Keanu Reeves and director Scott Derrickson review a scene on the set of The Day The Earth Stood Still.
Photo credit: Doana Gregory.
™ and © 2008 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.
PG-13 for sci-fi disaster images and violence
December 12, 2008
Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Jaden Smith, John Cleese, Jon Hamm, Kyle Chandler, Kathy Bates
David Scarpa (screenplay); based on screenplay by Edmund H. North
Twentieth Century Fox
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Spotlight on the Director
Close Encounters of the Sci-Fi Kind
By Laura J. Bagby
CBN.com Sr. Producer
What makes a filmmaker who professes to be obsessed with meaning and is best known for his expertise in the horror genre (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) decide to tackle a sci-fi remake of a classic ‘50s film?
Believe it or not, reading a scene in the script depicting two aliens chatting in Mandarin at a New Jersey McDonald’s about human nature.
McDonald’s? Aliens? Chinese? OK, there is more to it than that.
But as Derrickson admitted, it was inevitably this scene between aliens Klaatu and Mr. Wu that won him over to be the first to sign onto the 20th Century Fox remake of the 1951 The Day The Earth Stood Still.
That and the fact that Derrickson is a Robert Wise fan and happens to love the original starring Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal.
“It was such an intelligent and interesting, self-reflective commentary coming from an American studio and American filmmaker on the Cold War and fear of the atomic bomb and the struggle to establish the UN and things that were controversial and divisive,” Derrickson said, talking about the original film.
As one who has seen the original version and likewise enjoyed it, I totally agree. The classic version has got all the elements you need for a great science fiction blockbuster – spacesuits and aliens, planetary issues, the mystery of unknown worlds, scientists, a certain humanity, and gripping filmic moments set to a dynamic musical score.
Challenges of a Sci-Fi Remake
How exactly do you revisit a well-loved film that won a Golden Globe without disappointing audiences who consider the original movie sacred territory?
Some filmmakers have succeeded with their remakes (think Father of the Bride with Steve Martin, Keira Knightley’s version of Pride and Prejudice, Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic) while others have gotten mixed reviews from audiences who fell in love with the original version (The War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise, Sabrina starring Julia Ormond, Nicole Kidman’s Stepford Wives).
Remakes can be risky. Fortunately, for Derrickson, he has time on his side: all 57 years, in fact.
“I think that there is value to telling this story to the general movie-going population, who for the most part haven’t seen the original and won’t know that story,” he said.
Bingo! Right he is.
And I would add this note to anyone planning on seeing The Day The Earth Stood Still: If you haven’t seen the original 1951 version, I recommend watching Derrickson’s latest version first. It releases in theatres December 12.
The reason I say this is because you might be tempted to unfairly compare the two films, line by line, like I did. And that simply isn’t the point of a good remake, according to Derrickson. It isn’t about having all the same elements or the same storyline. It isn’t about faithfully following the original’s script.
As Derrickson pointed out, “If you are going to do a remake of a classic film, you need to go back to that film and really look at it and figure out what made it great in the first place and take what you can from it.”
Technology Goes Ecological
What really stood out to Derrickson were those technologically driven elements.
“The spaceship and Klaatu’s spacesuit and Gort were three things that didn’t belong to the world. They really were alien. They didn’t belong to the earth; they very much belonged to each other,” he said.
“I was literally looking at the footage of the spaceship landing in front of Washington, D.C., in the original film,” Derrickson continued, “and what occurred to me was the precedent that that image set. That started a trend in science fiction cinema that has not ended, and the trend is to represent alien technology as metallic based, engine-driven. . . . Stars Wars and 2001 and the Terminator films and the Matrix films – all of them have this.”
But instead of sticking to the original gleaming flying saucer and metallic-fiber space suit Klaatu wore and the heavy armor-like outfit of the original Gort, the forward-thinking filmmaker opted to go a completely different route.
“I started thinking, wouldn’t it be interesting representing an alien civilization that had developed a technology that came from a completely different trajectory that wasn’t born out of an industrial civilization like ours.”
Derrickson’s re-imagining is a more ecological, biological translation; thus, we see Klaatu represented in several stages of human metamorphosis – from a mucousy pod to an adult human-looking “light body” – and the spaceship as being represented as a light-infused biosphere portal rather than a literal aircraft with wings.
Gort was the most closely linked to technology, nanotechnology in particular. More a mass of swarming metallic “bugs” than a solid piece of steel, the 2008 Gort stands an impressive 28 feet tall and can shape shift at will. It kind of pays homage to the swarming bugs in the cinematic version of Stephen King’s The Green Mile and in Michael Crichton’s book Sphere and the particle-swirling Sandman character in the most recent Spider-Man 3.
And lest you think that this more organic take on alien existence is somehow original, Derrickson is the first to acknowledge that it truly isn’t.
“I don’t want to give myself too much credit. It is not that uncommon. There are things like that in science fiction literature,” he said. “Science fiction literature right now is about ecology, biology, and spirituality and theology. That is where it is going. It is not into technology in the same way. Science fiction cinema is running behind science fiction literature, so I thought this was a good opportunity to break that trend.”
With that said, it is anybody’s guess just how Derrickson’s remake will ultimately sit with staunch sci-fi followers come opening day. However, I can’t help thinking in the end Derrickson will somehow turn this underrated genre completely on its head. And that, I think, is a very good thing.
Visit the official movie site for The Day The Earth Stood Still.
Read more on Derrickson’s social and philosophical bent to The Day The Earth Stood Still.
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More articles by Laura Bagby on CBN.com
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