The Day the Earth stopped (movie, 1951)

The Day when the Earth stopped ( The Day the Earth Stood Still ) is an American film directed by Robert Wise , released in 1951 . It is often considered the first major science-fiction piecein American cinema 1 .

The film evokes the arrival of a flying saucer in Washington. Two creatures come out, Klaatu an alien, and Gort a robot. A nervous soldier pulls and hurts Klaatu. Gort replies, but Klaatu is taken to a hospital wounded, which he is quick to escape. Klaatu then seeks to contact personalities worthy of receiving his message. Appearing human, he pretends to be Major Carpenter and finds refuge in a boarding house where he meets a widow and her little boy.


An extraterrestrial craft of discoid form makes a sensation landing in the center of Washington. He is immediately surrounded by a military cordon and a crowd of onlookers. The pilot, Klaatu, comes out and announces that he is coming in peace. But a soldier loses his temper, shoots and wounds his arm. Then appears the humanoid robot Gort, which emits a disintegrating ray annihilating the weapons deployed all around.

Klaatu, wounded, is taken to a hospital where he is practically a prisoner. His super-fast healing stuns doctors. Meanwhile, the military tried in vain to disassemble or neutralize the flying saucer of Klaatu and the robot Gort, which prove indestructible, rebellious to all existing tools. Klaatu asks to meet with the heads of state to ensure peace in the universe. But noting the political impossibility of organizing a meeting of all the heads of state, he escapes, dressed in a civilian suit which he has stolen and wearing a cleaning label in the name of Carpenter. decides to endorse this identity.

The so-called Mr. Carpenter goes to town, renting a room in a boarding house where he soon becomes sympathetic to another tenant, Helen, a young widow of war, and her son Bobby. He also sees that radios and televisions maintain hysteria against the terrifying “monster of space” that he is supposed to be. Unable to convince the political leaders, he decided the following days to address the greatest earth scientists to express the concern of advanced civilizations of inhabited planets far away from the evolution of the Earth, prey to aggressive and destructive impulses. He thus contacts Professor Barnhardt, who lives in Washington, unveils his true identity, warns him thatextraterrestrials to take the lead to eliminate a potential source of danger. Barnhardt agrees to relay the message to his colleagues, but suggests to Klaatu / Carpenter to give tangible proof of his technical abilities to be heard.

Meanwhile, Helen, his fiancé Tom and little Bobby, initially incredulous, see add up the clues that show that their friend “Carpenter” is in fact the extraterrestrial against which hunting man is raging. Klaatu visits Helen at work, takes her apart in an elevator that stops abruptly: he tells her that he has made sure that all electrical devices on the planet stop working for half an hour (except where there would be vital danger, as in hospitals or airplanes). The whole world has stopped!

Tom denounces Klaatu to the authorities. Helen, outraged by this treason and Tom’s selfish motives, breaks up with him. With Klaatu, she takes a car to find Professor Barnhardt. While driving through Washington under siege, Klaatu tells Helen that if she gets hurt, she will have to go to the Gort robot and say ” Klaatu barada nikto “ .

A patrol kills Klaatu. Helen goes to see Gort, still motionless in front of the flying saucer, speaks the password. The robot shelters her inside the ship and then retrieves Klaatu’s body, to which he gives life – but only temporarily, he explains to Helen.

Klaatu addresses to the scientists gathered in front of his flying saucer the message that he had come to deliver, then takes off.

The message of Klaatu

“I’m leaving soon, you’ll excuse me if my words are brutal. The universe is smaller every day, and the threat of aggression, no matter where it comes from, is no longer acceptable. Security must be for all or no one will be safe. This does not mean giving up the freedom but giving up acting irresponsibly. Your ancestors understood this when they created the laws and hired police to enforce them. On the other planets, we have accepted this principle for a long time.

We have an organization for the mutual protection of the planets and the total disappearance of the aggressions. Such high authority rests, of course, on the police who represent it. As police officers, we created a breed of robots. Their function is to patrol vessels such as this one, and preserve peace. For the aggression issues, we gave them full powers. These powers can not be revoked. At the first sign of violence, they act against the aggressor. The consequences of putting them into action are too terrible to risk.

As a result, we live in peace, without arms or army, fearing neither aggression nor war, and free to have more profitable activities. We do not claim to have reached perfection, but we have a system that works.

I came to give you this information. The way you lead your planet does not concern us. But if you threaten to expand your violence, your Earth will be reduced to a pile of ashes. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace or continue on your path and expose yourself to destruction.

