appears in the side of the spaceship. This causes all of the rubes to make awed faces and murmur. Man, the ratio of rubes-to-hot-people in crowd shots was way different in the fifties than it is now; apparently cinematographers have a lot less patience for hayseeds now.
0:08:53 – A young girl with a camera pushes her way to the front of the crowd and she's the rube-iest spectator yet. I can't believe that the director decided to give her the exact same amount of screen time as Mr. Unfazed-By-Runaway-Tanks.
0:09:09 – Klaatu appears wearing a silver jump suit and a door knob shaped helmet. He announces (in English) that he comes in peace. Of course, this immediately prompts the few soldiers who didn't already have their guns out to unholster their sidearms. I'd hate to see what they would do if he announced he was coming in anger. Unholster their bazookas maybe?
0:09:40 – Klaatu casually reaches inside his jumpsuit to pull something out, which we all know is a bad move when you're surrounded by -
00:09:48 – Yup, sure enough, a goober in a tank just shot Klaatu in the shoulder with a pistol. Boy, I bet that trigger happy dweeb is never going to live this down. I mean, the human race has dreamed of meeting a creature from the heavens for centuries, and we finally make contact with one... And this asshat doesn't even wait twenty seconds before he tries to kill it. The only way it could have been worse is if he had been a lodger who actually got a room at the inn on the night of Jesus' birth and he accidentally knocked over a candle, setting the manger on fire and killing our lord and savior long before he could save all of our souls.
0:10:04 – Gort, Klaatu's giant robot, exits the spaceship, which causes the crowd to flee in terror (in footage that clearly has been sped up.) Mr. Metal-face opens his eye-visor and shoots laser beams at all of the soldier's weapons which cause their guns to evaporate into thin air. Huh. I guess he could make a hell of a living as a magician – I hear David Copperfield is a billionaire.
0:10:45 – Klaatu tells Gort to stop evaporating everything in sight. He stands up, retrieves his (now busted) peace offering, then tells the general in charge that “It was a gift for your President. With this he could have studied life on other planets.” Yeah, that trigger happy goober is definitely never going to hear the end of this.
0:11:15 – The general tells his soldiers to take the wounded Klaatu to Walter Reed hospital. What the hell are they going to do with an alien? I'm pretty sure they don't cover alien repair in med school. Also: does he have insurance? This is pre-Obamacare, y'all.
0:12:00 – An ambassador from the President comes to visit Klaatu at Walter Reed. First order of business: figuring out if he prefers to be called “Mr. Klaatu” or just "Klaatu". This is, of course, the most important question to ask any being from another planet, because aliens are exactly like your high school girlfriend's dad.
0:13:52 – Klaatu wants to meet with all of the rulers of Earth, but the President's adviser poo-poos the idea, arguing that it would be impossible to arrange for so many different people to get to DC on such short notice. Klaatu (in full condescending dick mode) points out that he just came 250,000,000 miles to get here so these lazy-asses had better be able to come a few thousand miles to meet him. Which raises two points: 1. what kind of shitty-ass ruler wouldn't get on a plane to meet the world's first alien being and 2. why isn't Klaatu on the metric system?
0:14:30 – Klaatu tells the adviser “hey bro, if convening a special meeting of everyone is too much work then maybe you could just take me to the U.N.?” He seems to know more about the U.N. than this professional American diplomat, which is mind blowing, because the only thing he knows about it is that it exists. I know our foreign policy is pretty condescending and rude to the rest of the globe, but are we seriously that ignorant of every other country on the planet?
0:15:00 – Ah, it comes out: the adviser doesn't want to take Klaatu to the U.N. because then he'd address the “evil forces” at the same time as the good ol' USA. I get it: communism sucks, but does it suck so bad you'd fuck up the one chance we've ever had to meet aliens? Honestly, it seems like we'd be a little more stoked about this opportunity.
