Report Card: The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

TDTESS-Report-Card

Oh, for the days when a movie had only five technologies to review.

Sci: A (4 of 4) How believable are the interfaces?

Keep in mind that we’re not entirely concerned with the believability of the technology, just the believability of the interface. So, we get to bypass all the messy questions about how a technology brings someone back after death, and ask instead could that technology be operated by a wall switch? And the answer is, even though most of them could be improved, yes.

  • Sure, Gort could be the primary control mechanism for the ship, with a voice input.
  • Sure, everything in the ship could be gestural, if it’s meant for security

The only notable exception is the ridiculous design of the learning device. But, hey, royals have given each other Imperial (Fabergé) eggs before, so maybe the delicacy is part of the expression. I’ll cut it some slack.

Fi: A (4 of 4) How well do the interfaces inform the narrative of the story?

Especially for 1951, this must have been a mind-blowing vision of technology. Robots with disintegrator beams for eyes. Electronics you don’t even touch. A Lazarus table that can bring people back from dead with the flip of a switch? It all painted a picture that was terrifically alien and advanced, greatly contrasting the mundane technology seen elsewhere in the film.

Interfaces: C (2 of 4)
How well do the interfaces equip the characters to achieve their goals?

One of the interfaces is awesome: The gestural security. The rest of the interfaces have some major room for improvement.

  • The doors should really be operable in the absense of Gort.
  • Gort’s pretty awesome, but some audible output would be nice for feedback or conversation across the long stretches of interstellar travel.
  • The revival table should really be more automatic.
  • The learning device, well, failed Klaatu in many, many ways.

Final Grade B+ (10 of 12), MUST-SEE

Related lessons from the book

  • Gort is sticks to obvious representation, his dull visage matching his muteness and lack of real intelligence. (Chapter 9)
  • The communication device kind-of signaled while recording (though I suspect it was really signaling that it was just on) (page 200)
  • The communications panel did not minimize the number of controls (page 204)
  • The gestural interfaces embodied the first of the gestural pidgin (Wave to activate) identified in chapter 5.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is full of some very forward-looking interfaces for its time, and was created without regard to cultural conventions of today. I highly recommend it, even for all its moralistic posturing and strange ethnocentrism. Also for some of the best end title typography in all of ever.

TDTESS-End

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