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The Day The Planet Of The Apes Stood Still

As a kid during the 50s my favorite movies were sci-fi and monster flicks, mostly black and white budget affairs like Creature from the Black Lagoon, where you could see the zipper up the back of the monster's costume, or The Thing, where you never got a good look at the Thing at all. One of my particular favorites was Not of This Earth, in which a guy wearing a perfect Blues Brothers outfit, sunglasses and all, comes from his dying planet to harvest blood for transfusions, for the folks back home. When he took off the sunglasses, you could see that he had no eyeballs, and all he had to do was look at you and you were dead -after a few agonized screams. Naturally my thought was, "I wish I could do that." My high school principal would have been target number one.

Some of these films were real stinkers, like The Giant Gila Monster or Teenagers From Outer Space. Or the Hideous Sun Demon, a man who goes up in a rocket and comes back over-exposed to the sun and turns on sunny days into a scaly reptilian humanoid that kills people for no apparent reason. The message was perhaps the same as Dorothy's in the Wizard of Oz: Best to stay in your own back yard.

All I knew about The Day the Earth Stood Still was that a flying saucer landed in Washington D.C., and that was good enough for me. I rode the usual bus for a quarter, 12 miles into town, and I think it was still under a dollar for the movie ticket. I'm sure my 11 or 12 yr.-old self didn't entirely "get" this movie, but it turned out to be something of a classic, a landmark film of sorts. People still remember and quote the "spaceman's" message to Gort, his robot assistant and bodyguard: "Klaatu, Barata, Nikto." This meant "I'm in trouble and need immediate help." The spaceman, naturally, was shot by soldiers acting on the orders of the Big Hawks in the Pentagon, who have determined, wrongly, that the alien was here to start an interplanetary war. Unlike the nice aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, this one had come to warn that unless we humans stopped all the wars and figured out how to get along, our planet would have to be "eliminated." As a small demonstration of his ability to do this, he shut down all electric activity on Earth for a half-hour, and, as the title suggests, the Earth stood still.

So the other night, The Day the Earth Stood Still was on cable TV, no commercials. And this time I not only "got" the movie but saw a parallel to Planet of the Apes. The story line was inside-out, or reversed but the basic premise was the same: Earth People are By and Large, idiots hell-bent on self-destruction. The twist in Planet of the Apes was Charlton Heston (an excellent casting choice) thinks he's landed on another planet when in fact it's Earth in the future when humanity has destroyed itself, the apes are back in charge and know what a menace humans are. And that they can't be trusted.

Each movie portrays humans as having pretty well fucked everything up.

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