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Avoiding Disaster: The Day the Earth Stood Still

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Joseph P.
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  1. A textual analysis
  2. The flurry of 'aliens as invaders' films
  3. Disaster movies and its sub genres
  4. The new form of disaster movie
    1. Previous films of the genre
    2. The sci fi disaster movies of the Cold War era
    3. The 'evil other' formula
    4. The aliens in the films
  5. The movie The Day the Earth Stood Still
    1. The radical stance of the movie
    2. Furthering of film as an art form
  6. The science fiction disaster films
    1. Independence Day
    2. The genre of science-fiction disaster films
  7. Conclusion
  8. Works cited

Disaster movies are often associated solely with cheap thrills; nothing more than vehicles for big explosions and even bigger budgets. The modern perception of this film genre (as well as its subgenres) seems to be nothing more than that of a means for movie studios to spend a lot of money, and make a lot in return. While it may be true that many disaster movies are, arguably, pieces of visually stunning, mindless entertainment constructed to garner large audiences, not all disaster movies are confined to this formula. Within the science-fiction films of the 1950's and 1960's?some of the most popular disaster films ever made?lay intricate, subtle (some subtler than others), and socially important themes that were extremely applicable to the times in which they were made. The vast majority of these films center around aliens invading Earth with the singular intent of destroying and/or usurping it. Science-fiction films such as The Thing From Another World (1951) and The War of the Worlds (1953) are examples of alien invasion/takeover movies that were at the top of the box office in their time. The plots of these ?alien-domination? films, along with dozens of other science-fiction disaster movies made during this time period, are fundamentally similar; aliens are determined to take over the world. However, this seemingly simple formula was entrenched in an allegorical realism that, at the time, was based on very real concerns. The aliens within these films were symbolic of the ?others? which Americans feared most in the 1950's and 1960's; the communists. The takeover of Earth by space creatures served as a fantastic analogy to the ?imminent? threat the communists (specifically the Soviets) posed to Americans. These science-fiction disaster movies were able to tap into a common American threat, and proved to be extremely successful in exploiting this threat in order to sell movie tickets.

[...] Films like The Day the Earth Stood Still are vital in the furthering of film as an art form. Without radical ideas like those offered in The Day the Earth Stood Still, film would be nothing more than a stagnant forum for expression. Although many could argue that this is simply a science- fiction/disaster movie with a twist on an old theme, the simple fact that the director, Robert Wise, was willing to take the risk of presenting something new is vital. [...]


[...] Nuclear proliferation and a general distrust of ?otherness? (made worse by the McCarthy hearings of the 1950's) provided great fodder for the movie industry. As Cyndy Hendershot describes in her book Was a Cold War Monster?, the twentieth-century, the American ?other' had become politicized and increasingly identified with communism? (Hendershot 56). The fear of communist invasion/infiltration was transformed into fantastic tales of alien antagonists bent on destroying the Earth. This new form of disaster movie posed threats which audiences had never before been exposed to. [...]


[...] As it was in 1951, The Day the Earth Stood Still remains on of a few movies of its genre to view aliens as something other than The characters and the themes within the film are far more complex than in films such as Independence Day; one of the highest- grossing films of the 1990's. Films like Independence Day are successful with audiences for the same reasons films like The War of the Worlds were successful half a century ago; they are simple. [...]

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