“Klaatu barada nikto!” On Monday, December 13, 2010 the Coolidge Corner Theatre’s Science on Screen series will feature a special screening of the sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still combined with a presentation by world-renowned roboticist Dennis Hong of Virginia Tech. The program begins at 7:00 p.m.
Director Robert Wise’s 1951 film, about Klaatu, an alien envoy who travels to Washington, D.C. with his giant robot protector, Gort, to warn Earth’s leaders that human beings must stop their warring ways or face perilous consequences, is considered by many critics and fans to be one of the greatest science-fiction movies of all time. Decades after the film’s release, Klaatu’s ultimatum for disarmament, given just before he boards his spacecraft to return home, still has the power to chill: “It is no concern of ours how your run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration.”
The film features several strong performances, but perhaps the most memorable character is the one who remains silent and nearly stationary throughout: the iconic robot Gort. Played by the 7-foot 7-inch actor Lock Martin wearing an aluminum-painted foam-rubber suit, the metallic, featureless Gort is an ominous presence, capable of vaporizing anything he targets by firing lethal laser beams from beneath his visor.
Over the years, both celluloid and real-world robots have become increasingly sophisticated. Before the film, Dr. Dennis Hong, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the famed Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory at Virginia Tech, will talk about some groundbreaking advances in robotics, particularly in the area of humanoid robots (of a less menacing variety than Gort).
Hong’s lab has invented a number of novel robots, including ChIMERA, a robot with amoeba-like locomotion that can modify its body structure to squeeze through small holes; STriDER, a unique, three-legged walking robot; the cliff-scaling robot, CLIMBeR; the kid-sized DARwin, which, in 2007, was the first U.S. humanoid robot to compete in RoboCup, the international robot soccer competition; and CHARLI-L, an adult-sized humanoid robot with learning intelligence that requires no remote power source or computer, walks like a human, and also plays soccer.
For his contributions to the field, Dr. Hong received the National Science Foundation’s 2007 CAREER award, and, in 2009, was named one of Popular Science's Brilliant 10, honoring top scientists younger than 40 years of age from across the U.S. His work has been widely featured in national and international media.
Tickets are $9.75 regular admission, $7.75 students and Museum of Science members, and free for Coolidge Corner Theatre members. Tickets are available online at www.coolidge.org/science or at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard Street, Brookline, Massachusetts. For more information, visit http://www.coolidge.org/science or call 617-734-2500.