Stop, look and listen
Review by Vives Anunciacion
Inquirer Libre December 12, 2008
SPOILER ALERT – stop reading if you don’t want spoilers.
The Day The Earth Stood Still
Directed by Scott Derrickson
In 1951 a low-budget black-and-white movie featured an alien landing on earth to warn of the dangers posed by unrestrained use of nuclear power and the imminent threat it posed to other planets. The film’s profound message resonated at the time, six years after the bombing of Hiroshima and in the early years of the US-Russian Cold War. Today, the original The Day The Earth Stood Still stands as one of the best science fiction films of all time.
This updated version is moderately entertaining, slightly relevant but only a shadow of the original. SPOILER ALERT, better watch the movie first before reading further.
Except for a prologue showing the origin of the human body of Klaatu, the new version follows somewhat the structure of the original film. Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) arrives with the giant robot Gort, sending the US government and the rest of the world in panic. The US fears of an impending alien invasion, despite Klaatu’s claims that he has arrived to save the planet.
Klaatu is taken into military custody, but astro-biologist Helen (Jennifer Connely) helps him escape and continue his mission. Eventually Klaatu explains to Helen that he has arrived to save the planet from the human species, whose destructive ways threaten the planet’s ability to sustain life. Helen seeks the aid of Professor Barnhardt (John Cleese), who explains to Klaatu that humans are capable of changing its ways when faced with extreme circumstances. Guess what, the remake has a happy ending, the original did not.
Fairly speaking, stripped of any reference to the original, TDTESS is a passable sci-fi thriller, with a strong, moody first half and a cheesy, mostly inert second half filled with plot holes and poorly-written side characters.
The remake thematically remains a political message movie like the original – a sign that the filmmakers fully understood what the original stood for. Particularly in the early scenes, the film portrays how humans may realistically react (psychologically, militarily, spiritually) when an alien intelligence suddenly lands in our backyard. However, as soon as Klaatu leaves his military facility prison, the movie reverts into standard blockbuster-type disaster movie storytelling.
The difference is in the ending. In the original, Klaatu left the humans hanging to decide its own fate. The remake gave that decision, albeit temporarily until they return, to Klaatu – freeing humans of the guilt and consequences of its actions. It seems to say that whatever happens, higher intelligence will understand and let us go.
Hugs and tears may have saved the human race in this movie, if only that were truly enough to ensure that the species shall not perish from this earth.
(Okay, this is what happens with limited print space, I had to contract this review to fit within a 450-word configuration. To be fair to a movie that has earned derision simply because it’s a remake of a classic, I’d like to discuss some issues further.)
I did warn for spoilers, so don’t pick on me for spoiling the ending. End of issue.
“Look well, for before you stand stark symbols of the achievement, mystery, and frailty of the human race.” – Farewell to the Master, Harry Bates (1940)
As I mentioned above, the remake thematically remains faithful to the original – even with the altered ending. In the end, humans are still left with a question whether to change or not (to change WHAT is another issue, just keep reading.)
Klaatu’s action in the remake is to temporarily avert the annihilation of humans, until such time that the aliens deem it appropriate to return.
What is essentially different are the philosophies behind the two films, which I pointed out in the last part of the review, regarding the endings.
Structurally the two films are similar. Where they diverge narratively is where they diverge politically.
The first half of the remake retains the moody, eerie, atmospheric original which plays out like an old Twilight Zone or early X Files episode – noirish, creepy. Up until Klaatu leaves the military facility. After that, the remake takes a different form.
Where the original takes Klaatu in a tour of Washington guided by a very innocent child (Bobby Benson, played by Billy Gray), the remake takes Klaatu in a Fugitive-style cat and mouse with the military, looking for A) another alien-in-human-form undercover who reports that humans are a hopeless species and B) a mini-sphere that controls the rest of the spheres hidden in earth which serve Noah’s Ark style to collect specimens of lifeforms on earth. With him are Helen and her annoying stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith).
Bobby’s naive character in the original serves as a device to mirror Klaatu’s lack of information on human way of life. Jacob on the surface seems to serve the same purpose, but sounds more like he represents how the average Amercan would react to the situation rather than serve as counterpoint to Klaatu’s lack of earth knowledge.
Don’t get me started on the alien-in-human-disguise #2.
One revision does stand out to be nicely done, and it is John Cleese’s version of Professor Barnhardt. At that point if I were Klaatu, I would have called off the destruction because an intelligent human just explained why they are worth saving as a species. But then the movie didn’t stop there.
What in Jupiter’s name should the humans be changing, exactly? The original, as Klaatu said in his speech, pointed it bluntly that humans should avoid things that would threaten interplanetary peace, namely, nuclear arms proliferation. The remake avoids any particular issue and at best has an environmental agenda.
However, the extraterrestrial reason doesn’t sound logical.
If the earth dies, we die. If we die, the eath survives. Therefore get rid of humans so the earth survives.
Earth = about 4.5 billion years old. Life on earth = has been around 3 billion years. Homo sapiens = around 100,000 years. The earth won’t give a F*** if we’re not around.
Seriously, hugs and tears save the humans from indestructible aliens who don’t understand billions of years of evolution?
Lastly, on more trivial matters. It took me a while to compose an ending for the review that included the phrase “shall not perish from this earth” which I thought sounded like a good ending for the review. It’s from Lincoln’s Gettysberg Address (“and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this earth”) which was shown in the original as Klaatu and Bobby were touring around the US capital.
Go watch the original if you can, but the remake is completely optional.