Saturday, December 13, 2008

Why I Think Critics Panned The Day the Earth Stood Still

So I wouldn't usually care about these things because all the parties involved have been paid for their work, but I went to see this movie last night only to hear it's been universally panned. Not that I rely on what a few paid hacks have to say about a film. After all, didn't one such review say a certain 'singer' whose initial begins with a B could win an Oscar for her latest attempt at forcing her non-acting skills on us? **Spoiler Alert if you haven't seen it.**

I did wonder where the disdain came from. I know the original is considered a classic and on the list of Top Sci-Fi films of all time, but have any of these reviewers actually seen both movies? The original was released in 1951. This was during Jim Crow and I bet quite a few Earthlings wouldn't need an alien to come tell them some people needed to mend their evil ways. It was also before the creation of the United Nations so the script had to be updated!

I'm not going to discuss basic plot points just the outlines of how the two movies differ. The original had the threat of nuclear war emerging while the remake focuses on environmental decay. In the original Klaatu was taken to Walter Reed Hospital to attend to his injuries. I highly doubt that would happen today! Also the movie of the '50s was far more innocent in presenting an outlook of gov't operations. We are far more aware of how nefarious politicians are and how they are actively working against us. Klaatu specifically said he came here with a message of peace and left leaving it up to people to change.

In the current version Klaatu made no such promise of peace and was here to deliver the consequences of our violation. Two intersecting perspectives I found is in comparing the original plot how Klaatu being brought back to life by GORT was temporary and only a 'Supreme Being' had true power to resurrect, while the reference in the remake has Klaatu instigating the next Noah's Arc because the spheres had taken samples of every vegetation and species on the Earth. It was only those pesky humans that were getting in the way.

I liked how the script beefed up the role of the female by making her a scientist instead of a secretary. She was also defiant to the end and didn't give up. Now one could argue against creative casting by giving the son a different ethnicity but their explanation for it was weak. Helen could have had a bi-racial child that looked like Jacob. Klaatu has superior abilities so why dumb the script down by having him ask about Jacob's parentage? They didn't have to create emotional distance by making him her step-son or being vague with the amount of time they'd been a family. It undermined the relationship. 

I also found it disturbing the way the writers put so much fear into the character of an eight year old with him urging the adults to kill Klaatu. This 'shoot first ask questions later' mentality is conditioning usually reserved for adults and I thought it was frightening to hear those words come from the mouth of a babe. On the other hand that babe has absorbed all of the Neo-Con rhetoric and hate since September 11th, lives in New Jersey and plays video games so you can see where this is going. In real life a child that displays such callousness would be very dangerous though and that's nothing to take lightly. 

What I also observed was how Klaatu wanted to address the United Nations immediately and was rebuffed by the US Gov't, because apparently they're the only gov't that counts. The Secretary of Defense is a woman and just as hawkish as any male predecessor, but even she realizes GORT is like the Borg and resistance is futile. This unseen President is hell bent on fighting no matter what and orders the release of what I imagine to be nuclear weapons to get rid of the ship, GORT and everything in its vicinity to no avail. 

Klaatu seemingly has more power in the new version by escaping so easily and bringing someone back to life with the help of electricity from a car, but can't control GORT? It didn't make sense. GORT could have been utilized differently. Who doesn't want to see a laser coming out of a visor to zap you into oblivion? I did notice the special effects of the GORT activated annihilation sequence of pulverizing everything to dust looked a lot like the last X-Men movie. It wasn't clearly defined to the audience that GORT could turn itself into a swarm of metal insect bots to consume everything in its path. I did like the use of spheres and light to show the superiority of alien technology.

It is only the love of a mother and child - and that mother's constant carping - that causes Klaatu to reconsider getting rid of everybody. So he stops GORT by walking into the swarm and being consumed by it - but reaches out the giant sphere to suspend time and all electricity. Then the movie ends. So no farewell speech. That may have been a little disappointing but what was he gonna say?  Na-Nu Na-Nu? Humans get their umpteenth do-over. Until the next time. That is the biggest secular promotion of a religious tenet if there ever was: forgiveness and grace. 

Per the wiki entry:
Producer Julian Blaustein set out to make a film that illustrated the fear and suspicion that characterized the early Cold War and Atomic Age. Director Robert Wise and Blaustein were both liberal, and Blaustein said his aim with the film was to promote a "strong United Nations".

So I think we can say - at least in this instance - Mission Accomplished. The US was thought to be a pillar of the world 50 years ago and doesn't have anywhere close to that stature now. Perhaps the disappointment with the film has to do with more with ideology and the recognition of how some still haven't learned to get along rather than execution.

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