"Klaatu barada nikto!"

One of the best science fiction movies ever made. It was released in 1951, directed by Robert Wise, and written by Edmund H. North, based on Harry Bates' story "Farewell to the Master". Leo Tover was the cinematographer, and Bernard Herrmann provided the musical score. It starred Michael Rennie as the alien Klaatu, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe, Billy Gray, Frances Bavier, and Lock Martin as the robot Gort.

After a flying saucer lands in Washington, D.C., panicked troops shoot Klaatu, the alien who emerges. But a big, scary robot named Gort shows up, disarms the soldiers, and saves Klaatu, who explains that he is on a mission of peace and goodwill. However, he warns that, though his people don't care how many wars Earth's nations wage on each other, if Earth's violence ever extends into space, the planet will be destroyed. Klaatu is taken to a hospital to recover, but distrusting the motives of the government, he escapes and moves into a boarding house, in order to get to know Earth's people better. Will Klaatu be able to return to his ship? More importantly, will mankind be able to control its warlike instincts and preserve itself?

In a decade dominated by paranoid visions of aliens (or Communists or scientists or whatever), "The Day the Earth Stood Still" made a case for abandoning ideological rivalries and living together in peace and understanding. This was, perhaps, a radical idea for the times, but at the height of the Cold War, it was an important counterpoint to the Atomic Age's obsessions with weaponry, annihilation, and dominance. And it left the most important point unspoken: even without Klaatu's ultimatum and robot army, we faced the same choice he offered -- world peace or nuclear war, trust or paranoia, global friendship or global destruction...

"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. The decision rests with you."

You may think that this is just a movie, but OH NO.

Let me tell you about the day the Earth stood still. Gather 'round now, I'll dim the lights and start a fire.

I went to a computer show today. Lots of new and used stuff, most of it pretty cool. I went with two friends, just browsing. They were unsuccessful in their search for a 21" monitor, so they bailed. I stayed to get a better look at the vendors and their wares.

And lo, I come to a memory booth. My primary computer at home is a home built Pentium III 500 cranking on 128 Megs of RAM. I had been planning to upgrade it to 256, but memory prices had not previously lent themselves to this plan.

Until today. This day. The day the Earth stood still.

I buy myself a Micron 128MB PC100 DIMM for around $50. Good to go, I peruse the floor one last time, and head home - good fortune in hand. I arrive at my apartment, eager to install my new silicon toy.

I snap the DIMM into the second slot on my motherboard, plug the computer in, and boot it up. I smile as the memory test hits 256. Excellent!

The box boots, and I ponder what to test. I play a few Quicktime movies, no difference really. I grab my 'American Beauty' DVD off the shelf, and pop it in. I start up the DVD player software, and...

The computer locks up.

I suspect the memory, but rather than jumping to an immediate decision, I reboot the box and decide to give it another try. Again, the DVD software locks up the machine.

The Earth begins to slow.

I shut down the computer, remove the new DIMM, and fire it back up. I start the DVD software, and it immediately starts playing the movie. Interesting. I shut down the computer, remove my old DIMM, install the new DIMM, and boot it back up. I start the DVD software, and the movie begins playing.


Again, I load the computer back up with both my original DIMM, as well as the new one. I boot it up and start the DVD software, just to see it lock up the machine once more.

The Earth slows further.

Very strange. Both chips are PC100 128MB DIMM modules. They should work with one another. I shut down the system, leave the new chip in, and boot it back up. The system turns on, however nothing is displayed on the screen. I attempt to turn the system off, but the power button is not responding. I pull the plug, and it finally powers down. I plug it back in, and press the power button to turn it back on and...


I start pressing the power button repeatedly, but the computer refuses to power up. I check the connections on all cables, and everything seems fine. I try a few more times to power on the system, to no avail.

The Earth stops moving.

I arrive at the first stages of grief as I realize my computer has quite possibly died on me. I pull the plug on the power supply for ten minutes or so, in case it went into overload, and tried again - and again, my computer greeted me with a cold silence.

I figured this was a good time to head back to the dealer who sold me the memory, and inform him that my computer was now a boat anchor. I bring back the chip, and tell him what happened. He tells me that it's absolutely impossible that memory can destroy a system. (Unlikely, perhaps. Not impossible.) I tell him that I'll go back and see if I can get my computer back up, and he agrees to let me return the chip if it's of no use to me.

I went back home, and eyed my dying friend. I decide to check every connection on the board, so I start with the ATX connector. I pull it off the board, and - WOW - that sure came off quite easily. I plug the ATX connector back on to the board, and wonder if the problem was really that simple. Absolutely not. I've been working with computers for years. Hell, I built this very system myself! That can't be the problem.

That was the problem.

The Earth shudders.

Mind you, that's not why the new memory chip failed, but at least my computer was alive and well once more. Delighted that I had ressurected the box, I powered it down and pulled my memory chip. I brought both chips to the memory vendor at the show, and told him that they most definitely were not compatible with one another.

He tested them both, and they both tested good. I knew my module was good, as it has been serving me flawlessly for about two years. He suggested a situation that I had never assumed to be an issue. Apparently, if you have one DIMM with chips on both sides, and one with chips on one side, it can cause problems in very rare instances. My original DIMM had chips on both sides, and the new one had chips on one side. Hmmm, a possible solution?

So I swapped the DIMM for another with chips on both sides of the module, and brought it home, hoping that's what the problem was. I went to the computer, installed the new chip, and fired it up. The memory counted to 256 once again, and the computer booted fine. One final time, I started the DVD software, silently praying to the computer gods. This had to work. There was nothing left to do but wave a dead chicken, and I didn't have one handy.

