Classic 1950s sci-fi films land at Proctors on Friday

It was probably British actor Michael Rennie’s finest moment on screen. Dressed in a silver space su
The alien robot Gort shows off his power in a scene from 'The Day the Earth Stood Still,' which will play Proctors' GE Theatre on Friday.
The alien robot Gort shows off his power in a scene from 'The Day the Earth Stood Still,' which will play Proctors' GE Theatre on Friday.

It was probably British actor Michael Rennie’s finest moment on screen.

Dressed in a silver space suit, he stood outside his massive flying saucer. A silent, 8-foot tall robot backed him up.

“I am leaving soon, and you will forgive me if I speak bluntly,” said Rennie, as the alien visitor Klaatu. “The universe grows smaller every day, and the threat of aggression by any group, anywhere, can no longer be tolerated.”

Citizens of 1951 Earth were just too violent, and Martians, Venusians and other residents of the universe were just fed up. “Your choice is simple: Join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration,” said Klaatu, in one of the most famous speeches in sci-fi cinema history. “We shall be waiting for your answer . . .”

The wait is over for Klaatu’s return to Proctors in Schenectady. The landmark 1951 movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still” will be paired with “Forbidden Planet” Friday at the GE Theatre as part of “It Came From Schenectady Salutes Barry B. Longyear,” an honor for the longtime science-fiction author who is visiting the Capital Region this weekend.

‘It Came From Schenectady Salutes Barry B. Longyear’

WHAT: Two movies: “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “Forbidden Planet”

WHERE: Proctors GE Theatre, 432 State St., Schenectady

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday

HOW MUCH: $9; $6 students

MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors,org

Longyear will speak Saturday at the Mabee Farm Historic Site in Rotterdam Junction, to help kick off the new exhibit, “It Came From Schenectady: Science Fiction in the Capital Region.”

The cinema set-ups are simple. In “Earth,” Rennie’s Klaatu and his silent mechanical associate Gort land their transport in Washington on a peaceful mission, and the alien learns much about humanity during his brief visit.

In the 1956 “Forbidden Planet,” a starship reaches distant planet Altair IV to discover the fate of an expedition sent 20 years earlier. Strange forces are at work on the planet’s surface, and one of the expedition’s surviving scientists has a secret. The template for the movie was Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”

Paul Kazee, one of the founders of the It Came From Schenectady film festival, said the movies were chosen by Longyear. “We asked him what his favorite sci-fi films were, and these were at the top of his list,” Kazee said.

Kazee likes both: “They are simply very well-written,” he said in an email. “Though both feature memorable aliens, they are both about something very human. Fear of the foreign. Ignorance. Intolerance. Ego. And in the case of ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still,’ there’s the marriage of science and faith.”

The story in “Earth” has long been compared to Christian beliefs. When Klaatu poses as a human, he takes the name “Mr. Carpenter.” He is persecuted by humanity, shot and “killed,” only to be resurrected in the final reel. And the character is mainly interested in promoting peace.

Other science fiction experts say the films were important landmarks in the genre.

Paul Levinson, a professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University in the Bronx, believes the years after World War II became the golden age of science fiction in books, television and movies.

“Rockets, the atom bomb, and the world at war stimulated people’s imaginations, and made them look at the Earth as one planet in a large, dangerous universe,” said Levinson, also a sci-fi author and former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, in an e-mail note.

“ ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ and ‘Forbidden Planet’ both captured those issues, and brought science fiction from bug-eyed monsters to serious, adult entertainment. They are high water marks of science fiction to this day, and preludes to ‘Star Trek,’ ‘Star Wars,’ and the many great science fiction films that followed over the decades which also dealt with serious, philosophic and political issues.”

Derek Johnson, a film reviewer for SF Signal, a magazine written for science-fiction fans, said both films represent the best of 1950s sci-fi.

“It’s not just that they tell good stories with interesting ideas and memorable characters, they also offer images that one seldom sees in movies,” Johnson said in an e-mail interview.

“ ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ used black-and-white film to create a sense of unease and no small amount of tension, giving the movie a film noir style, even though it is not film noir.”

Johnson also said the Robert Wise-directed film was daring in its message. “We have the choice of either carving out a workable future, or allowing our short-sightedness to destroy us,” Johnson said. “The movie endures in part because its core theme remains relevant.”

As for “Forbidden Planet,” part of the appeal is the look of the film.

“It was one of the first science-fiction movies to use Eastmancolor and CinemaScope, thus providing it with a distinctive look and giving it the feel of an epic,” Johnson said.

“And eschewing standard scoring in favor of an outstanding electronic score by Louis and Bebe Barron dates it in a weird way that, oddly enough, makes it somewhat timeless.”

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected].

Categories: Entertainment

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