0:16:33 – Back to the baseball field, where Gort is standing still while a bunch of welders are blowtorching the side of Klaatu's spaceship. Again: that's just rude - if I landed my house on Earth I wouldn't want random dudes melting their way into my living room in the middle of the night. Also: Gort, you're a fucking security robot, so get to securin'. Also, it is apparently 2 A.M., so those welders better be getting paid overtime.
0:18:10 – Two doctors are talking about Klaatu – apparently he has the exact same physiology as a human, but he ages better and is expected to live longer. The two doctors are incredulous, and can't believe how much more advanced Klaatu's medicine is – while they are taking out a packet of cigarettes and lighting up in a hospital room.
0:18:51 – It turns out that Klaatu healed his gunshot wound with a magic salve. The existence of doctor-defying salves prompts one dejected MD to remark “I don't know whether to just get drunk or give up the practice of medicine.” This hospital is staffed with a bunch of Don Drapers I guess?
0:19:35 – The President's adviser is apparently correct and the other heads of state of the world have no interest in meeting with this alien? WTF is wrong with them? I would lick a bull frog's butthole for the chance to meet a friendly alien and I'm not even an Area 51 obsessive type of dude.
0:19:54 – Klaatu keeps stressing to the President's adviser that what he has to say concerns every human being on the planet so he doesn't just want to talk to the U.S.A. He is mystified that we are so selfish and stupid. Quite honestly, I am, too.
0:21:44 – Klaatu wants to walk around and meet Earth's people but the adviser says that military has put him in quarantine so he can't leave the hospital. Man, we seem to be really committed to fucking this up. If a doctor runs in and screams "uh I just contaminated your can of magic salve with some chlamydia, sorry about that" I'm quitting this movie and never looking back.
0:22:00 – Cut to: it's meal time. A nurse with a tray and an MP guard unlock the door to Klaatu's room and are shocked to discover that he's gone. Um, guys, he traveled millions of miles over the last week and operates an indestructable laser eyed robot, I'm pretty sure he can figure out how to open a window?
0:22:14 – The newspaper headline the next morning reads “The Man From Mars” escapes. Who the hell is their factchecker? Klaatu is not from Mars, nor is Mars 250 million miles away. At this point we literally know two things about him so I do not understand how a respected journalistic institution fuck one of them up that badly. (Also: the other thing we know about Klaatu is that a goober-tastic soldier shot him the instant we saw his face, which is also a fuck up, so I guess literally everything we know about him is either fucked up or one degree away from fucked up. As Charlie Brown would say: Good Grief.)
0:23:10 – Klaatu is now walking down a street in a (presumably stolen) suit. He stops to look at a sign that says “Room for rent.” Cut to the inside of a house where a small cluster of people is watching a news bulletin that proclaims Klaatu “a bitter enemy” before adding that he also “could be a friend.” Jesus Christ, people, let's not jump to conclusions - it is entirely possible that he wouldn't be a straight up friend, but rather a shitty friend who is fun until he gets too drunk, or a self serving "friend" who helps himself to the last slice of pizza without asking the table for permission and then doesn't throw down for the tip.
0:24:20 – Sure enough, Klaatu is stopping to rent a room. Before he can even finish negotiating the price with the landlady a young boy interrupts Klaatu to accuse him of being an FBI narc who is out to hunt for the alien with a “big square head and three eyes”. Jesus Christ, Klaatu, spend the extra dough and rent a hotel room; this place is obviously going to suck.
0:25:05 – Breakfast the next morning. The radio announcer wants to know: if Klaatu can build a space ship and a robot that can destroy a tank, what else can he build? “Obviously he must be found. He must be tracked down like a wild animal. He must be destroyed.” I kind of understand this movie's all consuming paranoia, but... if he really thought that Klaatu could end our species wouldn't he try to be nicer to him? There's no real upside to kicking a hornet's nest, especially if that nest is full of nuclear powered world destroying extraterrestrial hornets.
0:26:51 –Cut to a newspaper cartoon that asks “Are We Long For This World?” I don't care for the message, but the illustration they used is so awesome. The HuffPO can eat shit compared to this bomb-ass journalism.