We will wait for your answer. The decision is yours. ”

Technical sheet

  • Title: The day the Earth stopped
  • Original title: The Day Stood Still
  • Director: Robert Wise
  • Scenario: Edmund H. North
  • Photo: Leo Tover
  • Music: Bernard Herrmann
  • Production: Julian Blaustein
  • Costumes: Perkins Bailey , Travilla and Charles Le Maire
  • Distribution Company: Twentieth Century Fox
  • Country of origin: United States
  • Budget: $ 995,000
  • Language: English
  • Format: black and white – 1.37: 1 – mono – 35 mm
  • Genre: science fiction
  • Duration: 92 minutes
  • Release date :
    • United States : 
    • La France : 


  • Michael Rennie (VF: Marc Valbel ) : Klaatu / Carpenter
  • Patricia Neal (VF: Françoise Gaudrey ) : Helen Benson
  • Hugh Marlowe (VF: Roger Treville ) : Tom Stevens
  • Sam Jaffe : Professor Jacob Barnhardt
  • Billy Gray : Bobby Benson
  • Frances Bavier : Ms. Barley
  • Lock Martin : Gort
  • Elmer Davis (VF: Richard Francoeur ) : himself
  • HV Kaltenborn (VF: Jacques Berlioz ) : himself
  • Drew Pearson : himself
  • Gabriel Heatter : himself
  • Fay Roope (uncredited): Major-General
  • Snub Pollard
  • Carleton Young
  • Edith Evanson : Ms. Crockett
  • Harry Harvey : taxi driver


Coming out in the middle of the cold war (the Korean War had just broken out), The day the Earth stopped left a striking impression by its way of associating with each other the two major hauntings of its time, the nuclear arms raceand UFOs .

The film has sometimes been perceived as a Christian allegory 2 :

  • like Jesus, Klaatu is sent to Earth with a message of peace;
  • he calls himself Carpenter (“carpenter”), which refers to the profession of Jesus in his earthly life;
  • he is misunderstood, is murdered, resurrects and returns to heaven.

But Aeon J. Skoble contests this interpretation, insofar as on the one hand he does not preach that we must love one another: humans can kill each other, as long as they do not threaten the safety of other planets and, secondly the Jesus of the gospel does not threaten to eradicate all life on Earth if his commands are not followed 2 .


The system established by the Klaatu planet organization is indeed the following: each planet must be in absolute safety and must not be threatened by any other planet. To achieve this goal, the organization has developed robots with absolute and unlimited powers, like Gort, who patrol from planet to planet to make security prevail. Their power can not be revoked and is superior to any power of any planet. At the first sign of violence, they automatically act against the aggressor, eventually eventually destroying the belligerent planet. But robots do not intervene in the internal affairs of every planet, no matter how violent they are, and Klaatu does not make any moral judgment on the Earthmen, unless it2 .

The ethics of such a system can be debated. Aeon J. Skoble notes that this system may suggest the argument of the English philosopher of the xvii th century, Thomas Hobbesaccording to which a sovereign must have absolute authority over his subjects. Hobbes’s argument is that our natural condition leads us to competition rather than cooperation. Even if we perceive that it would be more beneficial to cooperate than to fight, our natural mistrust of each other leads us to confrontation. Therefore, Hobbes concludes that a sovereign must be invested with absolute authority, so that the fear of breaking the social contract is greater than the fear of neighbor. But the system of the organization does not go so far: a sovereign reigns over all aspects of the life of his subjects, while the jurisdiction of robots extends only interplanetary aggression, each planet being completely free to live as she sees fit 2 .

In fact, the film questions the limits of freedom: is it a “freedom” to murder our neighbor? Will robots curb the “freedom” of Earth and Earth? According to Skoble, the film is based on John Stuart Mill’s argument that “the only circumstance for which power and force can be exercised properly on any member of a civilized society against their will is to to prevent harm to others ” 3. The moral foundations of Klaatu’s ultimatum and the destructive force of robots lie in the fact that we have the right to harm ourselves in land conflicts, but that we have no right to harm other planets, because they have the right to peace and security 2 .

A frequent interpretation of the film is that Gort ‘s power and Klaatu’ s ultimatum is comparable to the balance of terror generated by the nuclear arsenal of the great powers. An objection to this parallel is that nuclear arsenals are controlled by human beings, fallible, interested, and subject to passions. In Klaatu’s system, the destructive power is entrusted to robots, infallible, disinterested in power and inaccessible to the passions, which changes the ethical perspectives of the ultimatum 2 .

Klaatu barada nikto

In the movie, Klaatu ( Michael Rennie ) tells Helen ( Patricia Neal ) that this sentence should be said to Gort (the robot) if something happens to him. Klaatu being killed soon after, Helen tells this sentence to Gort.

This phrase, which has become cult, has no interpretation or official translation. According to Skoble, it would be the only way, only possible during a diplomatic mission like that of Klaatu, to disable the automatic implementation of the repression of robots in case of violence against a race from another planet. But, apart from the context of this kind of mission, there is no possible barada nikto towards the robots: their power is irrevocable, inexorable and automatic, which is the very foundation of the effectiveness of the system 2 .

The spelling of this sentence comes from the script of Edmund H. North , who also developed a pseudo-extraterrestrial language for the film. The phrase is also present in the remake The day the Earth stopped (2008).

