Tuesday, 2 September 2008

"The Day The Earth Stood Still". A Review Of The 1951 Sci-Fi Classic And The CINEMA RESERVE DVD Series.




Before the review, a little about the Cinema Reserve series from 20th Century Fox (this issue is one of those titles).

"Cinema Reserve" is the title given to Fox's "premium" issues and releases started in February 2006 & are on-going. The blurb inside each tin promises best digital transfers, best audio, best extras, dedicated and unique booklet - and all of it wrapped up in a rather delicious metal tin exterior with slightly altered artwork. The series is numbered on the spine of the tin - from 001 on upwards (see list below). Most are 2DVD sets where the standard issue or Studio Classics issue is often only 1 disc. (Some of the doubles in this series are the 1st UK release of already released doubles in the USA on Region 1.)

I mention all of this because when you type in "Cinema Reserve" into the Amazon search engine, you get only 2 entries - "The Seven Year Itch" and "The Fly". No one at Fox seems to have alerted Amazon of the releases nor provided them with all of the proper artwork. Amazon's system has most of the titles available (not all) but they're not highlighted or recognised as "Cinema Reserve" releases. (The unique artwork is an easy way to spot them). It looks like the series will contain almost 20 titles by the end of the year. I've bought 6 others to date and 2 of them do have stock faults despite the "pristine transfer" claims in the booklet (more of those in later reviews). Still, if most are like this title (superb), then you may want to start saving! And the tin effect looks soooo good too - craftily geared towards the collector in us all!

For those interested, I've compiled an alphabetical list with the Series Number, Film Title, Film Release Date and finally the Cinema Reserve Release Date (including forthcoming titles):

1. Number 003: All About Eve (1950) (26 Feb 2006)
2. Number 013: Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970) (12 Feb 2007)
3. Number 007: Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid (1969) (22 May 2006)
4. Number 019: Cleopatra (due 2007 - never appeared)
5. Number 001: The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) (26 Feb 2006)
6. Number 009: The Fly (1986 Remake) (3 July 2006)
7. Number 010: The Hustler (1961) (18 Sept 2006)
8. Number 011: Kagemusha (1980) (27 Nov 2006)
9. Number 004: Laura (1944) (27 Feb 2006)
10. Number 005: Lifeboat (1944) (27 March 2006)
11. Number 018: The Magnificent Seven (1960) (due 2007 - never appeared)
12. Number 016: Midnight Cowboy (18 June 2007)
13. Number 002: My Darling Clementine (1946) (27 Feb 2006)
14. Number 006: Patton (1970) (24 April 2006)
15. Number 008: The Seven Year Itch (1955) (19 June 2006)
16. Number 017: Some Like It Hot (1959) (23 July 2007)
17. Number 012: Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) (18 Dec 2006)
18. Number 015: Valley Of The Dolls (1967) (14 May 2007)
19. Number 014: The Verdict (1982) (19 March 2007)

Back to this release. The film itelf is on Disc One and is a fully restored print in black and white - and looks just sensational. There's a scene where the seven-foot seven actor Lock Martin (formerly a doorman at a Hollywood Theatre) who plays GORT THE ROBOT has to pick up Patrica Neal in his cumbersome silver suit. It was impossible to do. So they had string pullies yank her up - the restoration shows us the strings as she gallantly lets out one of those blood-curdling screams that only Fifties women seemed to do in Nineteen Fifties Sci-Fi movies - which is both funny and cute!

Michael Rennie, superbly majesterial as Klaatu the interstellar messenger, was new to American screens. After being manhandled by the army and jailed by Washington types who take his requests to meet all leaders of the world as being impossible to achieve, Gort blasts a wall and helps him escape. He meets an understanding widow and her family in a boarding house he takes refuge in. Helen (Neal) and her son Bobby (played by Billy Gray - interviewed on Disc 2) say that Klaatu must meet the smartest man in the world, Doctor Barnhardt (veteran actor Sam Jaffe, an obvious ringer for Einstein). The Doctor says the world still won't listen; Klaatu tells them there will be a sign of his race's power; he stops everything at twelve noon one day. Great stuff!

For a movie that could have so easily descended into the clunky and even preachy, all the dialogue was superbly handled. The script was clearly one of the reasons why the film got made. And the great "message" given by Klaatu at the end of the movie about the Human Race growing up or the world will destroy itself could be quoted word-for-word now and not be out of place. Throughout the film Rennie calls himself Mister Carpenter and the inference to Jesus was subtle but deliberate by the screenplay writer.

After the movie, there are a few superfluous Movietone News Events of 1951 on Disc 1 that seem irrelevant to the movie really (but part of the movie experience of the time).

However, the real goodies start on Disc 2 with an 80-minute featurette on the Making Of the film. Although short on actual on-set footage, there are stills and fascinating features on each of the actors. Patricia Neal openly admits that she couldn't stop giggling in a lot of scenes at the poe-faced seriousness of it all - but the endlessly patient Rennie took it. There are interviews with the producers about the politically difficult times in which it was made. The downside is that Fox clearly don't have interviews with Rennie or Jaffe or Martin - and footage of the actual shoot is practically non-existent, so many of the interviews are peppered only with a photo of what/whom is being discussed - when you long for more.

Cinema cards, the iconic posters, the cinema stands at the premier are all talked of - even ownership of the prop that was the flying saucer is touched upon. There's the nervous preview screening where the audience giggled at the opening army shots of trucks rushing to the scene -much to the terror of the film makers who thought they might have a turkey on their hands. There's a bit on the restoration process, a trailer, stills gallery - all very good.

And then there's Bernard Herrmann's score - ripped off by every Sci-Fi movie ever since - a huge part of the scare factor. Astonishingly ahead of its time - and so on the money.

All in all, this is a superb issue of a ground-breaking movie. Sure it'll be boring to some of our CGI saturated kids, but watching it all the way through now - some 55 years after the event - it's astonishing how relevant it was then - and still is.

So puny Earthlings, in the words of your friendly alien, "Klaatu Barada Nikto". Indeed!

PS: The above review was posted in May 2007; it's September 2008 now and many of you will have noticed that numbers 18 and 19 in the series haven't turned up at all - and given the transition to HD/Blue Ray - they're unlikely too. I bought "Some Like It Hot", 17, the last number issued - so it looks like the entire series and its excellent packaging has been unceremoniously dumped. Having said that, if you're still prepared to fork out, I've noticed many of the titles are now available at greatly reduced prices - and all bar "The Lifeboat" (terrible print) are worthy of your attention. I've amassed 12 of the 17 and will try to post reviews of them in the near future. The black and white print on "The Hustler" in particular is spectacular...

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