0:27:15– An old man at the breakfast table thinks that the government hasn't done enough to track down and kill Klaatu because it's full of “Democrats”. I... just. I mean... You know what, let's just move on.
0:27:23 – A young female boarder stands up to the Democrat-hater and defends Klaatu. Finally we meet our first character that didn't immediately assume that our alien visitor – who has yet to hurt anyone, not even the people who shot him for no reason – is not a violent madman. I'm sure she's about to be stoned to death in the street for being a traitor to the human race...
0:027:30 - Sure enough, she gets a pushback from her breakfast companions: “Then why's he hiding?” Uh, maybe he's hiding because every time he shows himself someone tries to shoot him?
0:27:45 – Klaatu suggests to the entire table that maybe the alien is hiding because it needs some time to orient itself in a strange environment. This prompts an old lady to respond “there is nothing strange about Washington.” WTF lady, even humans think DC is fucked up.
0:27:50 – Klaatu points out that an alien would think that any place on Earth would be strange, and then the old lady says that she is sure that Klaatu is from Earth. In fact, he is definitely a communist who is pretending to be from another planet as part of some nefarious long con. I hope Klaatu doesn't change the topic to how much he enjoys all of D.C.'s architecture, because if he does then he's going to get an earful about if he knew anything about buildings he would know that 9/11 had to be an inside job.
0:27:55 – Someone points out that Klaatu can't be a Soviet spy because the Soviets would come to DC in planes, not spaceships. No one buys his suggestion. Somehow Klaatu managed to book himself a room at the worst hostel in the world – even worse the one in the torture porn movie Hostel.
0:28:15 – The young woman (who has yet to be named, but who IMDB identifies as "Helen") leaves the breakfast table to go meet her beau who just arrived at the front door. Tom wants to take Helen on a drive, but she seems hesitant. He tries to sweeten the deal by saying that his radio is on the frink so they will be able to ignore any news reports of the alien and get it off their minds for a little while. A) Nice try buddy but she still knows your car is shitty. B) Why would you want to forget the arrival of an alien?
0:28:45 – Helen doesn't want to go on the drive because she doesn't have anyone to watch over the little kid she is in charge of. (Her son? A younger brother? IMDB says the kid's name is Bobby, but the movie is not doing a good job of introducing him.) Anyway, Klaatu volunteers to watch him for the afternoon. STRANGER DANGER STRANGER DANGER
0:29:00 – Our mom of the year asks Tom if it's alright for Klaatu to watch Bobby. Tom immediately does the math, decides that getting laid this afternoon is more important than Bobby dying forever, tells her that yes, yes it is alright if a weird narc-looking dude watches her charge all afternoon. Helen you sure know how to pick 'em.
0:29:15 – Bobby takes Klaatu on a tour of DC and their first stop is... Arlington national cemetary? That's fucked up, kid. You live in monument town USA, take him to see the Lincoln memorial or something.
0:29:30 – Bobby really wants Klaatu to know that his dad is a dead in the ground corpse. Klaatu then asks about the cemetery, so Bobby explains that all the men who are buried there died during combat - a revelation which Klaatu frowns at. He then offers to take Bobby to the movies but the only currency he has on him is a pocketful of diamonds. You know, there's no better way to blend in than by taking an oddly exuberant orphan to a cemetery, asking him vague questions about combat, and then offering him a handful of precious stones - that is definitely how most Americans spend their Saturdays.
0:29:45 – Bobby thinks that a handful of pocket diamonds is worth “a million dollars”. Bobby is a fucking moron.
0:30:00 – Klaatu sells Bobby several diamonds for $2. Then the fresh faced child says “let's not tell mom about this” because she “doesn't like it when I steal from people.” Hey Bobby - the first rule of con club is DO NOT ANNOUNCE THAT YOU ARE SWINDLING SOMEONE MID-SWINDLE
0:31:00 – The cat jumped in my lap and tried to knead the shit out of my arm, so I was unable to take notes on Klaatu and Bobby's trip to the Lincoln memorial. However, all you need to know is that Klaatu asked who the smartest man on Earth is and Bobby told him that it was a scientist who (conveniently enough) lives in D.C.
