“We have come to visit you in peace…”

SETTING THE SCENE

It may not be the spiritual forerunner to Independence Day and Mars Attacks! — the space-travellers here actually do come in peace — but this 1951 classic’s jittery mood, epic sweep and stylised looks inspired those and plenty of other alien-arrival flicks. Yet it also transcended the trappings of the burgeoning sci-fi genre with an anti-atomic message and warning about mankind’s destructive nature, illustrated first by the US army’s reaction to the alien visitors.

* * *

INT. TELEVISION STUDIO – DAY

A news broadcaster sits at a desk, talking into a microphone.

Broadcaster: We bring you this special broadcast in order to give you the very latest information on an amazing phenomenon: the arrival of a spaceship in Washington. Government and Defence Department officials are concerned by reports of panic in several large eastern cities. I am authorised to assure you that, so far, there is no reasonable cause for alarm. The rumours of invading armies and mass destruction are based on hysteria and are absolutely false. I repeat, these rumours are absolutely false. The ship, designed for travel outside the Earth’s atmosphere, landed in Washington today at 3.47pm Eastern Standard Time. We still do not know where it came from. The ship is now resting exactly where it landed two hours ago, and so far there is no sign of life from inside it. Troops have been rushed across the Potomac River from Fort Myer and have thrown a cordon around the ship. They are supported by tanks, artillery and machine guns. Behind the police lines there’s a huge crowd of curiosity seekers. The army has taken every precaution to meet any emergency which may develop. Every eye, every weapon is trained on that ship. It’s been that way for two hours, and the tension is just beginning… Just a minute, ladies and gentlemen, I think something is happening…

EXT. WASHINGTON D.C. – DAY

In front of the Washington monument, soldiers surround the spaceship, flanked by machine guns and heavy artillery. Behind them are news crews and a crowd of civilians. Over the nervous murmur of conversation, we hear a low, unearthly hum emanating from the spacecraft, dipping up and down in modulation. Suddenly, there are signs of activity. A ramp slowly extends from the ship and an entrance is revealed. Soldiers train their weapons on the void as a humanoid figure appears, wearing a silver spacesuit and helmet. He extends his right arm in a greeting. He is Klaatu (Michael Rennie).

Klaatu: We have come to visit you in peace, and with goodwill.

There is silence. Everyone’s eyes are glued on Klaatu as he descends the ramp. Once his feet touch the ground, he reaches inside his spacesuit and pulls out a strange metallic object. He continues to walk forward, approaching the army’s front line, when suddenly small spikes pop out from the object. A soldier loses his cool and fires, hitting Klaatu.

Lieutenant: Hold your fire!

Soldiers approach the fallen alien, pausing to stare at the now-blasted object on the ground. Then, looking up at the spaceship, they see the formidable form of a huge robot, Gort (Lock Martin), at the top of the ramp. As he marches downwards, the civilians watching panic and flee. Gort halts before the troops. His visor opens, and with a beam of brilliant light he melts their weapons. Then he turns his attention to the machine guns and tank, reducing them to ash and twisted metal.

Klaatu: (Lifting himself off the ground) Gort! Deglet ovrosco!

Obediently, Gort stops his assault and stands motionless. Klaatu gets to his feet painfully, stoops to pick up the mysterious object and turns to face the stunned humans.

Klaatu: (Ruefully) It was a gift for your President. With this, he could have studied life on the other planets.

Junior officers exchange nervous glances. Their colonel thinks for a moment before making his decision.

Colonel: Get that ambulance over here. Take him to Walter Reed Hospital right away…

Empire, September 2006

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