Saturday 7 January 2012

Klaatu Deetu

1950s science fiction films are the best, there's absolutely no doubt. OK, the ambition and the special effects of their 1960s, 70s and 80s cousins may be superior, but they can't match their forebears for their scope and philosophical understanding. The 1950s was the first decade where science had started to become FACT rather than anything else. The early explorations of the new world order of the atomic age were destined to be the most profound and influential films of the lot.

If you watch enough 1950s science-fiction films you can learn how to live your life! Now we all know that Things are not to be trusted and Blobs can be destroyed with a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher. But one of the most significant films of the lot is The Day The Earth Stood Still, a moralistic fable about an alien coming to earth in a spaceship to warn humanity about the futility of its warlike tendencies. It is unquestionably one of the absolute classics of the genre, a film that people should and do come back to for inspiration time and time again.

The thing is, I don't like it.

It makes a number of very good, very honourable, very sane points. But I don't like it. The basic tenet of the film is that, when viewed from outside this small marble floating in space we call planet Earth, our internal squabbles are completely trivial and self-defeating, our ability to destroy ourselves a joke. Which is. of course, true. But by god this film labours the point. We all get it! Honestly we do. It's one of the great ironies of life. No matter if every single citizen of Earth knows deep down that something is a universal truth, it doesn't have any ultimate bearing on government policy. We get it Klaatu. Stop making vague threats at our intellectuals! Talk about a preachy alien!

It's an engaging enough film. It's worthy, too, of its reputation and critical acclaim. But for anyone with ever half a brain it's so self evidently truthful to be an irrelevance. Let there be no doubt, if you are profoundly stupid this film may yet save your soul. Maybe that's the point of it. And yes, obviously it was made during a very different era. Supposedly at least. Is the world really a safer, more stable, place now than it was during the bipartite Cold War struggles of the 1950s?

Nevertheless, it's hard to dislike The Day The Earth Stood Still. The world was beginning to find itself in such a to-do that really, only such remedial, primary school, action seemed like it would do any active good. Start from the bottom and work up. Maybe we are better off now, now that buffoons like me can complain about this that and the other? I hope so.

I hope so mainly because the valedictory speech of the film, where Klaatu extolls the virtues of having a race of unthinking, indiscriminate, massive robot peacekeepers on your home planet, is philosophically troubling to the point where I honestly believe both Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau may have been script consultants. People forced into peace-loving freedom and law abidance through fear of instant death! It's a big intellectual quandry (it probably isn't). But hey, maybe being forced to be peace-loving under pain of TITANIUM DEATH (the logical extension of Rousseau's The Social Contract, perhaps?) is the way to go. There'd be no wars.

Just a great, big, love-in.

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