*Note: Although I got either A’s or B’s on these papers doesn’t mean that they are good by ANY means*
Have you ever thought deeply about the rhetorical messages that are presented in Sci-fi cinema? Well neither did I until I took a class on it last year where I was writing papers weekly about different eras of Sci-fi films and what they told us about the human race. Some of the ideas actually made sense and were really interesting to take a deep dive into — the other pieces were just a bunch of bullshit I think my professor pulled out of his ass to make a point about something!
The paper you are about to read is a comparing and contrasting paper about two different 1950s Sci-fi films; The Day the Earth Stood Still and Attack of the 50ft Woman. I take a look at their similarities and differences and which one did a better job at conveying a rhetorical message about the human race. So sit back, relax and try to enjoy my, 50s Syfy paper.
“AHHH LOOK OUT! IT’S A…” Well…what is it gonna be this time? This is a question I tend to ask myself every time I sit down and view a Science Fiction movie — more specifically from the 1950s. But there are lots of other questions that should be asked upon viewing movies like this: WHAT DOES ANY OF THIS MEAN? During the peak of Sci-Fi filmmaking, the goal was not only to make the movie entertaining to the audiences but to create a type of rhetoric that would hopefully rub off on the people watching. No matter what Sci-Fi films you look at, there was always something to be learned, but some of those ideas went on a really long walk for a small drink of water. There are two specific films that come to mind when comparing good rhetoric and bad rhetoric and those are “Attack of the 50ft Women (1958),” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) .” When comparing these two films it is important to take into consideration the female lead in both, the realness and probability that these plots could actually happen, and the fact that they both consist of an alien that adds importance to the plot. But at the end of the day, it is the contrasting points of breaking common Sci-Fi rules, a worldwide theme, certain focal points, and a clear rhetorical message that makes “The Day the Earth Stood Still” not only the better movie overall but the better film rhetorically.
To start off, one comparison between these two films that affect their rhetoric is the idea that both of these films felt so real! “The Day the Earth Stood Still” focuses on the idea that the whole world knows what is going on and ties in realistic protocols. At the start of the film, real radio announcers and television anchors, Drew Pearson, H. V. Kaltenborn, and Elmer Davis, were hired to read the message that aliens had landed. Everybody knew who these broadcasters were so making them read the real-sounding message created an effect that captured the audience’s attention right out of the gate and would make things more intense as the movie continued. “Attack of the 50ft Women” took a different approach to realism and that was that the story took place in a small town where everyone knew one another. Everyone knew the main character, Nancy, was known to be a little bit of a drama queen and that because she had money she could really get away with anything that she wanted — every small town has that woman, and trust me, we ALL talk about her behind her back so! This at-home feel added more fear from the townspeople because they all closely knew Nancy and would have never thought in a million years she’d actually be telling the truth about a giant alien who she saw in the desert. Even though these movies used it in different ways, they both bring real elements of life to the big screen that capture the attention of the audience in hopes of better relaying their rhetoric message.
Another comparison between films is that both of them involve an alien that highly contributes to the overall plot of the films. In “Attack of the 50ft Woman,” we obviously have Nancy who becomes a giant woman but she is not the alien lifeform I’m talking about. Before she gets big, she sees a giant alien in the fields which then touches her and gives her the big — without this strange and blizzard excuse for an alien, we would have no movie, no film, and no small sense of rhetoric the movie had. In “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” Klaatu was the main character and alien, without his presence we also would not have had a movie. If Klaatu would have been an elf or another mythical creature, not only would the movie not be in the Sci-Fi genre, but it wouldn’t have created the rhetoric of not destroying a planet. Even though this is a small comparison, it is what makes both of these films and gives meaning to their rhetorical messages. Look at stories such as “Moby Dick;” without the whale, we would not have a story, or at least not a very good one, and there would be nothing for us to take away from it.
The final and biggest comparison between both these films and their rhetoric is that both consist of a female lead — Nancy in, “Attack of the 50ft Woman,” and Helen from, “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Both women have the same type of energy at the start of their movies; they are both pretty strong and independent girls but when they are paired up with a man, they dumb themselves down. The difference between them is that Helen eventually snaps out of this ditsy daze and becomes a strong female lead whereas Nancy holds back the whole movie and is always portrayed as being the dumb female who is somehow reliant on her horrible husband. Although they are both a little different from one another, the reason that both these women matter for their movies is that they are representing the gender of women alone: women are strong and smart and don’t need a man to control their lives.
Helen shows this more clearly by ditching her boy toy and stepping up to the plate to do what she could to help Klaatu. Nancy on the other hand never breaks free from her husband, Harry, who flat-out tried to poison her because she just wanted his attention! Once she is big, she goes into hysterics because she is looking for some sort of approval from Harry that she isn’t crazy. To have a female lead in “Attack of the 50ft Woman” was extremely crucial for the overall rhetorical message of the film which was basically don’t cheat on your wife and don’t underestimate women. Both of these female leads show a smaller message about the power that women truly have that adds meaning to the larger rhetoric agendas that each film has.
