The Day the Earth Stood StillFrom out of space, a warning and an ultimatum.
By Adam Frazier
Director Robert Wise's 1951 film, The Day the Earth Stood Still
is one of my all-time favorite science fiction films. The film's
explicit message of peace, combined with its grim outlook regarding
human civilization, struck a chord with audiences of the Cold War era.
in mind Wise's film hit screens only six years after Little Boy and Fat
Man were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The
unleashing of such a terrible, destructive force was enough to make the
human race collectively consider their future on this planet.
the original film, a flying saucer lands in Washington, D.C. A humanoid
vistor named Klaatu emerges and declares he has come on a mission of
goodwill. It's the classic "We come in peace" scene where we as humans
are placed in awe that another civilization exists, and above all -
they want to be friends. This follows with a "Take me to your leader"
moment as Klaatu wishes to speak to all the leaders of Earth's
countries in order to deliver an ultimatum of sorts.
hinged on themes of fear, paranoia and the destructive nature of the
human race. We had developed atomic power, which would eventually be
applied to outer space vessels. If we were to extend our cruel and
caustic nature, Klaatu and an alliance of galactic civilizations would
be there to put us in our place.
The film is still
wholeheartedly relevant, so one has to wonder why a Hollywood remake is
necessary, but isn't that the question with 90% of all remakes? While
the 1951 picture has rather antiquated special effects - flying saucers
on fishing wire - the heart and soul of the film stands strong.
Director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose
and writer David Scarpa's re-envisioning features Keanu Reeves as
Klaatu and Jennifer Connelly as Helen, a scientist at Princeton
University who decides to help him in his cause. The original film was
a product of its era, and the same can be said for the 2008 version.
protected by an organic spacesuit of sorts, comes to Earth in a
spherical vessel and is accompanied by a bio-nanotechnological entity
known as Gort. Gort was Klaatu's robotic bodyguard in the original
film, and he fulfills the same purpose here - although looking slightly
cooler in the process. Helen has been selected, along with a group of
other scientific specialists, to engage the otherworldly visitor.
Klaatu emerges and Helen approaches to touch his hand, the visitor is
shot by a fear-stricken soldier. After seeing an act of aggression
taken out on Klaatu, Gort showcases his fearsome powers by disabling
all weapons equipment in the area.
Klaatu is taken to a military
facility where scientists and doctors remove his organic spacesuit and
surgically excise the bullet from his humanoid flesh and muscle system.
Keanu Reeves is certainly inspired casting as Klaatu. Even when giving
his most human of performances, Reeves still manages to come off as a
complete and total alien.
Klaatu's mission to Earth is still
intrinsically tied to the human race's destructive tendencies, but the
message is pointed rather at our attitude toward the planet itself.
Klaatu states it simply, "If the Earth dies, you die. If you die, the
The first half of the film is rather enjoyable and
stays close to the original's heart. Klaatu is a peaceful visitor
trying to acclimate himself with his human form and the unfamiliar
world around him. Helen helps him escape the facility and later
reunites with him, bring her stepson (Jaden Smith) along for the ride.
the problem: at some point Klaatu stops acting as a peaceful messenger
and becomes just as aggressive as the humans he is there to warn. Being
an alien, he has a few special powers up his sleeve, including a nifty
sonic brain scrambler deal that temporarily paralyzes people.
some reason, he decides to stop using that and gets a little more
creative with the way in which he escapes the military and police
officers. In one scene, Klaatu crushes a cop by telekinetically
sandwiching him in-between two cars. After breaking the poor guy's legs
and mangling him, Klaatu then heals him - as if that makes up for his
completely pointless, overly aggressive stunt.
Follow that up
with our alien visitor crashing a couple of helicopters into each
other, providing a big explosion for action-starved eyes to engulf. The
film establishes a set of rules and logic in the first act that it
breaks time and time again in the latter half.
Didn't I just
listen to this guy preach about the destructive nature of humans and
yet here he goes blowing up stuff like a pyrotechnics technician for KISS
Why wouldn't Klaatu use his powers to disable the vehicle's weapons
system? You'll have to ask Derrickson and Scarpa about that I guess.
that humans cannot change their nature, Klaatu decides they must be
eradicated so the planet can survive, and Gort is the means to which
civilization will end. The colossal being transforms into a cloud
comprised of billions of microscopic life forms capable of devouring
anything and everything in its path.
As Gort destroys New York
City in typical apocalyptic science fiction style, Klaatu realizes he
has made a mistake after seeing a tender moment between Helen and her
stepson. I was never quite convinced that we as a civilization could
change. All I saw was Jaden Smith trying his hardest to be the angry,
angst-ridden stepson to Jennifer Connelly. Some how, by watching these
two kiss and make up, the whole human race was worth saving. Hmph.The Day the Earth Stood Still
as a remake, had a lot of potential. There is a story and a message
worth retelling and reemphasizing. Unfortunately, Derrickson's take on
it was rather underwhelming. There were several moments I enjoyed,
which might actually make the film more disappointing - for the
squandered prospect of what it could have been.