The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008)


Along time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Nintendo released the original Mario Kart on the SNES. That game was literally the reason why my brothers and I even owned a SNES. We must have spent hours and hours playing that game and not a single moment was ever wasted. The only other game that came close to that “value for money” was Streets of Rage 2 on the Megadrive (Genesis to any Americans reading this).

Of the next generation of machines, we ended up getting the N64, what with the quality of Super Mario 64, Starfox and the awesome promise of Mario Kart 64.

Super Mario 64 and Starfox delivered in spades. We got Golden Eye and the memory upgrade and definitely knew we’d got the right machine.

The anticipation of getting Mario Kart 64 was almost just too much to bear. I mean, we considered how much fun a FOUR PLAYER version of Mario Kart was going to be. It’s amazing how vividly I can recall that. Good times.

When we finally got Mario Kart 64, we didn’t like it. It was all wrong: it wasn’t as slick, the karts were a bit erratic and certainly not as smoothly controlled as Mario Kart and they completely overcomplicated the level structure. Considering it was just a silly video game, we were pretty disappointed.

The original version of “The Day The Earth Stood Still” (henceforth, TDTESS) is the “Super Mario Kart” in this analogy. Imagine my reaction when I learned they were remaking it… this called for only one thing: RANDOM INTERNET VENTING!

I had major misgivings but thanks to People On The Internet, I had my mind opened to the prospect that there was the hint of a possibility that it might actually be good and therefore a worth a look.

I mean, the original movie is over 50 years old and that, while its message is still very relevant today, a more modern version could help bring that message to a wider audience.

So, I went to see the movie.

Aaaaaaaand, it wasn’t a “Mario Kart 64″… no, it was more like playing the original Mario Kart on a Nintendo emulator: the same game, just a bit different… you may enjoy it well enough but all the while you are playing the game, you just know that isn’t really an improvement. Someone just took the original game and presented it on a more modern format.

The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008) is about a visitor from another world coming to our planet to speak with the “Leaders of Earth”. This goes rather awry when a soldier shoots the visitor…

"I bring you a good hair day."

“I bring you a good hair day.”

In the original version of The Day The Earth Stood Still, the alien diplomat, Klaatu, arrives on our fair planet. Before he can even say “Take me to your leader”, he is shot for producing what looks like some space hair straighteners.

I must admit, there was a random thing in the 1951 version that heavily amused me for no apparent reason. And that was the complete redundancy of two soldiers (who are sat in the turret of a tank!) whipping out pistols with which to defend themselves. Worse, it is one of these brainiac’s that shoots Klaatu… good job he couldn’t figure out to work out how to make the tank shoot.

In both versions, Klaatu ends up being imprisoned. However in the 1950s version, Klaatu is locked in a room where he just smiles to himself. And, joking aside, this is one of the main reasons why I prefer the original over the new version: Klaatu comes across as a man who has come along way to basically talk to a group of children. He’s at once frustrated by what he encounters but also bemused by the silly behaviour of these Earthlings.

Keanu Reeves’ Klaatu comes across as someone with a very specific job to do: act badly! Or rather, decide whether humanity lives or dies. There’s no time for any wacky hijinx along the way for this particular alien!

1951 Klaatu decides that these silly military humans aren’t helping him, so he escapes them and goes for a look around. Another thing I prefer is that his escape isn’t some complicated action scene with ‘splosions and Epic Music, Klaatu decides to escape and just does. It never explains how he does it because, well, he’s an alien with a flying saucer and robot that can disintegrate stuff with its deathray eye: its just a given that if Klaatu wants to escape, he can with no effort.

Black and white Klaatu then goes for a walkabout while his future counterpart is on the run from the government. Original flavour Klaatu randomly befriends a child (which is a-ok in the 50s) while New Klaatu randomly hooks up with a mother and son.

At this point, it becomes readily apparent why this film was remade: the differences between America in the 1950s and America in 2008 are so radical as to be virtually unrecognisable.

First, aside from the sheer lack of military involvement about the “protection” of Klaatu and his saucer (I mean, TWO soldiers standing guard of the saucer, really?), the boy’s mum, who has known “Mr Carpenter” for all of 2 seconds, is quite happy for this virtual stranger to keep an eye on the boy. In 2008, a parent would not dream of letting a strange man babysit their child. The values of that time simply are inconceivable to us today.

Secondly, Klaatu is on the run, sure, but without the prevalence of television and our advanced media grid, the Government and Police simply don’t have the ability to track down a spaceman who looks like Joe Average.

In the 50s version, Klaatu gets to saunter round DC, checking out the movies and various landmarks with his young friend.
The 51 version is a simpler film for a simpler time, while the events of the later film are more like what we imagine would happen should a spaceman come a travelling (compare this to say John Carpenter’s “Starman” and you can see how the same story changes with each decade).

