Where Have All the Giant Mutants Gone?

Today, we judge advancements in technology by their tininess. The laptop goes anorexic. The stem cell gets harvested like a dandelion. And the individual genome, once blissfully anonymous in the micro-verse of the chromosome, is now as pinned down and profiled as a Target shopper. Heck, we don’t split atoms anymore; we split bosons.

But there was a time, friends, when everybody wanted their science extra-large and bombastic. Atomic blasts! Space rockets! Room-sized super computers! It was the 1950s, the Space Race was on, nuclear annihilation was no more remote a possibility than a hail storm, and the collective scientific imagination still throbbed in anticipation of the unnamable-y huge. We hadn’t yet burrowed inward toward the micro and the narcissistic. What a time to live!

And by “live,” we of course mean “watch sci-fi movies.”

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Starting this Thursday, the Heights Theatre takes us back to the heady, paranoid days of the 1950s and the savior/destroyer complex our society tended to have with science. “Watch the Skies!,” a five-week-long sci-fi series, trots out some of the most iconic alien/robot/mutant films of the mid-century, and the parade of apocalyptic fantasies packs a wallop of a zeitgeist. These people weren’t worried about microbe-born zombie epidemics. They had giant atomic ants in their nightmares. (And you can see a Hollywood rendition of these bloodthirsty critters on October 11, when the Heights screens the Oscar-nominated Them!)

The Heights kicks things off Thursday, September 20, with The Day the Earth Stood Still, a tame little morality tale that couches the horror in its rhetorical challenge: will humans use science for peace or for destruction? Then, as if answering the question, we get scientists colluding with war-stricken aliens (This Island Earth), unleashing a long-frozen arctic monster (The Thing), generating deadly mutants with atomic testing (Them!), and, of course, recklessly experimenting with grotesque consequences (the original The Fly).

The eggheads aren’t always to blame, and more than a few come to the rescue, but one thing sure separates them from their fictional lab-coated brethren of today: they definitely knew how to monkey with the macro.

The Day the Earth Stood Still
Thursday, September 20
7:30 p.m.
Heights Theatre, 3951 Central Ave. NE, Columbia Heights