Mar 24 2009

Klaatu Barada Nikto

It’s true that “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951) is one of our favorite classic science fiction films, along with such stalwarts as “Forbidden Planet” and “2001 – A Space Odyssey.” Almost everything about TDESS is fondly remembered today, including the phrase, “Klaatu barada nickto,” which is a safe-word uttered in the film by Patricia Neal to Gort the super-human robot — who has the rather anti-social habit of projecting a death ray out of his nose — so he wouldn’t destroy the world after Klaatu had been shot. The list of pop culture references to this uber flick is impressive even today, over a half century later.

How has Klaatu changed over the last 56 year long wave? Click klaatu.jpg.

But you can imagine what went through our minds here at when we heard a sequel was being made, and when it appeared in 2008. No matter how many times we redid the calculation in our spreadsheets — the difference between 2008 and 1951 — it always came out the same: 57. To us that’s a magic number because it’s the period of the long wave in the economy (and the energy cycle) that appears to fundamentally drive great explorations, macro-engineering projects, and even major wars over the last 200 years.

Now it could be a coincidence, and we haven’t done the full study of many films and TV shows, and how they’ve resonated with the 56 year cycle. If you know of a study like this please contact us! But when a great, classic science fiction movie like TDESS and its sequel are separated by nearly 56 years, that’s at least symbolic of the signature of the long economic wave that we expect to find in major pop culture elements. Our model explains this signature as due to the omnipresent financial, technological, and cultural influences that long-term fluctuations in the economy have on society during similar portions of the wave; e.g., both the original and sequel of TDESS appeared 7 -8 years before their respective Maslow Windows opened!

The original Klaatu was shot shortly after his arrival on Earth while presenting a gift that would have enabled communication with other planets. His escape, and most of the rest of the movie, is motivated by Klaatu’s desire to learn more about humans and their mutual suspicions and violence. He eventually explains to Professor Barnhardt that our recent (circa 1951) discovery of atomic power and experiments with rockets constitute a threat to the residents of other planets. If humans do not listen, then planet Earth would have to be “eliminated.”

The 2008 Klaatu also arrives with a message: to warn that humanity is on a course to destroy the Earth. But the difference this time is that Klaatu isn’t here to save humanity, he’s here to save planet Earth from humanity! An alien friend of Klaatu, Mr. Wu — who in the film has studied planet Earth and humans for 70 years — states that “there is no hope for them” (humans) and that the process should begin to complete their mission: “Kill the humans to save the Earth.”

In the mid-1980s Bruce went to the World Science Fiction Convention in the Anaheim Convention Center across the street from Disneyland. The Sci Fi memorabilia dealer tables were endless. An extraordinary panel discussion featured all the principals of TDESS, including Robert Wise (director), Edmund North (screenplay), and Julian Blaustein (producer). Although they did not mention that the equations on Professor Barnhardt’s blackboard were courtesy of famous UCLA astronautics professor Samuel Herrick, they did express their greatest pre-release fear that movie audiences would laugh when they saw that the elbows and knees of Gort flexed like rubber, instead of the incredibly strong material the military could not penetrate.

Well nobody laughed.

And like nearly 6 decades ago, we’re worrying again about the original Klaatu’s final warning — that if we continue on our present course, “This Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned out cinder.”

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