In our regular polarising-opinion series, Total Film writer Paul Bradshaw asks, ‘Is it just me? … or is the Day The Earth Stood Still (opens in new tab) remake equal to the original?
Another day, another remake... Until someone decides to reboot Casablanca with Channing Tatum and Megan Fox, it’s hard to imagine an easier target than the Keanu Reeves-starring 2008 rejig of seminal sci-fi The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951).
Accused of desecrating the memory of a bona fide classic, it surely only avoided cleaning up at the 2009 Razzies because it was up against The Hottie & The Nottie (opens in new tab) and The Happening (opens in new tab) (for the record, it was beaten to Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-Off Or Sequel by Indy IV (opens in new tab) ).
Nothing will ever dim the impact of the original – a bold, brave genre touchstone which elevated the B-movie – but critics need to get off the Keanu-bashing bandwagon.
The stories are basically the same – a stony-faced E.T. lands on Earth with a giant, silent henchman in tow. He warns us that we’re messing up the planet, threatens everyone with his big robot and leaves... but not until he’s learned lessons about life, love and humanity.
A film designed to shock a frightened world into action over the threat of nuclear armament, Day ’51 was directed by Robert Wise ( West Side Story (opens in new tab) , The Sound Of Music (opens in new tab) ) with cautious economy. By contrast, Scott Derrickson’s big-bucks remake is all glitzy FX and bankable A-listers. It’s all too easy to paint this as a conflict between old-fashioned American filmmaking on the one hand and overblown brainlessness on the other.
But Day ’08 is only as dumb and bombastic as Day ’51 is cheap and a bit tacky. A Washington set becomes a densely populated New York, a tall guy in a Lycra suit becomes a robotic behemoth – and garbled Cold War polemics become warnings about environmental destruction.
The lack of obvious political subtext makes Derrickson’s film look like it’s lowering the highbrow tone that Wise did so well to raise out of the genre’s pulpy roots. But yesterday’s arms race is today’s climate change; arguably, deforestation and ravaged natural resources pose as much as of a threat to the planet as nukes ever did.
He might make a half-decent time-travelling stoner and a passable karate-chopping computer hacker, but this was surely the role he was born to play. Day ’08 whips up an epic, stormy tone where the original’s budget could only give us some empty soundstages and whitewashed backlots.
Derrickson’s one-man invasion might be heavy on the CG, but it’s actually highly impressive; here, Klaatu’s intergalactic warning reaches more than a few deserted streets.
What’s more, it seems a damn sight more believable that a skyscraper-sized Transformer could lay waste to the planet than a lanky member of Daft Punk in tin-foil over-pants. Remakes always start out in the shadow of their predecessors, and rightly so, but 50 years is more than enough to set two Days apart.
There’s plenty of room for a remake that’s as much timely allegory as it is sci-fi spectacle – and fares better on both fronts than the original.
Or is it just me?