Monday, December 22, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) / (1951)

The remake of the classic 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still fails to affect the viewer on the same level as the original. While it provides a small commentary on humanity unlike many high budget disaster/alien/etc movies, it shies away from the criticism of American culture and humanity in general that was an overriding presence in the 1951 film.

The 2008 version of the film is directed by Scott Derrickson and features Keanu Reeves (The Matrix), Jennifer Connelly (Requiem for a Dream), and Jaden Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness). The 1951 version is directed by Robert Wise (The Sound of Music) and stars Michael Rennie, Pratricia Neal and Billy Gray.

In both films, Klaatu, an alien from an undisclosed location in the universe, lands his spaceship on Earth. In the 1951 version, the flying saucer lands in the middle of the National Mall in Washington, DC. In the 2008 remake, a cloud-filled sphere instead lands in Central Park. He is shot without provocation and his robot, Gort proceeds to eliminate all weapons in the area.

Click to read spoilers
Klaatu’s mission in the 1951 film is to order the human race to cease production of nuclear weapons as the represent a threat to the safety of the rest of the universe. A race of robots similar to Gort is employed to neutralize any threat of violence and they have complete power to do so. This creates a sort of authoritarian society governed solely by automatons. None of this is mentioned in the 2008 version as Klaatu’s mission is to alert the humans to the havoc they are wreaking on Earth. In both films, the humans are threatened with complete destruction if they refuse to comply.

The two films hold two very different morals. The 1951 film calls for world peace and complete nuclear disarmament while in the 2008 version suggests that humans need to alter their way of living lest they destroy the rest of the planet. In 1951, Klaatu is shocked upon seeing Arlington Cemetery and wonders how so many people could be killed as a result of war. In 2008, he doesn’t bat an eyelash. For me, the whole point of the film was that Klaatu was a nonviolent example of how humans should live. Derrickson instead chose to make him colder, harsher, and more badass, perhaps increasing box office numbers.

There are very few elements that are found in both versions of the film. The main plot is present in both films, but some alterations are made for modern audiences. Simplicity is tossed aside for full explanation, cheapening the rest of the movie. The focus should not be on the ‘how’ but about the ‘why.’ For example, Derrickson’s film goes through great struggles to explain how Klaatu is human in form, but Wise’s version skips over this minor detail and focuses on why he landed on Earth and what can be done to save the human race.

Instead of attempting to be a catalyst for change, as the 1951 version did, the 2008 film simply seemed to be a delivery method for special effects. If major plot points have to be changed to show off big explosions and particle CGI, something is wrong. The 1951 film features a very small amount of special effects, but is rather driven by the dialogue and plot. The 2008 film seems to fall victim to the very dangers about which the 1951 film is warning. In America’s blinding lust for violence (and special effects), the integrity of the 1951 script is violated to morph Klaatu into a ‘more believable’ alien being that is capable of inflicting harm on the human race.

The 2008 film was not just cheap entertainment, it was a commercial. It featured numerous appalling advertisements. This film could be shown on TV without commercials and the sponsors (Vista, McDonalds, Honda, LG, etc.) would be perfectly pleased. The product placement was obvious; I was not the only person groaning in the theater when the logo for McDonalds appeared in a reflection on the windshield of the Honda Accord.

The 1951 version of the film was much more provocative. It took a few potshots at the uselessness of the United Nations and presented a pacifist way of life as an ultimatum. However, the 2008 film shies away from such criticism and takes the easy route with its ‘green’ message, a message that is in no way controversial. The sad thing is that society still needs the message carried by the 1951 film. Derrickson had the perfect opportunity to model world peace, but chose the option that would most likely make him the greatest amount of money. 1951 audiences were challenged to question the necessity of nuclear weapons, but 2008 audiences are simply challenged to break out $9, sit back, and shut their brains off.

1951: A
2008: C


Scott said...
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Ed Dweebic said...

Amazing thoughts, a movie like this should not only entertain or make you feel uncomfortable, it should motivate you to action!