The Day the Earth Stood Still appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite a mix of moderate concerns, the picture generally looked quite good.
Sharpness appeared positive. The movie consistently remained nicely detailed and distinct. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no problems, and only a little edge enhancement appeared. I saw light haloes at times, but these weren’t problematic.
Black levels seemed solid. The movie maintained good contrast and depth, as dark tones appeared nicely deep and rich. Shadow detail also appeared smooth and neatly delineated. Print flaws seemed acceptably infrequent for a movie of this vintage, but they still caused some concerns. I noticed occasional examples of specks and grit as well as a few scratches, marks and blotches. Grain seemed a little heavy at times, but most of those issues stemmed from special effects shots. Ultimately, much of Earth appeared positive, but the print defects knocked down my grade to a “B-“.
In addition to the film’s original monaural soundtrack, Earth included a new Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. This track worked surprisingly well. The multichannel rendition didn’t reinvent the wheel. Bernard Herrmann’s score benefited the most from the new edition, as it showed nice stereo imaging.
Some effects also boasted decent involvement. For instance, military vehicles moved around the five speakers well, and other environmental information added a little pizzazz to the package. At no point did the new soundfield dazzle, but the movie didn’t offer many opportunities for it to do so. This wasn’t an action extravaganza, and the soundfield opened up the movie well.
Audio quality seemed good. Again, music benefited the most. The score was quite lively and full; it seemed more dynamic than one might expect given its age. Effects appeared more dated, but they came across acceptably clear and concise. Speech was also adequate, as the lines appeared reasonably natural. No issues with source noise interfered. I felt pretty impressed by this good remix.
How did the picture and sound quality of this 2008 Special Edition compare to those of the original 2003 DVD? Both showed improvements. I definitely preferred the 2008 disc’s 5.1 mix to the awful stereo track on the 2003 disc. The new audio sounded much more natural and engaging. Both offered the same nice monaural track as well.
Visuals also demonstrated decent improvements. The new transfer seemed cleaner and also a bit tighter, as it suffered from lighter edge enhancement. The 2008 disc didn’t provide a vast step up in visual quality, but it did seem more satisfying.
In terms of extras, the 2008 SE mixes old and new components. I’ll mark fresh elements with an asterisk. If you fail to see a star, that means the supplement already appeared on the original DVD.
On DVD One, we start with two audio commentaries. The first comes from director Robert Wise and filmmaker Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,
Time After Time). Both were recorded together for this running, occasionally screen-specific track. For the most part, Meyer acts as interviewer, especially during the film’s first half. Wise discusses some specifics of Earth such as casting, story issues, and other topics, but he often talks about his general filmmaking thoughts. He tells us how he likes to work, and while this often touches upon Earth, Wise frequently digresses into other films.
Meyer becomes more active in non-interviewing ways as the track progresses, and that gets a little annoying. He tends to interject himself a bit too frequently. While it’s somewhat interesting to hear his negative opinions of Hugh Marlowe’s acting, he dwells on the topics too much, and he also reminds us of his own The Day After and other topics too often. The commentary peters out a bit during its second half, as more silent spots occur and the pair occasionally have to stretch to find something to say.
Despite these concerns, however, the commentary usually seems pretty interesting. Some people actively dislike tracks that don’t constantly focus on the film in question, but such pieces don’t bother me. I enjoyed Wise’s discussion of his experiences and thoughts in general, and despite his too personal involvement at times, Meyer generally works well as interviewer. Overall, this seems like an interesting and informative piece. (One disappointment: since both men directed Star Trek flicks, I’d have loved to hear them discuss their experiences with that series to a greater degree.)
For the second commentary, we hear from *film and music historians Josh Morgan, Steven Smith, William Stromberg, and Nick Redman. All four sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. They tell us a little about cast and crew such as Wise and actor Michael Rennie, but the track usually focuses on composer Bernard Herrmann and his work.
