THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL

Director:  Robert Wise

Starring:  Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe, Billy Gray

A benevolent alien visitor is met with a hostile reception.

There's a seriousness that pervades The Day The Earth Stood Still which marks it apart from contemporary science-fiction movies. It has endured as an admirable piece of cinema history, while most other genre movies from the period are easily dismissed as (hugely enjoyable) pulp trash. Of course, it helped that the film wasn't ever treated as a B-movie, had the support of a major studio, and some very talented people working on it (including Academy Award winners Robert Wise and composer Bernard Herrmann).

Until now the definitive home video version of  The Day The Earth Stood Still was the 1995 NTSC laserdisc version. Since then the film has been extensively restored. According to a caption at the beginning of the Restoration Comparison on the disc all of the existing 35mm film elements were examined before the film was re-mastered. The bulk of the film was re-transferred from one of two fine grain master positives made from a 35mm answer print struck from the original camera negative.

The Restoration Comparison featurette proves simple, effective, side-by-side and split-screen comparisons of the home video transfers since 1993. 

Rather confusingly, the sequence seems to be mis-captioned. The worst-looking version (with washed-out highlights) is labelled as the the "1995 Film Transfer Master", alongside the "1993 Laser Disc Master", which looks significantly better (it has a much better contrast range!) These two versions are compared using several clips, and the improvements to the "1993 Laser Disc" version are obvious. There's no direct comparison between the "2002" transfer and the earlier versions (only between the "2002 Film Restoration" and the "2002 Film Restoration with Video Restoration"). The latter demonstrates the removal of the most obvious signs of damage, and the elimination of the reel change markers). There's at least one shot that's shown in all four stages (shown below). The gradual improvements are obvious. The most recent version has superior grayscale, contrast and density. 

The film has certainly never looked better on home video. The stability and contrast range of the image were dramatically improved by the "1993 Laser Disc Master". Since then there have been further improvements, include better density control (the overall brightness of the image), dirt suppression (there are still fleeting impairments throughout the film, however), improved sharpness and detail. The latest transfer also seems to have virtually eliminated characteristic PAL cross-chroma interference problems, (which are usually visible as indistinct patches of green and red on things like herringbone jackets). This has been achieved without resorting to heavy-handed digital noise reduction, and without excessive artificial edge-enhancement. The film still looks rather grainy, but this is perfectly acceptable. It's more evident on some shots than others, suggesting that the transfer is a wholly accurate representation of the original film elements.

The dual-layer disc has a perfect layer change, during a fade to black (at 57:14). The average bitrate is a high 8.84Mbps (the film is only eighty-eight minutes long, so there should have been plenty of space!) The menu screens (including the Main Menu screen, above) are disappointingly static and silent.

The film, with its remarkable Theremin-based soundtrack, is presented with 2.0 stereo audio (at 192kbps). The mix, as you'd expect, isn't very elaborate, but it does at least nicely broaden the score across the soundstage. The audio is sometimes a little harsh, but it's to be expected of a film of this vintage.

The disc has a modest array of bonus features. Chief among them is an excellent commentary track by Robert Wise, prompted and supported by fellow Star Trek movie director (and fan of the movie) Nicholas Meyer. This track originally appeared on the 1995 laserdisc version. Both men seem well-prepared for the task, and Wise is often prompted by intelligent questions by Meyer, who just as often provides some interesting trivia of his own. Perhaps the most surprising revelation (to those viewers who aren't already well-versed in the film's background), is that Wise claims to have been oblivious to the script's Christian overtones.

Astonishingly, Fox's Region 2 disc does not include the seventy-minute documentary The Making of The Day The Earth Stood Still, which was featured on the 1995 laserdisc box set. This featured interviews with many of the key participants, including Robert Wise, actors Patricia Neal and Billy Gray, and producer Julian Blaustein (who died shortly afterwards). Calling the DVD a Special Edition without including this documentary is frankly insulting! 

The laserdisc's exhaustive still frame archive of documents, artwork, blueprints, promotional materials and memorabilia has also been dropped, perhaps another sign that the DVD format is dumbing-down now that it's become a mainstream format.

The DVD does include a six-minute Movietone News reel from 1952, which features a twenty-second clip ("Science Fiction Honors Movie") of someone in Klaatu's costume receiving a Certificate of Merit at the Ninth World Science Fiction Convention. The rest of the Movietone reel is also featured, and includes a fabulously non-PC report from the Miss America beauty queen pageant and a taste of the stormy political situation of  the era.  The disc also contains a suitably hyperbolic theatrical trailer (2'04"), which features some terrific Flash Gordon-style transitional wipes..

Fans of the film will doubtless feel cheated by this Region 2 disc, unless their only demand is simply to get a terrific transfer of the film itself. If the film was worth releasing in a lavish laserdisc box set (a limited edition of 2500, personally signed by the director, and containing a gold CD of the film's landmark soundtrack and a 200-page book about Wise's career), it surely deserves better than this!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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