Sci-Fi Nerd: Commentary, reflection and accolades from a fan’s point of view on all things sci-fi and fantasy.
A thinly disguised reference to the messiah myth was a cause of concern for censors in this iconic science fiction classic.
The story the film tells is simple and straight-forward without being cluttered by sub-plots the way films tend to be today. The message is the movie, and the movie is the message. Dramatic moments are emphasized by the use of light and shadow, along with the remarkable and memorable soundtrack composed by Bernard Herrmann, which was one of the first to make use of the theremin, which, of course, became a science fiction standard in films and television that followed
The world is turned upside-down when a huge flying saucer lands in Washington DC and a humanoid alien visitor accompanied by an eight-foot-robot emerges. the ship is quickly surrounded by the military, press, and the curious. When the visitor advances to present a gift, a nervous soldier shoots him, and the giant robot Gort (Lock Martin) responds by vaporizing the army’s weapons with a beam from his eyes, until the wounded alien orders him to stop.
We soon learn the alien’s name is Klaatu (Michael Rennie) Rennie represents a popular romantic ideal of the period. A mature man, sophisticated, educated, and reasonable, ivy-league professorial in appearance. The alien is taken to Walter Reid hospital where he undergoes treatment with success. He applies an ointment he has with him on the wound which it quickly heals.
As the story unfolds we meet more characters that play a role in the narrative: Helen Benson (Patricia Neal), her son Bobby (Billy Gray). her boyfriend Tom Stephens (Hugh Marlowe), and Professor Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe)
The story mainly concerns itself with an alien visitation and the message he brings to our planet. It is a warning to change our ways or face elimination by the other races of our galaxy before we can bring harm to to other worlds with the technology we have developed and our war-like ways.
This film is a blunt expression of one of science fiction’s most important, and socially relevant roles in our world. To warn us we need to wise up before its too late, and reign in our aggressive tendencies before the technology we have developed causes our doom. Gort represents an enforced system of staying reasonable in our dealings with each other and finding ways to avoid war and conflict as a means of reaching solutions when disagreements occur. This movie represents a plea for peace and the abandonment of warfare altogether before its too late. A direct, and not too subtle response to the creation of the atomic bomb and nuclear energy, which was a major concern for our world in the years following the second world war and still is today.
The use of Klaatu as a christ-like messenger from outer space, who is killed but rises again, was perhaps a bit heavy-handed, but that was in keeping with the times when messages meant to be consumed by the general public were done in this manner. The film is still considered to represent a milestone in the evolution of science fiction films in the 20th century, and a classic among classics still enjoyed today by fans all over the world. The iconic phrase, KLAATU BARADA NIKTO has come to represent science fiction excellence, in a world that still needs to be reminded to be careful or it might spell our doom.