The Day the Earth Stood Still appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A mix of concerns left this as a mediocre transfer.
Sharpness appeared erratic. The movie often looked fine, but more than a few shots exhibited moderate softness. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no problems, but edge enhancement showed up too frequently. I noticed more than a few examples of haloes around objects, and these occasionally became a distraction.
Black levels seemed solid. The movie maintained good contrast and depth, as dark tones appeared nicely deep and rich. Shadow detail also appeared smooth and neatly delineated. Print flaws caused some concerns. I noticed examples of specks and grit as well as a few scratches, marks and blotches. Grain seemed a little heavy at times, but most of those issues stemmed from special effects shots. Overall, this was an acceptable transfer but not a particularly good one.
As with the other releases in the Fox Studio Classics line, Earth included both stereo and monaural soundtracks. Like others such as Gentleman’s Agreement, the stereo mix for Earth stunk. The track displayed a terrible sense of definition across the front channels. It just demonstrated a big spatial blob with no distinctive delineation or placement. Speech spread across the front channels, which made the lines mushy. Overall, the soundfield came across as nothing more than mucked-up mono, and the track seemed like a bad distraction.
Audio quality for the stereo mix fared a little better but still showed problems. Speech tended to sound rough and edgy, though the lines generally appeared intelligible. Effects were reasonably accurate, though they became a bit shrill at times. Music demonstrated decent clarity but appeared too bass-heavy, as the mix sounded fairly dense and boomy. As a whole, the stereo track for Earth flopped badly.
Happily, the monaural mix appeared significantly more satisfying. Speech came across as much clearer and more natural, and I noticed few of the issues related to edginess. The lines remained distinct and intelligible. Some of the louder music became slightly shrill, but those elements generally appeared bright and reasonably lively. Effects also came across as fairly clear and lacked most of the harshness I heard on the stereo track. The mono mix also featured very little noise. The mono version of Earth presented much greater definition than the stereo one, and it seemed like the soundtrack to use.
Earth includes a very nice package of extras, many of which came from a 1995 laserdisc release of the film. On Side One, we start with an audio commentary from director Robert Wise and filmmaker Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,
Time After Time). Both were recorded together for this running, occasionally screen-specific track. For the most part, Meyer acts as interviewer, especially during the film’s first half. Wise discusses some specifics of Earth such as casting, story issues, and other topics, but he often talks about his general filmmaking thoughts. He tells us how he likes to work, and while this often touches upon Earth, Wise frequently digresses into other films.
Meyer becomes more active in non-interviewing ways as the track progresses, and that gets a little annoying. He tends to interject himself a bit too frequently. While it’s somewhat interesting to hear his negative opinions of Hugh Marlowe’s acting, he dwells on the topics too much, and he also reminds us of his own The Day After and other topics too often. The commentary peters out a bit during its second half, as more silent spots occur and the pair occasionally have to stretch to find something to say.
Despite these concerns, however, the commentary usually seems pretty interesting. Some people actively dislike tracks that don’t constantly focus on the film in question, but such pieces don’t bother me. I enjoyed Wise’s discussion of his experiences and thoughts in general, and despite his too personal involvement at times, Meyer generally works well as interviewer. Overall, this seems like an interesting and informative piece. (One disappointment: since both men directed Star Trek flicks, I’d have loved to hear them discuss their experiences with that series to a greater degree.)
A couple other bits round out Side One. Movietone News provides a six-minute and 19-second clip from 1951. In addition to a little coverage of the movie, we get snippets about other news events like a Japanese peace treaty. It’s a brief but neat look at contemporary history from the time of Earth’s creation.
After the film’s theatrical trailer, Side One ends with the THX Optimizer. It purports to help you set up your home theater to best present the movie on the disc in question. Apparently the Optimizer is unique for each DVD on which it’s included; unlike programs such as Video Essentials, the Optimizer should tweak your set-up differently every time. Frankly, I’ve been very happy with my already-established calibration and I’m afraid to muck with it, so I’ve never tried the Optimizer. If you lack calibration from Video Essentials or a similar program, or if you’re just more adventurous than I, the Optimizer could be a helpful addition.
As we move to Side Two of the DVD, we find a few more pieces. We start with Making the Earth Stand Still, an 80-minute and 37-second documentary also from the 1995 laserdisc. It includes remarks from director Wise, producer Julian Blaustein, actors Patricia Neal and Billy Gray, contemporary director Joe Dante (Gremlins, Innerspace), Bernard Herrmann biographer Steven C. Smith, and memorabilia collectors Bob Burns, Marc Zubatkin, and William Malone. The program also includes some archival materials and clips from the film.
Though “Making” suffers somewhat from its very dry presentation, it does present a lot of good information. The participants cover the film’s route to the screen and we hear some comparisons between the flick and the original short story. We learn about the script’s development and Wise’s desire to make the piece as realistic as possible. Then we move to casting and get some stories from the set as well as technical details, the relationship between the film and the political climate in which it was made, its legacy, and a number of other topics. Again, the bland manner in which we see the material makes the show move somewhat slowly, but I can’t complain about the quality of the information. “Making” provides a detailed and even-handed discussion of Earth.
The Still Galleries domain breaks down into six smaller areas. Most of these present pictures. We get sections devoted to “Production” (60 shots), “Scene and Set Photos” (129 images), “Construction Blueprints for the Ship” (21 frames), “American and British Pressbooks” (107 screens), and “Posters, Lobby Cards, Spaceship Model and Gort” (62 stills). A lot of these seem like fun, and I especially like the pressbooks. The “Still Galleries” also include the film’s “Shooting Script”, displayed as a stillframe piece. This should be very interesting for fans of the flick.
Earth ends with trailers for One Million Years BC and Journey to the Center of the Earth plus a Restoration Comparison. This three-minute and 56-second piece provides text that covers the work done for this DVD and then shows splitscreen images of a mix of different versions of the film.
One of the most influential science fiction films ever created, The Day the Earth Stood Still continues to hold up well after more than half a century. It shows artifacts of the era in which it was created, but its message remains timely, and the movie seems lively and compelling. The DVD presents average picture quality plus a fine monaural soundtrack; stay away from the miserable stereo version, however. In addition, we get a pretty solid roster of supplements that help detail the production. With a list price of less than $20, Earth definitely earns my recommendation.