After seeing the original movie I decided to see how the classic was updated for a more recent audience. In 2008 The Day The Earth Stood Still was remade with Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly. Did the remake stand up to the original? In one sense it did and in another sense it didn’t. Let me explain.
In this new telling of The Day The Earth Stood Still Klaatu comes to Earth to deliver a message to a gathering of world leaders. He intends to tell them that humanity should change its ways and take better care of the Earth’s natural environment. At the first sign of trouble Klaatu scratches his plans and, after briefly exchanging notes with another of his race that has been stationed on Earth for years, decides to wipe out all human life and signs of civilization. After spending a day with a handful of people and seeing their “softer side” he changes his mind again and decides to call off mankind’s destruction and just go home.
First, a little about the updated look of things. This remake allowed a second attempt at special effects and an opportunity to update the look of alien technology. Gort, Klaatu’s guardian robot, looks much nicer this time around while staying true to the original design. Hats off to the design team. Unfortunately, instead of updating Klaatu’s flying saucer they decided to make his craft look like a big, green, glowing ball. It ended up looking more magical than high-tech.
A number of changes were made this time. Mrs. Benson is now a microbiologist that was asked by the government to help investigate. Klaatu lands in New York City’s Central Park instead of Washington DC. Interestingly, this time Klaatu is a truly alien creature that obtains a human body after landing. The scene where he tries to adapt to his new body was a great one.
The alien Klaatu was more friendly and personable in 1951. The 2008 Klaatu, played by Keanu Reeves, says little and has no interest in engaging in anything emotional. The 1951 Klaatu wanted to let Earth know that it could be a part of a larger political unit if it behaved. The 2008 Klaatu had no interest in allowing Earth into a League of Planets. Many viewers complained about Keanu Reeves’ acting in this movie but I think the script placed him in a difficult situation. In order to carry out his role, he had to be stiff and wooden. However, most movie goers don’t like seeing that kind of performance. Perhaps a genuis actor like Dustin Hoffman could have added more depth to the role but it certainly isn’t fair to expect every actor to be a genius.
Another big difference is Klaatu’s robot Gort. In the first movie he was a guardian that could get out of control if his charge was harmed. Although still a guardian in the remake, Gort is also the doomsday weapon. Gort can dissolve into a cloud of nanomachines that can kill people and destroy anything made of metal on the surface of the Earth.
The major difference between the two version’s is the intent of the aliens that sent Klaatu to Earth. In the first movie he came to deliver a message: Don’t think about attacking other planets or Earth is finished. The aliens didn’t care about Earth’s natural environment or whether or not humans wanted to kill each other. In keeping with the times, in the remake the aliens are concerned about Earth’s natural environment. Klaatu claims that there are very few life-bearing worlds and each one must be protected even at the cost of wiping out sentient races. The problem with this argument is humans are taking better care the Earth’s environment now than in the past. In recent decades we’ve shown much improvement in reducing polution and consumption of natural resources – plus demonstrate a desire to do even better in the future. However, the writers of the movie, like far too many people, choose to ignore these facts and instead prejudge the Earth to be doomed by evil human society.
When his first attempt at delivering a message to Earth’s leaders is unsuccessful, Klaatu quickly switches to plan B: wipe out all human life. This movie is the fantasy of every true environmentalist. Someone has finally come to kill all humans so that the dolphins are free to frolic in the waves. Alas, this plan is thwarted too. After hearing some classical music and watching people be nice to each other, Klaatu changes his mind again and decides that humanity shouldn’t be wiped out. It probably helped that people pleaded with Klaatu. “We can change!” they said with much emotion. I was reminded of badly written children’s shows of the 1990’s. If the aliens had been monitoring humans for so many years, how can a few days among humans change Klaatu’s thinking so much?
So back to the question on many people’s minds: Was the remake a worth successor to the orginal? Because it encapsulates the poorly conceived ideas of the twits of its time, the remake lives up to the original quite well. In terms of communicating its message clearly and showing dealings with an advanced alien race, the remake doesn’t live up to the original. I just can’t recommend the 2008 remake to science-fiction fans. If you want a good way to spend an evening, you’ll have to keep looking.