That heavy emphasis surprises me, but it succeeds. The concentration on Herrmann allows the participants to dig into his score and career pretty well, so we get a more detailed conversation than usual. Things peter out a little during the film’s third act, as the participants often do little more than grumble about the current state of movie music. Nonetheless, the discussion usually informs and entertains.
Another alternate audio track provides an *isolated score. This allows us to listen to Bernard Herrmann’s music in a Dolby stereo rendition. It adds a nice bonus for film score fans.
Next comes a featurette entitled *The Making of The Day the Earth Stood Still. It runs 23 minutes, 52 seconds and provides notes from Smith, Wise (via archival interviews), film historian Steven Jay Rubin, producer Julian Blaustein (via archival interviews), Blaustein’s widow Florence, The Films of Robert Wise author Richard Keenan, Wise’s daughter Pamela Conrad Rosenberg, Wise’s widow Millicent, filmmaker Lewis Gilbert, aerospace historian Curtis Peebles, Auburn University Associate Professor of History Guy V. Beckwith, and actors Patricia Neal and Bobby Gray. “Making” looks at the flick’s roots and development, how Wise came onto the project and his involvement, cast and performances, sets and locations, visual effects, music and the movie’s impact.
In “Making”, we get a good nuts and bolts look at the film. It’s too brief to provide a terribly full examination of the flick, but then again, with two commentaries and many other featurettes available here, it doesn’t need to include every element of the production. “Making” offers an engaging overview.
Another featurette offers a look at *The Mysterious, Melodious Theremin. During the five-minute and 40-second piece, we hear from musician Peter Pringle. He gives us a quick history of the instrument as well as a demonstration of how it works. This turns into a cool glimpse of how the quirky instrument works.
After this we get a *Live Performance by Peter Pringle. This clip runs two minutes, 17 seconds and shows Pringle he plays the theremin for the movie’s theme. It seems redundant after the prior featurette, so don’t expect much from it.
For something more interesting, we move to*Farewell to the Master: A Reading by Jamieson K. Price. This audio feature goes for 96 minutes, six seconds and lets us hear the short story on which Earth was based. Loosely based, I should add, as Master provides the rough framework for Earth but not much more. That actually makes it pretty fascinating, as it’s fun to see how different the inspiration is from the film.
Movietone News provides a six-minute and 21-second clip from 1951. In addition to a little coverage of the movie, we get snippets about other news events like a Japanese peace treaty. It’s a brief but neat look at contemporary history from the time of Earth’s creation.
DVD One also includes a few trailers. We get both the teaser and theatrical ads for the 1951 movie along with a trailer for the 2008 remake. DVD Open opens with an *exclusive first look at the 2008 version as well. It runs seven minutes, 48 seconds and consists of movie clips; no interviews or behind the scenes tidbits accompany the film snippets. That makes it a long trailer and nothing more.
Over on DVD Two, we start with four featurettes. *Decoding ‘Klaatu Barada Nikto’: Science Fiction as Metaphor goes for 16 minutes, 13 seconds and features Keenan, Peebles, Beckwith, Julian Blaustein, Florence Blaustein, Rubin, Wise, Gray, filmmaker Arnold Orgolini, London School of Economics International History Professor Arne Westad, producer Edmund North’s daughter Susie, and Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film author Vivian Sobchack. “Decoding” examines the geopolitical climate in the early 1950s and how Earth reflects this along with some other interpretive elements. It does this in a somewhat scattershot manner, but it still provides a generally thought-provoking look at the movie’s subtext.
For the DVD’s longest piece, we go to the 34-minute *A Brief History of Flying Saucers. This show includes remarks from Peebles, George Adamski Foundation director Glenn Steckling, UFO Religion author Gregory L. Reece, journalist/author Dr. David Clarke, UFO researcher Dennis Bathaser, Roswell Convention and Civic Center director Dusty Huckabee, International UFO Museum and Research Center executive director Julie Shuster, Witness to Roswell co-author Thomas J. Carey, Saucer Smear Newsletter editor James W. Moseley, retired radar engineer Robert Gardenghi, radar systems analyst Glenn Van Blaricum, and Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped By Aliens author Susan Clancy. “Saucers” looks at the UFO phenomenon of the 1940s/1950s and how it continued into later years.