0:33:25 – Klaatu and Bobby have now walked over the baseball field where the spaceship is parked. Bobby expressed a little but of curiosity about the flying saucer and then Klaatu coughed up a bunch of inside information about how it works in front of a big crowd. That seems like a bad move for an alien who is trying to stay undercover?
0:34:28 – Klaatu is now on his way to meet Professor Barnhart, the smartest man in the world. The professor has a blackboard with a whole bunch of equations on it, so clearly he's smart. Or maybe his janitor is really smart; we can never rule out a Good Will Hunting type situation. Regardless, Klaatu eyeballs the formulas and then shakes his head sadly.
0:36:00 – Barnhart isn't home so Klaatu just breaks into his house. Meanwhile the cat is now desperately trying to break into my lap.
0:36:45 – A good example of how movies have changed over the years: we see Klaatu leaning over and writing on a scrap of paper – we can reasonably assume that he's leaving his contact information so the absent professor call him later. However, the movie doesn't trust us to make that leap on our own so it gives us an insert shot of the card and then holds it way too long so even the slowest readers can ogle every digit in Klaatu's phone number. That sort of redundant underlining was common in older movies but you never see it anymore; modern audiences are too media savvy to need a scene like that and too impatient to tolerate it.
0:37:00 – Back a the boardinghouse: a visitor shows up hoping to meet Klaatu... but it's an FBI agent, not professor Barnhart. OH NO DID HE KILL BOBBY WHEN WE WEREN'T LOOKING?
0:37:35 – Helen returns from her date just in time to see Klaatu leaving with the G-man. I'm sure she feels great about leaving her son with a total stranger now... But then (a still living) Bobby runs into the room and breathlessly tells her what he did with his afternoon, ending with a real up beat “and then we went to see dad” - ie, dad's gravestone. Bobby's cheerfulness in the face of such morbidity suggests he has a serious mental imbalance, or at the very least a malicious indifference to his mom's emotional well being.
0:41:00 The G-Man wasn't taking Klaatu to jail, he was taking him to meet Professor Barnhart. (Apparently, the FBI was real worried when complex astrophysics problems started solving themselves in the wake of an alien invasion.) Anyway, Barnhart looks like what would happen if Moe from the 3 Stooges had a baby with a troll doll. Or, basically like Hollywood superproducer Brian Grazer.
0:41:35 – Klaatu and Barnhart do a bunch of gibberish science talk, then Klaatu outs himself as an alien. Barnhart takes it well; he neither screams nor accuses Klaatu of being a pinko commie. So far the ratio of reasonable people to total nutjobs in this movie is 2 : 2,000. Which is... not necessarily inaccurate.
0:42:38 – Klaatu explains to Barnhart why he came to Earth: the aliens have heard that humankind has invented atomic energy and now they are worried that we're going to nuke the universe. This movie came out two decades before we went to the moon so I think their intergalactic concern is a bit premature...
0:44:02 – Klaatu is trying to convince Barnhart to help him organize a global leadership conference. I don't think he knows that Earth's most respected scientists have absolutely no sway over the general population; if he knew about how we treat our foremost experts on climate change he would probably shit a brick. Then again he's an alien so maybe he always shits bricks. Who knows? We haven't seen him use a toilet yet.
0:44:50 – Barnhart suggests that if Klaatu demonstrates his power the world might be more likely to listen to him - but he needs to carefully walk a line between being impressive and being destructive because he doesn't want to freak people out too much. Klaatu says that he'll figure something out, but then he ominously warns Barnhart that if humanity doesn't heed his message that he will destroy the planet. Well... We. Are. Boned.
And on that optimistic note... This is the end of part one. If you want to read part two of the liveblog then click here.