Behold. The DVD began playing. Woah. Could it be true? I start running lots of applications. I run Quicktime movies, while playing mp3s, while 2 instances of mIRC are running, along with Internet Explorer, AIM, ICQ, and distributed.net. I open several windows, start some more Quicktime movies while I play my DVD, and everything runs smoothly.

The Earth jerks, and resumes its previous movement.

I called the memory guy to let him know that everything seems to be okay, and I thank him. I do realize that my computer is fine, but when I thought it had died, it drained me. I thought that buying that DIMM was the stupidest thing I had ever done, and my computer paid the price. The relief I felt when it came back to life was wonderful. Today didn't suck so bad in the end after all.

I then logged into Everything2, and I began writing about The Day the Earth Stood Still.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is what has become a rarity out of America--an intelligent sci fi movie. (Another one is Gattaca.)

This statement will be contested by the many admirers of Star Wars (and I know that Wise directed Star Trek: The Motion Picture), and other more recent movies, who will claim old black and white cannot possibly speak to the modern movie audience. And to this, I might not disagree.

Jaded by the ever-sophisticating technology of computer graphics, the North American audience, at least, has been weaned on the implicit notion that action, and flash of imagery is the real substance of drama.

Michael Rennie as a thoughtful visitor from somewhere else, not quite a police officer, brings a serious message that has yet to be heeded by the most powerful nation on earth--in fact, about to be disregarded by the imminent adoption of the NMD.

It is in the quiet ensemble acting--the trusting boy (Billy Gray as Bobby Benson), the woman growing to trust (Patricia Neal as Helen Benson), and even the scientist (the ever slightly strange Sam Jaffee)--that the real drama is played out; all pivoting around Klaatu.

This is the true reality of acting that the British have not yet forgotten--as evidenced by the many re-makes of their movies and television programs for the American sensibility. Even The X-Files, before the movie, before the conspiracy got out of hand and became foreground, knew:

The more explicit the image, the less room for thought, and imagination.

The Day the Earth Stood Still asks very real questions about the existence and use of atomic weapons at the beginning of the atomic age. It gets our attention with only a bit of cinematic trickery--what most in today's audience would consider weak movie-making. All that Klaatu did was follow the scientist's request: do something spectacular, but hurt no one; a very interesting challenge as Klaatu himself put it. (And not something that is cinematically spectacular, that art not technologically advanced, but the acting, the writing, the imagining was.)

In a way the director, Robert Wise, has anticipated my remarks: when Klaatu goes to the saucer landing site with Bobby, he is interviewed by the TV reporter there; but when he starts talking reasonably, intelligently about the effects of fear, and how it gets in the way, the reporter moves on.

We are people. We relate to other people. the most effective actors are people. The expressions on the faces of the actors in the early X-Files are the only way to convey the feeling of horrors only dimly glimpsed.

Why would we want these images plainly put?

What would move us to imagine, if all is before us? What poverty is this?

What would make the earth stand still for us?

The Day The Earth Stood Still is based on a classic SF short story by Harry Bates called Farewell To The Master. It features Klaatu and Gort, but has a slightly different point than the movie.

The kicker, the grand revelation in italics that all 1940's SF was legally required to have, was (get ready, now. Are you sitting down?)

The robot was in charge. In the galactic culture of which they were ambassadors, humans took second place to their creations. Imagine if the filmmakers had tackled this aspect head-on, without the Frankenstein twist that seems to still follow us around.

The Day the Earth Stood Still


The movie without character development

A remake (2008)

Let me start out by saying I have never seen the original movie that this sub-par movie is a remake of, but judging from the above writeups the original was good. The new movie is not good. It’s not really bad either in that it is entertaining because of massive special effects, but there is no meat to the plot or the premise or... anywhere really.

The premise is “violence is bad and humans are bad for being violent and generally killing the environment”. This is dealt with in the movie, but it feels like an excuse to use up a special effect budget.

So, the “humans are killing the world” is played heavy-handily and as clumsy as you please, without much effort otherwise.

But let’s get to my major complaint and then I’ll shut up about this nonsense movie.

There’s no character development. Keanu Reeves plays the alien Klaatu, a name almost as weird as his own. Keanu is a good actor for this role because Klaatu is basically a wooden automaton and if Keanu can play any role really well it is that of a wooden automaton.

Then there’s a scientist-lady who is a professor of xeno-micro-biology or something else equally absurd who the US government apparently has on speed dial in case aliens land. Don’t worry about her name because if you see the movie, you won’t remember it. She is the protagonist, but don’t worry about relating to her because she is just as flat as every other character in the film.

She has a step-son she takes care of. The back story makes a feeble attempt to explain why she is taking care of him by stating that his father died. This also explains why the kid is black and the woman is white-white-white. The kid doesn’t respect his step-mother and dislikes aliens, and that’s all there is to him.

There is a guy working for the government who would be what is passed off as a romantic interest in a better movie. He is displayed briefly in the beginning, and then briefly in the end… when he is killed off. Not surprisingly, none of the other characters seem to care.

The only character who has any development at all is the US Secretary of State who is the only character who has a convincing turn around in the entire movie.

There’s a giant robot too, but we’ll ignore that, because the movie mostly does too.

Highly mediocre. A pointless remake, probably inferior in every way to the original. If you want to go to a flick this week, go to Transporter 3 because I guarantee you’ll have a better time.

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