4.5 Stars
Year Released: 2008
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 92 minutes
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You hear a lot about classic movies like “The Day the Earth Stood Still”; that their themes are still relevant decades later. Sometimes such statements get thrown around too easily, but not in this case. You know the plot, so I won’t bother reciting it, but think about this: How was the 1950s fear that communists are among us — which was personified so well by Klaatu’s plight — different from the allegations that Barack Obama “pals around with terrorists”? And if you still think such themes are quaint because I’m talking about a film made nearly 60 years ago, look at the new “Battlestar Galactica,” which does a superb job of exploring them.

This new two-disc Special Edition is an excellent immersion in not only the making of the film but also the themes it explores and the climate that existed not only in 1950s America but also 1950s science-fiction. You even get a 30-minute featurette offering a brief overview of the history of UFOs and claims of contact with aliens.

The first platter serves up a pair of commentaries, one with director Robert Wise and director Nicholas Meyer (“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” among many films), and the other with four film and music historians who discuss the movie’s theremin score by Bernard Herrmann. The former track is, of course, ported from the earlier DVD release of the film, since Wise passed away three years ago. In it, Meyer serves as an interviewer; he does a good job of drawing a lot of information out of his subject, including Wise’s insistence that the parallels between Klaatu and Jesus were not intentional. I find that hard to believe, considering how overt the connection is, but as we find out in one of the disc two featurettes, screenwriter Edmund H. North kept the religious symbolism of his script to himself.

Since the film clocks in at a breezy 90 minutes, there was also plenty of room on the first disc for more stuff, including Fox Movietonews from 1951, the trailer, a 23-minute making-of featurette, a pair of very short pieces about the theremin, and a 40-minute audio track of a reading of the Harry Bates short story on which the film was based. We also get a 7.5-minute sneak peek at the remake of the movie starring Keanu Reeves. I’ve heard that it’s a reimagining, as opposed to a straight remake, although I’m still not sure how I feel about watching Klaatu act like an ice-cold dick, as opposed to someone who’s always slightly bemused by those silly humans.

Over on disc two, we have a group of image galleries as well as approximately 100 minutes of new featurettes: “Decoding ‘Klaatu Barada Nikto': Science-Fiction as Metaphor,” “A Brief History of Flying Saucers,” “The Astounding Harry Bates,” “Edmund North: The Man Who Made the Earth Stand Still,” and “Race to Oblivion.” They’re all self-explanatory, except the final one, which is a 1982 short written and produced by North as a public service announcement for the organization Physicians for Social Responsibility. Hosted by Burt Lancaster, this anti-nuclear proliferation piece offers many gory details about the effects of nuclear bombs, including an interview with a Hiroshima survivor. It’s powerful stuff and a testament to Fox’s willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty for this release. In an era where most DVDs resemble paint-by-numbers pictures, this one is a welcome change of pace.

Posted on December 10, 2008 in Reviews by

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