“Saucers” provides a very nice look at the subject matter, and it benefits from a lack of editorializing. It presents both the believer and skeptic attitudes well and doesn’t allow one to dominate. Oh, I suspect the show’s producers side with the skeptics – especially when they deal with the obvious crackpot George Adamski – but they still keep things pretty even-handed. That helps make this an involving and fun show.
We learn more about the short story’s author in *The Astounding Harry Bates. During the 11-minute and two-second program, we hear from Sobchack, Rubin, Tor Books senior editor David G, Hartwell, writer/researcher Bob Gay, Locus Magazine publisher/editor Charles N. Brown, Pulp Culture co-author Lawrence Davidson, and radio interviewer Richard Wolinsky. Author Harry Bates also appears via some archival audio material. The program gives us some biographical notes about Bates as well as thoughts about Farewell to the Master and its cinematic adaptation. Apparently history hasn’t left much documentation of Bates’ life, so don’t expect a ton of concise details here. Nonetheless, we get enough interesting material to make the piece worthwhile.
Next comes the 14-minute and 43-second *Edmund North: The Man Who Made the Earth Stand Still. It provides comments from Gilbert, Orgolini, Florence Blaustein, Edmund North’s daughters Bobbie and Susie, and film historian John Cork. As expected, the show gives us a quick biography of the film’s screenwriter. It proves satisfying and tight.
An archival piece arrives with *Race to Oblivion: A Documentary Short Written and Produced By Edmund North. The 1982 film runs 26 minutes, 40 seconds and comes hosted by Burt Lancaster. A message against nuclear proliferation, we get comments from Hiroshima survivor Shigeko Sasamori and thoughts about the medical consequences of a nuclear war.
“Oblivion” cuts between those two elements to cover its subject. The documentary is clearly a product of its time, as fears of a nuclear battle between the US and USSR were high in the early 1980s. The possibility of nuclear war hasn’t vanished, of course, but it seems less relevant today, as we have other terrors to fear.
This factor makes the scenes about the consequences of nuclear war the show’s weaker link. Honestly, do we need all these talking heads to tell us that nuclear bombs are bad? Nope, so those segments tend to feel strident and preachy.
On the other hand, the memories of Sasamori become much more intriguing. She adds a real human face to the events; her simple, unemotional recollections prove much more effective than all the doom and gloom cries of the experts. “Oblivion” is an up and down documentary, but I think it’s a good historical addition to this set.
Finally, we find seven Still Galleries. These cover “Interactive Pressbook” (19 screens), “Advertising Gallery” (11), “Behind-the-Scenes Gallery” (55), “Portrait Gallery” (17), “Production Gallery” (59), “Spaceship Construction Blueprints” (21) and “Shooting Script” (412). All offer some interesting elements, but like the “Pressbook” – which allows close-ups of some pages – and the script the best. Don’t expect big differences between the film and the screenplay, though; the final film follows the script pretty closely.
Does this 2008 Special Edition lose any components from the original 2003 DVD? Yup, and it’s a big one: the disc drops an 80-minute documentary. Granted, the new components here cover most of the info from that program, but its absence remains a disappointment. I don’t think reissued DVDs should omit anything from earlier releases; to cut such a substantial piece turns into an even bigger letdown.
One of the most influential science fiction films ever created, The Day the Earth Stood Still continues to hold up well after more than half a century. It shows artifacts of the era in which it was created, but its message remains timely, and the movie seems lively and compelling. The DVD presents fairly good picture and audio along with an excellent roster of extras.
This seminal film definitely earns my recommendation, and this 2008 Special Edition is the best version on the market. It’s the one for new fans to buy, and those who own the original disc will also want to double-dip, as the SE provides moderately improved picture along with a bunch of great new supplements. However, those folks should hold onto the old disc so they can keep the 80-minute documentary that doesn’t reappear here.
To rate this film visit the Fox Studio Classics review of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL