Thursday, 25 November 2010

Klaatu barada nicto…

“There's no limit to what he can do. He could destroy the earth... If anything should happen to me you must go to Gort, you must say these words, "Klaatu barada nikto", please repeat that.”

I was going to write tonight about my boyhood obsession with robots, particularly with Gort - Klaatu barada nikto” - it’s a phrase originating from the 1951 science fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still. Klaatu is the name of the humanoid alien in the film - Gort is his robot. The line above is spoken by Klaatu in the film as a warning. I was going to use it to introduce the three wind-up toy robots I have on my shelf in the cellar and how I’m thinking of getting more - searching boot sales, scouring e-bay - until I have another of my collections.

I’ve mentioned before that I like to collect. You know I do, I’m currently making you endure snow globes, but I haven’t started a new collection for years and clockwork robots (of which I used to have many) seem like the right thing at this time – a link to my past, back to my childhood, back to when my world was still.

I spent tonight in the town of my birth with my parents and my uncle Bob and auntie Mu. Muriel, the youngest of my mum’s sisters and Bob her soldier husband, have lived and remained in Thame their whole lives whilst my immediate family have scattered to the winds like so much sand blown out-and-away from a badly made sandcastle. Thame is the place where I was born. It’s a nice town, pretty, changing but not changed at all. It’s the place where I learnt about growing and (I realise now too late) feel at my most comfortable. It has a feeling of home, familiarity, almost like it’s been standing still for me.

I haven’t returned much over the years, no more than a half a dozen times – a school reunion, a party, a few fleeting visits often ‘under cover’ without announcement - simply returning to my old memories on my own, a fleeting, incognito, drive through my past, looking for who I was or might have been.

"Klaatu barada nikto." There is no limit to what I might have done I tell myself. Yes, but you’ve reached your limit my other self replies – if only I could make my world stand still again.

Last night the memories flowed and fell from me, the laughter, shared recollection, misremembered disagreement, fun and follies - all welcome as I remembered my ‘back thens’. And as I sat in the Falcon, a pleasant pub and the only one that I’d not been in before, drinking beer in front of the open fire it struck me - how did I get so far from home?

Sometimes I think I’ve travelled far, come a long way, progressed, even reached for some stars and almost touched them. But most of the time I don’t. How did I get so far from home?

I have a robot upon my shelf. He has a key and if you wind him he moves robotically forward a step at a time. He clumps along with a whir, forwards, forwards, forwards, mechanically plodding on. There is no limit to what he might do - at least until his key winds down and he stops.

Perhaps he should go home.

Klaatu barada nicto…


  1. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL was always part of the regular summer BBC2 cycle of S-F films that also included WAR OF THE WORLDS, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and as such remains carved on the memory of a generation.

    There are those who maintain it is a religious allegory (Klaatu takes the name Carpenter, comes with a message of peace, dies and is then born again) but I’m not convinced that it’s that obvious.

    Gort – well Gort-in-motion - was played by 7’-7” Lock Martin who was apparently, like many who are very tall, not a strong man and so when he has to carry other actors a harness and strut were needed. Two costumes were built to maintain the seamless look of the robot, one with fastenings at the back and one with them at the front for the reverse shots. Lock Martin was apparently working as a doorman at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood when he was offered the part.

    DAY was of course directed by Robert Wise who went on the direct THE SOUND OF MUSIC and once worked on CITIZEN KANE which shows that everything links back to Welles eventually.


  2. So what does 'Klaatu barada nikto' mean? Or do I have to read 'The Day the Earth Stood Still' to find out... (somehow I have always missed the film MAWH)

  3. Hi Joan
    I always assumed it was something like "Klaatu says no" (if you like your "Little Britain" and more likely "Klaatu says don't do anything", however I find out from that fount of all things accurate, Wikipedia that the literal translation for Klaatu barada nikto was "Stop Barbarism (I have) death, bind." and the free translation was "I die, repair me, do not retaliate."

    Apologies for the lack of a "spoiler" warning, by the way... I guess I just assumed after 50 years everyone had seen it by now...


  4. Della Jayne Roberts commented on Facebook:

    I bought Kingsley a wind-up robot when I was in Canberra this week; and I used a profile pic of Thame with snow just recently as well .... Facebook keeps 'home' nearby but it's not the same - I really need to visit .... Jed is in Sydney for his 20th birthday this weekend (where did 20 years go? Six of them here ....) What would I do if I went back 20 years and was waiting for Jed to arrive .... what wouldn't I do, and what would I change ... but as I can't go back (nobody can) I'll enjoy my time the best I can (mosquitoe bites and all - itch, itch...) and although I've travelled far too far; it'll never be home...
    :O) x (Sister Della)

  5. Philip Morgan commented on Facebook:

    Philip wrote "As usual a thoughtful, thought provoking post - made me think about my old town."

  6. Those old tin robots were a part of home too. Ubiquitous when we were kids, but not so much now. They're one of those 'objects-of-an-age' that bring the memories flooding back.

    Mind you, I was terrified of them!

    Amy K

  7. You made me think about the fact that I haven't lived 'at home' since I was 18 - many years now. None of my family live there any more so there is no reason to return but I ebvy people who liove all their lives in the one place - they truly belong.

  8. Alan Spence e-mailed:

    Where is the Falcon, and I wonder if you can buy a robotic one.


  9. Three of the periferal bad guys in Return of the Jedi were given the names Klaatu, Barada and Nikto in homage. And speaking of Star Wars I was wondering if your Thame pub celebrated the turn of this century as The Millennium Falcon... sorry about that.