Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the late Robert Wise. He is in the company of a select few Hollywood directors who made some of the best, most iconic films in history. He directed West Side Story and The Sound of Music, and was the film editor for Citizen Kane. Wise won the coveted Best Director and Best Picture Academy Awards twice, for both West Side Story and The Sound of Music. To genre fans, though, he’s best known as the director of The Day The Earth Stood Still, The Andromeda Strain, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Wise began as a sound and music editor at RKO Pictures in the ’30s, and his first film credit, in 1935, was a short movie called A Trip through Fijiland, which was pieced together from salvaged footage. In 1941, Wise worked as film editor together with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane, one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time. His first directing job was on the horror film The Curse of the Cat People in 1944, when he was parachuted in as a replacement director as the production was struggling behind schedule at the time.
In 1951, Wise directed the classic sci-fi movie, The Day The Earth Stood Still. It was a film fuelled by fears of atomic power and global warfare, and Wise sought to highlight the themes of armed conflict that was rooted in realism, despite the fantastic nature of the story. The phrase “Klaatu Barada Nikto” originated from the film. Wise recounted a conversation with the screenwriter stating it was just a made-up phrase which “sounded good,” but it has since appeared as a meme in various works of sci-fi and fandom since then.
In 1971, Wise directed the film adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel, The Andromeda Strain. The story told of an extraterrestrial microorganism which fatally clots the blood of humans, and the team of scientists that worked to stop it. It was a moderately successful sci-fi movie, earning over $12 million in North America.
The biggest testament to Wise’s sci-fi cred is probably his role as the director of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It was the movie that resurrected a dead sci-fi series as a franchise that would endure for decades to come, and is still ongoing. However, at the time of its production and release, Star Trek: The Motion Picture received mixed reviews from critics. It’s still considered one of the weaker entries in the Star Trek film franchise, but without it, there would be no Star Trek film franchise. Wise was a versatile director of many genres, and his talent is sorely missed.
Nur is a tinkerer of programmable things, an apprentice in an ancient order of technomages. He enjoys fantasy, sci-fi, comic books, and Lego in his spare time. His favourite authors are Asimov and Tolkien. He also loves Celtic and American folk music. You can follow him on twitter: @nurhussein