Isn't It About Time You Gave The Day The Earth Stood Still Remake Another Chance?

Case for the Prosecution : Your Honour, my fellow learned colleague, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, in 2008 Hollywood tried to do the impossible…

Case For The Defence : It nearly succeeded…

Prosecution : Do you mind? Ahem… As I was saying; In 2008 Hollywood tried to do the impossible. It tried to remake and improve on a classic film: The Day The Earth Stood Still . A film which is probably very well known to the jury and to everyone present here today. A film close to the hearts of sci-fi fans the world over. An icon of 1950s science fiction movie making and one of the most important and respected films ever made.

Defence : Whoa there, the original isn’t the best film ever! I admit it’s pretty good but that’s laying it on a bit thick isn’t it?

Prosecution : I don’t believe it is. And if you don’t mind it’s not the original film which is on trial here…

Defence : Oh, come on. Your honour, the Prosecution opened this line of debate by trying to over-sell the original. Yes, this is a remake of a much-loved classic, but that alone cannot be a reason to not attempt a re-imagining…

Prosecution : Of course not. But when remaking a film as iconic as this you have to bring your A-game. That the remake falls short of the original is no surprise. Hollywood has a habit of remaking classic films and managing to completely miss what it was that made the original such a classic. In updating these films they often leave any heart and soul the original had on the cutting room floor or out of the script entirely. Wait… Did you just say re-imagining? Please tell me you didn’t just say re-imagining.

Defence : Well, that’s what “they” call it.

Prosecution : Yes, it might well be, but just because that’s what “they” call it doesn’t mean we have to do the same. It’s a re-make.

Defence : Fine. Can we get back to the film?

Prosecution : Yes. Okay. I admit it’s a brave attempt at a remake, or re-imagining if you prefer. Unfortunately it falls short in too many ways. The changes it makes are uniformly to its detriment. Giant floating spheres instead of cool space ships. Not having Klaatu take the time to mingle and get to experience people and places. Meeting with an alien sleeper agent in MacDonald’s, which brings the film to a complete stop and raises a fair number of questions that are never addressed. Missing the “don’t replace reason with fear” message of the original. And the switch from a threat of nuclear proliferation to an environmental theme which comes across as a little trite.

Defence : The original was a Cold War parable; they couldn’t very well have kept it the same in this day and age.

Prosecution : Why not? We’re a dangerous people and the races Klaatu represents don’t want us out among the stars with them… Just like in the original.

Defence : Hmmm, maybe that would have worked. But I have to disagree on the point you made about the spheres; they’re just as cool looking as any flying saucer. I do agree about the MacDonald’s scene though.

Prosecution : And what about Gort? In the original film Gort is an iconic presence, one of the most memorable robot figures ever. In this G.O.R.T is a CGI behemoth who becomes a swarm of nanbots… And the name isn’t his name anymore; it’s now an acronym that the US military made up: Genetically Organized Robotic Technology! I mean come on!

Defence : Okay, okay I’ll admit that it maybe got a few things wrong. But what the film gets right, it gets very right. The early sequences, the gathering of the scientists and the breakneck speed of America reacting to the approach of an unknown object. That is all gripping stuff. The first half of the film is full of great moments; the scientists’ briefing, the sphere’s landing, the scenes of Klaatu stoically watching people in Grand Central Station, the interrogation scene.

Prosecution : I’ll admit that the film starts well. And the sequences you mention are all very well achieved. I’d also give credit to the idea of Klaatu having to be born on Earth. That’s an interesting concept. But after that MacDonald’s scene the film badly loses its way.

Defence : And what about the cast? The film has a great cast; Jennifer Connolly is fantastic, as is Kathy Bates and the young Jaden Smith – son of Will – in what was only his second film role, did a wonderful job. Even John Cleese is excellent as Professor Barnhardt and Keanu Reeves…

Prosecution : Please. Keanu Reeves is so wooden as to be an actual alien. No, he’s too wooden to even be believable as an alien. He looks bored throughout…

Defence: I’d disagree. Keanu Reeves is perfect in this role. It could be the one role he is perfect for.

Prosecution : Okay. Maybe he is the right kind of wooden. But his character is off. The switch in Klaatu is laughable. All wooden and uncaring and then suddenly, after seeing a kid cry and get a hug, he just changes his mind and is willing to die save us all. For a film that’s turning point is an emotional display, it’s surprisingly bereft of any actual emotion.

And where’s the warning? The original film has its iconic scenes of Michael Rennie’s Klaatu turning off the electricity across the planet. You know… “The Day The Earth Stood Still” bit. The remake has a CGI swarm of locust eat a bunch of unlucky soldiers, a truck and a sports stadium. In the first film we have a subtle yet powerful display of power. In the remake we have a football team having to find another venue for their next game.

Defence : What are you talking about? The whole of Manhattan is destroyed at the very least. And all the power across the world is shut off permanently. Arguably what Klaatu gives Earth instead of just killing everyone off is much worse. And having Gort turn into a cloud of nanobots and start to consume everything was an inspired move.

Prosecution : But it’s all so hollow and emotionless. The nanobot swarm is a lovely-looking visual effect, but it doesn’t seem like a big threat. We, in the the audience, have no vested interest in the destruction it causes. And as for the ambiguous power outage at the end of the film; are we to believe that he leaves the Earth completely without any working technology?

Defence : I think that’s what’s implied.

Prosecution : That’s not exactly saving us then is it?

Defence : Well. No.

Prosecution : So, Keanu Klaatu comes to Earth to save the planet from the evil rampant humans and save all the ickle bunnies and flowers but ends up leaving the humans and pretty much every living thing in a much worse situation. It’s not the day the Earth stood still it’s the day the Earth got switched off.

Defence : But without all the industry and technology the planet will heal.

Prosecution : Couldn’t Klaatu have just given us a source of clean energy or something? What he did was create a world that would just descend into chaos and savagery.

Defence : But…

Prosecution : No. It’s a mess of an ending which the makers haven’t thought through. “The original had 30 minutes without power; let’s have the power go off forever! More is always better!”

Defence : Okay, the ending is a bit cruel on humanity.

Prosecution : Yes, and that’s why I say do yourself a favour; watch the original. Even 60 odd years later it’s still a more powerful film than this.

Defence : If there hadn’t been an original, this film would have been received much more enthusiastically.

Prosecution : Well, there was an original and this film never steps out from its shadow. The money spent on this film would have been better spent by taking out a full page ad in the papers telling people to go and rent the original.

Defence : That’s a bit harsh.

Klaatu… Barada… Nikto.

Prosecution : Pardon?

Defence : Oh, nothing.

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Dave Golder
Freelance Writer

Dave is a TV and film journalist who specializes in the science fiction and fantasy genres. He's written books about film posters and post-apocalypses, alongside writing for SFX Magazine for many years.