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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