I apologize for the lack of material these past weeks.  I needed to devote some time to other things, and took a break. A break that turned out to be much longer than intended. Although this may be an old topic at this point, I feel that I say a few things.

Honestly, this is as much a comparision as it is a review. While the remake of the Day the Earth Stood Still is a fair movie in itself, it strays considerably from the intent and theme of the 1951 original. Its the same situation as King Kong (2005).  Just as that movie drastically changed the plot from the original by altering the relationship between the damsel and the monster, the new Day the Earth Stood Still alters the plot by giving a certain pivotal character a certain disposition.

For those that have yet to see either the original classic, the general plot has to do with how an alien might percieve and react to humankind if it had a horrible first impression. What happens is quite predictable. We see it in all of these 50’s era monster/space invader flicks. The military rolls out the weapons and considers the visitor a threat, and this leads to drastic problems. The visitor, who answers to the name Klaatu, begins to realize that humans are violent and divided. They cannot even agree to give him a proper audience. At least, that is one supposed reason the US government refuses to let Klaatu speak before the UN. Even so, he is determined to make a mysterious announcement to the world, but refuses to tell any one person exactly what that announcement is, although it is clear that it is important. Eventually, he gets through to a celebrated scientist, and the two concoct a plan to get the military to understand that it won’t resolve anything with brute force.

The remake differs radically from this by making the alien being more unknowable and threatening, sometimes even violently so.  His intentions are incredibly hostile, and he manipulates those around him coldly. Whereas viewers see  the old Klaatu as curious and compassionate, the new one is detacted, fatalistic, and dangerous. This is how the remake is a thriller, whereas the original was simply a sci-fi drama. Klaatu went from being the main character to a potential villian. The tension and the seemingly inevitable apocalyptic senario are bound to sell box office tickets, but unfortunately it misses the point entirely. The alien race’s cosmic views seem almost nihilistic, and incredibly hypocritical. It makes no sense for an extremely intelligent race to punish destructive violence with its own destructive violence.  To a certain extent, this is also true for the original Klaatu, but in that version he made threats out of desperation rather than cynical xenophobia.

Now of course, the reason a monster movie becomes successful is when it emulates something we truly fear. In the 50’s, that fear was communism and widespread nuclear destruction. This is why Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)and Godzilla (1956) became so popular. They were symbolic of real threats, but could be quickly confronted and dealt with by a quirky scientist and/or a small military outfit. Today, the big scare is terror, mostly inspired by 9/11. The most modern monster movies seek to emulate the devestation of that tragedy- Cloverfield (2008), War of the Worlds (2005), and finally, the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still all portray seemingly helpless citizens with no real power trying to survive in seemingly apocolyptic situations. There is little room for escapist heroic fantasies in this approach. In fact, some of these movies don’t even attempt to provide much in the way of comic relief, leaving the films without a lack in tension. In a time where people see so much of this kind of bedlam on the news, it seems illogical to deviate for the heroic Hollywood fantasy when movie goers need escapism now more than ever.

That being said, this approach to monster flicks can work wonderfully, depending on how they are presented. Cloverfield is an excelent model for monster flicks that resemble disaster films. Often, images of terror or disaster are recorded on low quality electronic devices, so JJ Abrams was smart to go with the Blair Witch Project approach. It was also effectively advertised for what it was- a horror film, as opposed to a sci-fi drama that happens to have monsterous creatures in it.

The Day the Earth Stood Still takes the less successful path of War of the Worlds. Its classic Hollywood action movie look gives the movie-goer the impression that the film will have a traditional story structure. Instead, they get doom and gloom in the extreme, with no relief in sight. In the original Day the Earth Stood Still, there wasn’t such an omnipresent feeling of dread, and for those that have seen both the original and the remake, the difference is unmistakable, and possibly somehow inappropiate.

I do have to give the filmmakers some credit though. The explanation for why Klaatu looks human was fairly interesting and well thought out. The image of the alien being as being more of a celestial being rather than a stereotypical grey man with spiffy toys also has a certain appeal, even if they take it a little too far sometimes.

If this film was not a remake, it would be much easier to appreciate. In some ways, the grim Klaatu works. It just isn’t the same plot at all, and even by itself it seems a little forced. Regardless, there probably isn’t an actor in Hollywood that could be better for such a role than Keanu Reeves. He seems to have mastered the role of the Shatner-ish speaking sci-fi demi-god. The visuals are obviously mesmerizing. The only thing it is missing is the comic relief. But when you choose to remake a classic, certain things will be expected of it, and even with this new interesting spin on the plot, it wasn’t thought out as thoroughly as it should have been.

5.6

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I guess I get to say I called this one. Well, kind of anyway.

It turns out that not only are they going to remake Barbarella  and Plan 9 from Outer Space, but there are possible plans underway to remake one of the movies on my poll in the last post. Believe it or not, J. Michael Straczynski has been publicly talking about redoing Forbidden Planet. However, according to Filmstaker.co.uk, he says that what he is planning isn’t truly a remake, and it won’t even involve the same plot or the same look as the original. The site also hints at the possibility of producer Joel Silver being involved somehow.

The trouble is that if screenwriter claims that what he’s working on is no remake nor  re imagining, what the hell is it? No one seems to know, and many seem to have become rather cynical about it. To be fair, many remakes of classic sci-fi movies don’t really turn out so great. Steven Spielberg’s version of War of the Worlds (2005) comes to mind. There is a certain point where a filmmaker takes a little too much creative licence sometimes.