Many references to this phrase can be found in the films Tron (1982), Star Wars, episode VI: The Return of the Jedi (1983), Shopping (1986), Toys (1992), Evil Dead 3 (1992), Planet 51 ( 2010), Scary Movie 5 (2013), but also in the video games Spyro 2: Gateway to Glimmer (1999), League of Legends (2011), Minecraft (2011), Borderlands 2 (2012), cartoons Ninja Turtles: The Knights of Scale (1987-1996), as well as in the comics The Abominable Space Monsters Attack(1997) by Don Rosa or television series like Farscape (1999-2003) and Nerdz (2007-2011). The lyrics “Klaatu barada nikto” come back several times in the song “Elegant Solution” of the group October (1982).

According to the Robot Hall of Fame , Klaatu barada nikto represents “one of the best known orders of science fiction” 4 .

Filming Locations

  • Washington (District of Columbia) : views of the Capitol , scene in Lincoln Memorial , National Mall , etc.
  • Arlington National Cemetery

Around the film

Ringo Starr will use the sets of the film for the cover of his album Goodnight Vienna .

There are references to the phrase “Gort, klaatu barada nikto “ in Tron , Evil Dead 3 , Shopping , as well as in Star Wars , but also in volume 20 of the Animorphs series of novels and in the video games League of Legends ( French version), Spiderman 2, Rayman 3 or Minecraft. Similarly an easter egg in Mozilla Firefox using this phrase as title page if you type about: robots in the address bar. A sketch of Dummies (Raider becomes Twix) also refers to Klaatu. One of the protagonists of the television seriesNerdz also quotes this phrase at the end of episode 5 of season 4.

Finally, in the comic book Scrooge written and drawn by Don Rosa , The Abominable Space Monsters attack , Donald facing an alien makes a Vulcan salute and tries to communicate using the formula “Klaatu barada nikto”.

This film is one of many references to the introduction song of the Rocky Horror Picture Show : Double feature .

The remake of this cult film was released in France on, with Keanu Reeves as Klaatu and Scott Derrickson behind the camera. It has however received a mixed reception from both critics and spectators.

Use of theremin to create a disturbing atmosphere.

DVD / Blu-ray

The film was released on DVD in two editions at Fox Pathé Europa:

  • Simple edition on 1.33: 1 full screen format in French, English, German, Spanish and Italian 2.0 mono with English, German, Spanish, Dutch and Italian subtitles. In supplements: Comparison before / after restoration (5 min); Newspapers of the premiere and audio commentary by Robert Wise and Nicholas Meyer 5 .
  • Collector’s Edition Digipack 2 DVD on in 1.33: 1 full screen format in French and English 2.0 mono with French and English subtitles on the first disc. On the second disc 2 documentaries (14 min and 70 min); Comparison before / after restoration (5 min); The release of the film in 1951 (6 min) and a photo gallery (about 450) 6 .

The film was released on Blu-ray support in two editions still at Fox Pathé Europa:

  • Simple edition on in 1.33: 1 format full-screen 1080p in French, Italian and Castilian in 5.1 DTS and English 5.1 DTS HD with French, Italian, Castilian, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch and English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing. The disc is Zone A, B and C. The very numerous supplements are as follows:
    • Audio commentary by directors Robert Wise and Nicholas Meyer (VOST)
    • Audio commentary by John Morgan, Steven Smith, William Stromberg and Nick Redman (Film and Film Historians) (VOST)
    • Music track isolated in DTS 5.1
    • “The world of Theremin”: Intro (18 s); “Mysterious and melodious Theremin” (5 min 40 s – HD – B & W – VOST); Interpretation of the musical theme by Peter Pringle (2 min 17 s – HD); Interactive Theremin: compose your own melody
    • “Gort Command! »: Interactive game
    • Making of (23 min 53 s – HD – VOST): “Decode ‘Klaatu Barada Nikto’: the metaphor of science fiction” (16 min 14 s – HD – VOST); “A brief history of flying saucers” (34 min 02 s – HD – VOST); “The amazing Harry Bates  ” (11:03 – HD – VOST); “Edmund North: the man who made Earth stop” (14:43 – HD – VOST); “Race To Oblivion”: Short film written and produced by Edmund North on nuclear weapons (26:42 – VOST); “Fox Movietone News – 1951” (6 min 21 sec – VOST)
    • Pre movie trailer (1:04 – VOST)
    • Movie trailer (2 min 09 s – VOST)
    • Trailer: “The day the Earth stopped” version 2008 (1 min 47 s – HD – VOST)
    • Photo galleries (slideshows): Advertising objects (33s); Photos behind the scenes (2 min 54 s); Portraits (57 s); Production (2 min 57 s); Blueprints (plans) of the construction of the flying saucer (1 min 03 s)
    • Filming script (86 min. 20 sec) 7 .
  • DVD / Blu-ray combo edition released on with the same technical features as the single DVD edition and the single Blu-ray 8 edition .

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