"In the arts of peace," wrote George Bernard Shaw in Man and Superman, "Man is a bungler." That cynical comment was especially applicable in 1951, the year the flying saucer landed in Washington DC.
Six years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United States and the Soviet Union were racing to see which could amass enough firepower to turn the Earth into space dust first. The previous June, North Korean troops had crossed the 38th Parallel, initiating what was to be three years of bloody and, in the end, pointless struggle for the status quo. As if that weren't bad enough, Senator Joseph McCarthy had triggered another war, this time against his own countryman, as he accused one after another of being a potential subversive out to destroy the "American Way of Life."
Into this miasma of fear, anger and political polarization, director Robert Wise and writer Edmund North took a short story by Harry Bates and turned it into a plea for common sense and an end to the turmoil. The result has become one of the most revered and beloved classics of the science fiction film genre -- The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Viewed across the space of nearly 50 years, this quiet, unspectacular movie can seem simplistic and even a little crude. The flying saucer seemingly crafted of baking pans coated with shiny paint and the giant lumbering robot with its disintegrating ray pale next to the Millenium Falcon and the shapeshifting android of Terminator II. Nevertheless, it remains one of the most powerful science fiction movies ever made, not because of flashy F/X but because it obeys the fundamental rule of all good SF. It starts with an important idea and presents it in a skillfully crafted whole composed of character, dialogue and story.
"Ideas are important in science fiction," writes author/editor Ben Bova in The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells. " They are a necessary ingredient of any good SF tale. But the ideas themselves should not be the be-all...