"Jennifer Connolly and Jayden Smith: the only two reasons Keanu Reeves needs to save Earth from destruction."

“Jennifer Connolly and Jayden Smith: the only two reasons Keanu Reeves needs to save Earth from destruction.”

In the modern interpretation, GORT (the giant robot thing) starts disintegrating the world because humans have abused it. They don’t deserve it. But Klaatu overrides it and gives humanity a second chance because, you know, Jennifer Connolly and Jayden Smith.

In the ‘50s version, his young friend discovers Klaatu’s true identity and tells his mum. His mum ignores her child at first but is convinced by her new beau.

She confronts Klaatu who reveals his secret believing he can trust her.

That’s when his demonstration occurs: all non-critical electrical activity in the world is ceased. Everything save aeroplanes and hospitals are completely shutdown.

And this is pretty much where the film gets its title from and I found this much more effective than the 08 version. Even better, this version really manages to get you to consider the global consequences of these actions, from Klaatu’s initial landing to his demonstration. Something which the 08 version neglects.

Klaatu and this woman head to his saucer to where he’s going to meet the greatest minds of Earth. Only the Police have been tipped off and Klaatu is shot. He tells the woman that he must tell Gort these three words, “Klaatu Barada Nikto” otherwise Earth is in for a world of hurt…

She races over to the saucer where Gort has disintegrated the two(!) soldiers guarding the spacecraft and is about to unleash a full-on robot rampage. After some initial falling over (I mean, she is only a woman after all …) and a bit of a scream, she gives Gort the command words whom then carries her inside the spaceship.

Gort then retrieves Klaatu’s body, revives it (on a temporary basis) allowing Klaatu to meet with Earth’s greatest minds. I’m not even going to touch upon the messianic allegories of Klaatu dying for our sins, to live again before ascending to the heavens…

Now, I realise I’ve pretty much told you the plot to the original TDTESS but I did that with a specific reason: the plot of the original is so much better than the remake!

I mean, if you set aside the fact that the film was made for and in a very different time to our faster paced, more cynical society, the film holds together much better and actually tells an interesting story.

The message of the ‘08 version is more relevant but I can’t help thinking that if they’d tried to adapt the original script more faithfully, rather than feeling it necessary to show off CGI nanites disintegrating everything and having Keanu Reeves demonstrate that he’s great at playing wooden characters, we might have come away with a better film overall.

Ultimately, the original version is a more interesting and more enjoyable film, even if it is showing its age somewhat. And it isn’t even the effects which disappoint, because they do what they are supposed to, or even the acting, it’s just the fact that it is a film made in the 1950s, simple as that. Values were very different back then.

Both films have the same message: the people of this planet have to grow up and realise their actions have consequences. And time is running out to change.

The modern version has wider appeal… Jennifer Connelly, Keanu Reeves, Jaden Smith and John Cleese… people are going to see this movie. Those same people will probably enjoy the cool CGI and the ‘splosions.

For me? Well, the recent film was entertaining, so it succeeded there. Also, the key philosophy to the film, i.e. “Change within the human race will only occur when humanity is forced to change” is a personal belief that I’ve held for a long time, so in that way, that was kinda cool.

And yet, the film literally went from A to B and at no point would anybody be surprised by the events that took place. And this view was shared by someone who hadn’t even seen the original.

Let me stress that this film is NOT a shot for shot remake. Yes, key scenes are taken directly from the original script and translated but this is a complete remake, even down to the naming of GORT (in the modern version, GORT is a military acronym given to the guardian robot, whereas in the original, that is Klaatu’s name for the robot).

Where this version triumphs over the original is in the details. Little things like Klaatu’s alien-ness and his power over electricity etc and the use of nanotechnology. None of these things would even have been dreamt of back in the 1950s, so I give a slow clap for those little things.

And yet, I found the direction was mediocre and I did not like the edits made: it just felt like any scene that didn’t have Keanu Reeves in it was half the time it needed to be.

Ultimately, the film’s “success” hangs on the relationship and acting abilities of Jennifer Connelly and Jaden Smith. Unfortunately, neither were able to convince me that the Earth was worth saving and I bloody well live here!

The question is whether 20th Century Fox should ever have remade The Day The Earth Stood Still. The answer prior to release was “I will have to wait until I have seen it”. I have to say, for all my vehemence in this review, I’m glad that it has. Paying homage to what many consider to be a cornerstone of the science fiction genre is a wonderful thing and this new version is a good legacy.

Whether or not it is better than the original, well, that’s a very subjective question. All I can say is, Mario Kart 64 did not live up to its predecessor but for many, this would be the first time they ever got to experience a Mario Kart game at all and isn’t it better to have Mario Karted and lost than to never have Mario Karted at all?

TL:DR “Film company remakes classic movie. Original film is superior. News at 11.


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