A warning . . . an ultimatum
15 May 2023
Season 11, Episode 05
Re-Imagined Radio considers, from a documentary perspective, the Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the 1951 SciFi movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still. A space alien arrives in Washington, DC, and delivers a warning . . . an ultimatum. Live peacefully or be destroyed by robots of unimaginable power. Beyond classic science fiction literature themes like space aliens, flying saucers, and robots, this radio story overlays Cold War fear of rockets and nuclear war. The result is powerful, insightful, thought provoking, a fine example of radio storytelling.
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READ "The Day the Earth Stood Still" working script.
Minor changes may have been made in production. Voice actors are creative. Otherwise, this is an accurate textual description of what is heard in our broadcast.
Written, Produced, and Hosted by John F. Barber
Sound Design, Music, and Post Production by Marc Rose of Fuse Audio Design
Promotional Graphics by Holly Slocum Design
First a short story
The story we know as "The Day the Earth Stood Still" was first published as "Farewell to the Master" in Astounding Science Fiction Magazine, October 1940. It was written by American science fiction writer and editor Hiram Gilmore "Harry" Bates III. Bates edited several action-adventure pulp magazines, and was founding editor of Astounding Science Fiction.
Bates used themes then popular in Science Fiction literature, and popular culture: aliens, robots, and flying saucers. One of the earliest descriptions of "flying saucers" was by Texas farmer John Martin who described a saucer-shaped object he saw in the sky moving "at wonderful speed." Martin's description was included in an article published in the January 25, 1878 issue of the Denison Daily News.
The term "flaming flying saucer" was used in newspaper reports of a meteor seen falling over Texas and Oklahoma, June 17, 1930 (Associated Press. "Whicitan Among those Who Saw Meteor." Wichita Daily Times, 19 June 1930, p. 28).
On June 24, 1947 pilot Kenneth Arnold flew from Chehalis, Washington, for a business trip to Yakima. Approaching Mineral, at 9,200 feet altitude, just before 3:00 PM, Arnold looked toward Mt. Rainer, to the Northeast, and saw nine metallic-looking discs flying at incredible speeds in a chain formation. Arnold reported what he saw to the U.S. Military but no positive identification was ever made. His description, and reports of a "flying saucer" found less than two weeks later at Roswell, New Mexico, July 7, 1947 helped popularize the term.
The term "Unidentified Flying Object" (UFO) was invented in 1952 and used through the 1960s to address reported sightings of objects in shapes other than discs or saucers, black triangles, for example.
Space travel was effectively planted in the public mind in 1902 by a silent adventure film written and directed by French filmmaker Georges Méliès (ME-less). His 16-minute film, A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la Lune), imagined astronauts traveling to the Moon in a capsule shot from a large cannon. They explore the Moon's surface, escape capture by an underground group of moon inhabitants, the Selenites, and return to Earth with a captive Selenite whom they show off during the public celebrations of their safe return to Earth. Méliès, as Professor Barbenfouillis, led a group of French performers in a theatrical style for which he became famous. The scene in which the capsule lands in the Moon's eye is one of the most iconic and frequently referenced images in the history of cinema. A Trip to the Moon is the most famous of the more than five hundred films Méliès made and directed. Inspired by the novels From Earth to the Moon (1865) and Around the Moon (1870), both by French writer Jules Verne, A Trip to the Moon is widely regarded as the earliest example of the science fiction film genre and, more generally, as one of the most influential films in cinema history. WATCH the original black and white film. In 1993, a hand-colored copy of the original film was discovered. It was restored in 2011. WATCH the colorized version, with music and narration added.
Robots and other mechanical beings have often represented the dark side of technology, and our fear that machines will replace humans. That fear persists today with regard to Artificial Intelligence.
Publication, in 1898, of the early science fiction novel The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells established a view of aliens as aggressive, menacing, lacking in moral or ethical character. Martians, depicted as tenticled beings, were, in Welles's novel, intent on subduing humankind. As portrayed by Wells, alien life forms could travel to Earth inside spacecraft. What if those aliens looked like humans? How could we know they are aliens? This unsettling question is part of the larger response to the arrival of Klaatu in the original short story, the film adaptation, and the Lux Radio Theatre adaptation.
Bates played with this idea in his story, even reversed the long-held stereotype of aliens. In his story, the alien Klaatu is kind, wise, noble, like a benign god. The giant robot Gnot — the name was changed to Gort in the 1951 movie adaptation — exhibited sadness, gentleness. READ "Farewell to the Master" here.
A movie adaptation
In 1951, Bates's short story was adapted by Edmund H. North as the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still, starring Michael Rennie, as Klaatu, and Patricia Neal, as Helen Benson. The film score was composed by Bernard Herrmann.