In any case, the amount of science fiction remakes is becoming quite large. Lets take a look…

  • War of the Worlds (2005)
  • Forbidden Planet (1954 )
  • Lost in Space (1998 )
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008 )
  • Barbarella (2009)
  • Plan 9 (2009)
  • Godzilla (1998 )
  • the original version of Star Trek (2009)
  • King Kong (2005)

Now, of course, this list is not in any particular order. They also are not all coming from the 50’s.  Nonetheless, it seems pretty clear that as time goes on, the more of a trend this becomes. All of these remakes have been done in the last decade, so clearly these things do have a following of some sort. The obvious explanation is that Hollywood figured post 9/11 America would eat up re-interpretations of these movies the same way Cold War era America indulged in the originals. While this is certainly true to a certain extent, it still leaves one wondering why it is so necessary to alter so much of the original movies’ plots.

Ghosts of Sci-fi past

December 7, 2008

So why am I on this kick about old 50’s monster flicks?

Well, because for some reason filmmakers feel the need to revive all of these old dinosaurs. They even decided to redo some of the cheesier ones. For instance, director Robert Rodriguez is in the process of filming Barbarella, with Rosie McGowan as the seductive spacewoman. The original Barbarella (1968) was an erotic science fiction-comedy which starred Jane Fonda, and wasn’t only cheesy but featured infamously suggestive content. It generally had that corny Flash Gordon look and its thematic elements, but with sexuality injected into the mix. At one point, there’s is even a strange torture senario invovlving a device that causes its victim to experience sexual pleasure so intense it is practically fatal.  While this film may have a special niche in the cinematic world, it seems rather random to do a remake of it. Yet, they even got the original’s producer, Dino De Laurentiis, to produce the remake as well. The writers of Casino Royale (2006) are also invovled in this new sci-fi flick.

But it gets even weirder than Barbarella. If you’ll remember, it wasn’t too long ago that I reviewed one of the 50’s most laughable science fiction films; Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959). Well, rumor has it someone intends to do a remake of that, too. John Johnson and Darkstone Productions not only plan to recreate the film in honor of Bela Lugosi and Ed Wood, they want to make a serious horror movie out of it. According to the film’s website (that’s right, its far along enough they already have a web site for it) the movie will be released on the 9th of September next year, titled simply as Plan 9.

http://www.plan9movie.com/

But not all of the coming sci-fi remakes are based on silly movies. After all, in just five days we will get to see the remake of one of the 50’s greatest alien hits, the Day the Earth Stood Still. While they changed the form that the ship comes in, they have otherwise seemingly remained faithful to the original. This film truly did have a fairly intelligent subtext to it, and the remake will retain that. They even kept the original look for the giant robot, and it doesn’t look absolutely ridiculous in the trailer. I would have never thought that would be possible. Apparently, they decided to go with Keanu Reeves hoping his experience playing Neo from the Matrix (1999). The choice might be a little obvious and cliche, but at least there’s a good chance it’ll work.

This isn’t the first time that one of the more serious classic sci-fi movies have been remade. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) was remade on several occasions, the latest being the Invasion in (2007).If the Day the Earth Stood Still is successful, it will bring a great deal of dignity to a genre that had none for a good long while. Unfortunately, that dignity may soon dissapear the following year. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Since I wrote before about the new Star Trek, I thought I’d post this new video. Right now, this thing has become all the rage on YouTube and many, many people have posted about it on their blogs.

I believe that the message here is simple…give us geeks enough time and footage to screw around with, and eventually we’ll give you something truly hilarious.

Well, Watchmen’s competition released its new exciting trailer attached with the Bond flick this month. This is the latest big production by producer/director J.J. Abrams, creator of Cloverfield (2008) and the television series Fringe and Lost. He has had a very successful career in science fiction programs, despite most of his material being somewhat experimental. Most of his work invovles a strange slant on a traditional sci-fi archetype. For example, Cloverfield is like a giant monster movie, but through BlairwitchoVison.

Well, the unusual quirk Star Trek  is that it is a prequel. Apparently, Star Trek is following the same path as Star Wars. The dynamic style gives the Star Trek universe a visual quality the low budget series could not achieve. This film is fairly distinct from its predecessors.

However, unlike Star Wars, this installment of Gene Roddenberry’s classic franchise maintains at least some of the original designs from the 1960’s television series. The ships and outfits are exactly like the uniforms Spock and Captain Kirk wore in the original series. The ships have a modern twist to them, and the Vulcan civilization seems to be heavily influenced by Peter Jackson’s interpretation of the elves in Lord of the Rings. Clearly, Abrams and company are trying to bring the innovation and beauty of the 21st century epic film genre to one of the oldest franchises in television history. From the trailer, it looks like they have the visuals down. Luckily, even the young actors are acceptable as youthful incarnations of Spock and Kirk.

My fear is that Star Trek will invovle so many starship battles that it will look like Star Wars with Star Trek ships. Granted, the filmmakers have finally figured out that by tilting the camera they can make the battles more intense, and clearly there was a huge budget for special effects. I just hope it won’t be excessive.

My hope is that this film will breathe new life into Gene Roddenberry’s outdated creation, and show us why so many people still keep up these silly conventions.  As someone who never got into the Trekkie stuff, I’ve always felt that there was just too much to digest. There are literally decades of characters and plots. Star Trek never seemed to cater to anyone other than the hardcore crowd. Some time ago, that trend changed. They started doing a spinoff prequel series, and now there is a prequel movie that will reach a wider audience, and it features the original characters.  

I would suggest anyone remotely interested in the franchise check out this movie. If you are going to test the waters, start from the beginning and you might as well see it on a really big screen.