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. [...]
[...] With very few (if any) defining characteristics, they existed solely to serve as something for humans to defeat. This was not true with Klatuu; the alien ambassador in The Day the Earth Stood Still. In his book Illustrated History of Horror and Science-Fiction Films”, Carlos Clarens describes Klatuu as; well-spoken intellectual endowed with human form [ ] and almost divine powers” (Clarens 125). In The Day the Earth Stood Still, the role of the alien changes from malevolent invader to savior. [...]
[...] The Day the Earth Stood Still was able to transcend the formulas of the genre in which it was conceived. By doing so, it put forward a set of social ideals that American audiences were, at the time, not ready to accept. Over the last fifty years, The Day the Earth Stood Still has opened the door to a new way of approaching films of its genre. Moreover, it stands out amidst its counterparts as a film with the courage to view the world, and indeed the universe, in an original light; with optimism and hope. [...]
[...] Quite simply, The Day the Earth Stood Still has the courage to point the finger at mankind, rather than take part in the one-sided rhetoric of blame most other films of the genre indulge in. The Soviets are not the enemy, the is not the enemy; in The Day the Earth Stood Still, the very ideals that other films celebrate are the enemy. Not surprisingly, the radical stance The Day the Earth Stood Still took on modern American ideals did not translate well at the box office. [...]
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