These two films may have had a few things in common, but at the end of the day, one of them had better rhetoric, and hands down it was, “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” There are so many reasons that this film was better than “Attack of the 50ft Woman” and one of those reasons is that it was breaking certain Sci-Fi rules. Now, when it comes to Sci-Fi and horror, there are certain rules that people just know — for example, you need a silver bullet to kill and Werewolf and a wooden stake to kill a Vampire. In Science Fiction, it is commonly known that you can’t shoot an alien and that is where “The Day the Earth Stood Still” changed things around. Within the first 5 minutes of the film, the main character, Klaatu walks off of the spaceship and is SHOT, going down as any normal person would! The creators of this film wanted to break the mold of aliens being any different than us and therefore having the main alien get shot represents that we are all one; man, woman, child, alien — we all live in the same universe and are more similar than you might think. This small detail helps build the importance of the film’s overall rhetoric which is along the lines of we need to work together to not go into nuclear war otherwise bad things are going to happen.
In “Attack of the 50ft Woman,” when they run into the original giant man in the desert, it is shown that he can’t be shot — they try to shoot him down and he is unphased. This really doesn’t add anything to the rhetorical message that the film is trying to relate to the audience and is just an average Sci-Fi plot point that we have seen time and time again.
Another point that makes the rhetorics better in “The Day the Earth Stood Still” is the fact that the theme was worldwide and applied to everyone as opposed to “Attack of the 50ft Woman” which really only had a specific audience. Throughout “The Day the Earth Stood Still” there are references to different planets and how nuclear war has affected them throughout the years and how a nuclear war on Earth could affect them just as much. At the very end of the film, Klaatu also makes a worldwide statement that this all depends on us as a planet; we can either choose to get along and not destroy ours and other worlds or we can continue to hate each other and screw everything up. This was not a message just for the U.S. or other countries that had nuclear weapons, this was rhetoric for everyone who lived on the planet.
As for “Attack of the 50ft Women” the message that they were really trying to relate was the fact that you should be loyal to your wife and respect women. The target audience for this film was directed more towards the men of the world who throughout the film are seen as the villains — this ranges not only from Nancy’s husband, Harry but to the police and the doctors who don’t believe Nancy and think she is just in a state of hysterics. Although men make up a large amount of the population, the rhetoric just had a very small target audience which dulled the impact they were trying to make especially when being compared to the more serious theme from “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”
“The Day the Earth Stood Still” also did a great job at creating focal points and a story that reflected the ending rhetoric. There are plot points throughout the film, such as the time that Klaatu and the boy spend together, that are representing the beauty of freedom and the simple life of a child which adds that extra emotion to the rhetoric of not starting a nuclear war — there are so many things in the world, why would you destroy it over a little bit of disagreement? “Attack of the 50ft Women” definitely had plot points but none of them really played a huge role in making the rhetoric pop or leave a lasting effect on the audience. This leads me to the final, most important, and somehow the most obvious contrasting point between these films and that is the fact that “The Day the Earth Stood Still” had a clear rhetorical message and “Attack of the 50ft Women” did not!
It physically pains me how basic this point is but sometimes you need to take the obvious and bring it to life because in this case, it is the biggest and most important argument! I felt that as I watched “Attack of the 50ft Woman,” I was working so hard to find out what I was supposed to take away from this horrible movie — there is a difference between hidden messages and just pissing off your audience! The only other movie that I think I could compare this feeling to is the Stanley Kubrick film, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” I love that movie, but when it was over I just had a feeling like I was SUPPOSED to walk away being smarter and more knowledgeable but I just walked away thinking about the cool monkeys at the beginning and the big baby at the end — there was something there but I just couldn’t tell you what! “2001: A Space Odyssey” is all fun and games compared to 50s Science Fiction in terms of rhetoric, so it was a little surprising basically having to comb “Attack of the 50ft Woman” over and over again to find ANYTHING!
“The Day the Earth Stood Still” knew what they wanted the audience to take away from viewing and made that as clear as all day! Every detail of the film pointed to the impact that a nuclear war was going to have on the Earth and even neighboring planets! Now, for the dumb people in the back of the theaters who might not have gotten that… KLAATU FLAT-OUT SAYS IT AT THE END OF THE FILM! His ending dialogue is as follows: “The universe grows smaller every day, and the threat of aggression by any group, anywhere, can no longer be tolerated. There must be security for all or no one is secure.” If that does not give you a clear understanding of the rhetorical message, I don’t know what else does!
Although these films had lots of differences, they definitely both fit into the genre of Science Fiction. They both tick off certain criteria such as they both have some sort of alien in the storyline, they both include space travel, they both have some sort of rhetoric (one better than the other), and they both take those out-of-pocket, futuristic ideas of spaceships and advanced technology and bring them into the natural and common world. Some could argue that they are not considered Science Fiction because one of the biggest teasers of a Sci-Fi film is that it takes place in the future which is not true for either film — they bring everything else to the table and therefore are both in the Science Fiction category.
It is extremely clear that between these two films, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” was not only the superior movie, but the better film packed full of important rhetoric — in 1952, the film even won the Golden Globe for Best Film Promoting International Understanding! The overall message was that we as a planet need to start to get along and not go into a nuclear war which was presented in a universal and clear fashion for the targeted audience. It was an important piece of rhetoric because it directly connected to what was going on in the year 1951, which was the fear of a nuclear war breaking out. As for “Attack of the 50ft Woman,” the rhetoric message they were trying to leave the viewers with was not clear and lacked importance. Sure, you shouldn’t be rude to women, or anyone in the matter, but that just didn’t come across in as strong of a way as the rhetorics in “The Day the Earth Stood Still” did. Overall, when comparing the two, “Attack of the 50ft Woman” felt more like a movie; something created for entertainment purposes, whereas “The Day the Earth Stood Still” had more of the feel of a film; something created with a purpose and meaning.