Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

My Photo
Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still

The most famous line in all of SF cinema is undoubtedly "Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!". It came from Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still. It was so well known (better even than "Open the pod bay door, HAL." or "Luke, I am your father.") that 40 years later Sam Raimi had Bruce Campbell use it in Army of Darkness (1992) in full expectation that most of the audience would get the joke.

The 1951 DTESS was adapted by Edmund H. North from the story "Farewell to the Master", by Harry Bates. The score by Bernard Herrmann was the first to use a theremin. The synopsizer for referred to it as "a nearly perfect movie".

At Torcon 3, the 2003 World Science Fiction Convention, fans voted it into 3rd place (tied with Forbidden Planet and behind only Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey) in a ranking of the top SF films of the 20th Century.

The 2008 remake stars Keanu Reeves as Michael Rennie (Klaatu), Jennifer Connelly as Patricia Neal (Helen Benson), Jaden Smith* as Billy Gray (Bobby, here renamed Jacob), John Cleese as Sam Jaffe (Prof. Barnhardt), and Kathy Bates as Secretary of Defense Regina Jackson.

My attitude toward remakes is that they are hardly ever excusable. If you've got the resources to make a movie, why not make a new one? There are only 2 times when I think it's possible to justify a remake:
(1) When the original was so badly done or cheap that it cries out for decent treatment. (For example, I know that many people consider George A. Romero's original (1968) Night of the Living Dead to be a classic, but by any objective analysis, Tom Savini's 1990 remake was far superior.)
(2) When the original wasn't in English and so will go unseen by most Americans. (For example, Vanilla Sky was quite a good remake of the Spanish-language Abre Los Ojos.)

The most egregious example of an unnecessary remake was undoubtedly Gus Van Sant's 1998 shot-for-shot recreation of Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 masterpiece Psycho. Why? If Wise's film was nearly perfect, Hitchcock's hit the bullseye.

So why even try to remake a classic? At best, you'll just be a copycat; at worst, you'll invite invidious comparisons to the original.

Such is the case here. Casting Keanu Reeves as an alien who doesn't really understand humanity may have seemed like a smart move at some point, since it makes good use of his natural woodenness and lack of affect. But the whole idea of the story is that living in a human body and interacting with the widow and her ordinary but lovable little boy is supposed to humanize him, a transformation that never occurs believably in the remake (and small wonder, since Jacob keeps trying to convince his stepmom, whom he calls "Helen", to kill the invader).

Still, it remains a hell of a good story, the special effects are well done, and the underlying message — that "shoot first and ask questions later" is a pretty poor 1st-contact strategy — always bears repeating.

I saw it in Imax, but that's mainly because I like to support that format, not because there's anything compelling about it for this particular movie. Either in Imax or in a regular theater, if I'd never seen the original and had to rate this one in a vacuum, it would come out like this:

The Day the Earth Stood Still — 7

But I have seen the original (multiple times), and it's much better (yes, even tho it's in B&W instead of color and uses pathetically primitive SFX). Do your part to stick a dagger into pointless remakes. Skip this one in the theaters and rent the DVD of the 1951 film. You'll be glad you did. And, if enuf people do the same, maybe Hollywood will get the message.

*You may have heard of his folks, Will and Jada.


Post a Comment

<< Home