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Sigourney Weaver
H.G. Wells
Adam West
Gary Westfahl
James Whale
Robert Wise
Edward D. Wood, Jr.
Frank Wu
Philip Wylie
 
WISE, ROBERT
(1914– ). American director.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Directed: The Curse of the Cat People (co-directed with Gunther von Fritsch) (1944); The Body Snatcher (1945); A Game of Death (1946); The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951); Helen of Troy (1956); The Haunting (and produced) (1963); The Andromeda Strain (and produced) (1971); Audrey Rose (1977); Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).

Edited: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Pandro S. Berman 1939); The Devil and Daniel Webster (William Dieterle 1941).

Acted in: The Stupids (John LANDIS 1996).

 
There are many ways to define a "classic" science fiction film, but my own personal definition is this: it is a science fiction film that I feel absolutely compelled to watch. If I see some people watching the film, I must join them; if I recognize a scene while channel-surfing, I must stop and watch the rest of the film. No matter how many times I watch it, I am always willing to watch it again, fascinated, savoring old pleasures and garnering new insights. There are not very many films that fulfill my definition, but the short list would surely include Things to Come, This Island Earth, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Doin' Time on Planet Earth, and two films directed by the remarkable Robert Wise—The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Andromeda Strain.

As someone who worked his way up through the old studio system to earn a directing career, and earned two Academy Awards from his peers, Wise should have felt perfectly comfortable as part of the filmmaking scene, accepted as a veteran team player and influential insider. Yet it's hard to believe that he ever reached that level of comfort in Hollywood, for no filmmaker has ever been so skillful in portraying uneasy, alienated loners, strangers in strange lands, which explains why his science fiction films can be so memorable.

He would be an important figure in film history simply because he edited Orson Welles's Citizen Kane, but Wise soon moved on to directing, first with the subdued and atmospheric The Curse of the Cat People and the oddly appealing The Body Snatcher, one of the few horror films of the period that contrives to be genuinely unsettling. But these quiet triumphs could not have prepared anyone for the masterful, mesmerizing The Day the Earth Stood Still. It is a film that both reflects and comments on the so-called "paranoia" of the 1950s, a film that is both courageous enough to side with its alien visitor Klaatu against the trigger-happy militarists of the American government and honest enough to acknowledge the sinister overtones in Klaatu's mandated alternative to immature human decision-making. There are within it interesting little films about Patricia Neal's travails as a single parent and Sam JAFFE's sincere but futile efforts to rally Earth's scientists as a challenge to their government. It is, overwhelmingly and overpoweringly, a haunting film about lonely people in a new and alien environment, doing the best they can to find companions and make the right choices, not always with success. One could write a million words about this film and never exhaust its mysteries.

As a reward for his tremendous success with The Day the Earth Stood Still, Wise was allowed to move away from genre films, unless one counts Helen of Troy, which, while not as bad as most reports indicates, visibly involves the sort of aristocratic interactions that did not interest its director. After proving better able to empathize with the mixed-up delinquents of the musical West Side Story (1961), Wise more impressively examined the life of one mixed-up youth, magnificently portrayed by Julie Harris, in The Haunting, still one of the best ghost films ever made, and an enduring rebuke to anyone who believe that scary films demand spectacular special effects. I have no idea why anyone would regard the director of this stunning, disturbing film as the ideal choice to direct the wholesome Julie Andrews musicals The Sound of Music (1965) and Star (1968), or why anyone would wish to watch or talk about those films; it was surely because Wise found the experience of directing these films so unfulfilling that he seized the chance to return to science fiction with The Andromeda Strain.

The politic subtexts of The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Andromeda Strain are similar—arguing that governments are simply not able to deal with alien invasions—but The Andromeda Strain updates that message for the computer age in devastating fashion. For, while The Day the Earth Stood Still worked capably within the conventions of the Hollywood film, The Andromeda Strain achieves its power by deliberately defying those conventions in any number of ways, including the absence of background music, the casting of unfamiliar actors, and the refusal to provide a romantic subplot. The film's rhythms are irregular and unsettling, just like the eerie, futuristic underground laboratory that is its main setting; its characters do not seem properly connected to the narrative, or to each other. All of this serves to enhance the film's aura of oppressive menace: although Ridley SCOTT's titular Alien is frightening, it is also playing by all the rules that have governed horror movies for decades; the unseen, unknowable alien presence in The Andromeda Strain is far more frightening because it is not playing by any of the rules.

Given all his successes in the genre (and one should also note his reasonably effective analysis of reincarnation in Audrey Rose), it is hard to argue that he was a poor choice to direct Star Trek: The Motion Picture. But that was a project doomed from the start, since the story of how the film came to be made—the improbable rebirth of a long-dead television series and the emotional reunion of its original cast—was always going to be more important than any story that unfolded on the screen. Inevitably, Star Trek: The Motion Picture emerged as impossibly self-absorbed, with everyone involved so stunned by the film's very existence as to have little energy for anything but celebratory gestures. Yet Wise creates one memorable sequence, a homage to David Bowman's journey through the Star Gate in 2001: A Space Odyssey, featuring Mr. Spock in a spacesuit venturing alone into the bowels of the enigmatic V'Ger and observing its bizarre phenomena. The scene briefly offers the disturbing message that Star Trek adventures otherwise labor to suppress: namely, that humans venturing into outer space are going to be lonely, vulnerable, and puzzled creatures. And these are all feelings that Robert Wise knows, and projects, extremely well.

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