The movie story retained the alien in human form, the 8-foot-tall metal robot, and the flying saucer introduced by Bates. To these science fiction literature themes, North added Cold War paranoia about invasion (Edelson 1) and concerns about world destruction from nuclear war using "intercontinental missiles armed with hydrogen bombs" (Edelson 51).
For more than fifty years, 1947-1991, former World War II allies, the United States, championing democracy and capitalism, and the Soviet Union, promoting autocracy and communism, struggled against each other for global ideological and geopolitical dominance. Instead of actual fighting, the Cold War was characterized by regional conflicts, psychological warfare, propaganda campaigns, espionage, embargoes, rivalry at sports events, stockpiling armaments including nuclear weapons, and technological competitions like the Space Race.
A radio adaptation
The 1951 movie was adapted for radio by Milton Geiger and broadcast January 4, 1954, as an episode of Lux Radio Theatre (Episode #862). Michael Rennie again starred as Klaatu, but Jean Peters replaced Patricia Neal as Helen Benson.
Cast and Credits
Michael Rennie as Klaatu
Jean Peters as Helen Benson
Paul Frees as Narrator
Herb Butterfield as Professor Barnhardt
Lamont Johnson as Tom Stevens
Tudor Owen as Mr. Harley
Billy Gray as Bobby Benson
Edith Evanson as Mrs. Crockett
William Conrad as General Cutler
and Tyler McVey, Robert Griffin, Tom Brown, Fred Shields, Marvin Bryan, Shep Menken, Alastair Duncan, Stephen Robers, Ottola Nesmith, and Eddie Mar.
The music was composed and directed by Rudy Schrager.
The Lux Radio Theatre adaptation included the powerful science fiction themes of the movie adaptation—space aliens, flying saucers, and robots—along with its fear of invasion and nuclear destruction fostered by the Cold War struggles between the United States and the Soviet Union. As in the movie, and the original short story, Klaatu seeks to warn humankind of the dangers of exploiting and corrupting science and technology. Klaatu mentions experiments with atomic energy and rockets. If humans continue, he says, Earth will be destroyed.
At the time of this radio program, missiles carrying atomic and hydrogen bombs, developed by the United States and the Soviet Union, and other countries as part of the Cold War nuclear arms race, made it possible for humankind to destroy itself through nuclear war or misuse of atomic power unleashed by modern science. Klaatu's warning — humanity's growing use of rockets and atomic energy is a danger to other planets — was true, and heartfelt. Humankind was not ready for the grim gift of the atomic age (Edelson 53). The robot Gort is one of many throughout the universe created to eliminate any civilization that threatens space warfare, according to Klaatu.
As we hear in this radio story, Klaatu's message is ignored by humanity. Even alien intervention cannot break through human intransigence. Today, in our world, we face a similar situation with climate change. Although not delivered by a space alien arriving with a giant robot in a flying saucer, the message, and ultimatium are the same: address climate change or face extinction.
Special thanks to Maureen Keller, Syliva Lindman, and Brenda Alling for promoting this episode of Re-Imagined Radio.
READ their Press Release
The Day the Earth Stood Still web poster by Holly Slocum (240 x 356)
The Day the Earth Stood Still cover graphic by Holly Slocum (820 x 360)
The Day the Earth Stood Still landscape poster by Holly Slocum (1920 x 1080)
The Day the Earth Stood Still square poster by Holly Slocum (2000 x 2000)
The Day the Earth Stood Still full poster by Holly Slocum (2000 x 3000)
Name: The Day the Earth Stood Still
Subtitle: A warning . . . an ultimatum
Description: Re-Imagined Radio considers nuclear destruction, space aliens, flying saucers, and robots with "The Day the Earth Stood Still." Based on the Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the 1951 SciFi movie. A space alien arrives in Washington, DC, and delivers a warning . . . an ultimatum. Live peacefully or be destroyed by robots of unimaginable power. Beyond classic science fiction literature themes like space aliens, flying saucers, and robots, this radio story overlays Cold War fear of intercontinental rockets and nuclear war. The result is powerful, insightful, thought provoking, a fine example of radio storytelling.
Program type: Episodic
Media type: Radio broadcast, live stream, podcast
Premier broadcast and live stream: 15 May 2023, KXRW-FM (Vancouver, WA), KXRY-FM (Portland, OR)
Recording availability: Podcast
Recording specs: Audio, MP3, stereo, 44.1Hz, 320kbps
Recording name: rir-earth-stood-still.mp3
Categories: Radio drama, Documentary, Radio performance, fictional
Keywords: radio drama, storytelling, documentary, science fiction, Lux Radio Theatre, Cold War
Script: Original script adapted, research, and commentary by John F. Barber
Producer/Host: John F. Barber
Sound Design/Music Composition: Marc Rose