The Movie Buffer

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still


Here comes Spoiler Claus, here comes spoiler claus


Authors note: It was hard to put this article together because my initial reaction was so strong that this would have just come of rant-y. So, I’ve let my thoughts settle and here’s my take on the film. I won’t sweat the small stuff and I’ll only give a couple of the biggies away because there are just so many.

To say that remakes are tricky business is to say the very least. It’s never the awful movies with a decent idea that get remakes; it’s the great or memorable movies remade as a cash grab. A cynical thought, but appropriate in this case.

To avoid comparing the new to the old is impossible, so I’m going to have to take this one head on.

The original the day the earth stood still is a cinematic classic made in 1951, which played on anti-communist fears to reveal that the human race needs to grow up and put aside our petty differences, or face the dire consequences. Both the story and the presentation would probably stand up with the appropriate technological upgrades. Though the special effects are laughably primitive, they were used in just the right way to keep the tension and the tone of the story even.

The new film plays up the environmental issues that are hot button today, which is an interesting spin on things. I was curious about how they were going to contort the plot to fit around this premise because it’s quite a different matter to change the perception of the planet rather than wrestle with the nature of being human.

Unfortunately, the wheels start coming off right after the 30 minute introduction of the players. Beyond the cosmetic changes of the characters and the story, there is a plethora of failings that doom the film, worst of all the terrible rewriting of the story.

The message of this film is very poorly articulated, even though it is a very important topic and should have some gravitas attached to it. There are many plot points that the director shoves in our face only to have every one contradicted.

Klaatu and Gort are now exterminators, rather than messengers, who arrive on Earth ready to pull the trigger on the human race. Right out of the gate, Klaatu says he’s here to save the earth from us because we’re violent, small-minded and irrational, but doesn’t even after he’s shot, imprisoned and denied access to anyone that has any power.

After seventy years of observation, the aliens claim, rightly, we’ve polluted and subsequently doomed the Earth to a slow death, so we must be eliminated. But what’s the first move they make – blowing up some planes which lights some trees on fire. Great appropriateness for environmentalism, guys. This scene was just a short filler device to show that our weapons wouldn’t work, so why not leave the original idea of Gort having a vaporizer ray? It even works from an earth-friendly perspective.

Upon reflection, it’s hard to imagine what was going on in the writer’s head. He portrays humans as brutally violent in one scene, Klaatu gets shot for trying to shake hands with Helen(the original had Klaatu offering an alien device that was mistaken as a weapon), and then five minutes later she’s begging him to see we aren’t all that bad, while he’s strapped onto an operating table. He gives us Klaatu, who says that he won’t let anyone get in his way, being stopped by a simple “no” when he asks to address the world. We also get a terrible rewrite of Helen’s son Jacob, who in the span of one scene flip-flops from glib adult to a petulant child.

In order to update the stuffy alien visitor, Klaatu has superpowers this time around: He can connect his eyes to closed circuit video cameras through electrical outlets; He can become a polygraph machine and defibrillator; He can heal wounds in his larval stage. Furthermore, his spacecraft can subvert all communications and defensive satellites, travel at the speed of light and has an impervious shield. Even with all these upgrades, he needs to walk around and talk to people to deliver the bad news about the planet. In the original film, the idea that he has to talk to everyone personally makes sense because it’s the simplest way. Here, Klaatu can easily hijack the satellites, broadcast his message, and reach practically the whole planet.

If I really stretch, the story works between Klaatu, Helen and Jacob, but the whole world is involved and everyone outside these three would have been totally in the dark about what had transpired. Originally, Klaatu sees that we have the potential to change, so he addresses the world and tells us to shape up or there will be consequences. Here we get a feel good ending where on the brink of destruction, Helen and Jacob forgive each other for their failings as parent and child (A great scene if the story is about peaceful co-existence but this movie is about saving the planet and all the hugs in the world won’t stop greenhouse gasses). Then, Klaatu disappears into his ship and leaves earth.

My feelings really varied about this movie, though none of them were good. At first, I was upset because nothing was resolved, which dulled over a few days to where I am now, disappointment. They missed a good chance to capitalize on a current fear and shine a bright spotlight on what could be done about it. The anti-war message of the original, I think, is still very relevant and could have been involved. Like The Critic, Jay Sherman says, “If it’s a remake of a classic, watch the classic” and that’s the best advice I can give you.


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