In the age of the remark arrives yet another film that seeks to disturb cinematic ghosts of the past. Initial reception to the idea of a re-imaging of the classic science fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still has been mostly skeptical, if not incautiously negative. For myself, while I tend to avoid remakes in principle, some stories can transcend generations, enthrall new audiences, and actually be recycled effectively. Given what I’ve seen so far and the fact that it falls into a category of film that I love, I doubt I will be able to stay away from it.
The original 1951 film may be perfunctory by contemporary measure, but stands as one of the films that defined the genre. In depicting the landing of an alien craft and its occupant, Klaatu (played by Michael Rennie), who eventually would warn humanity of a looming peril, the story was a commentary on paranoia and the political events that were current at the time. With a narrative freedom untrammeled by their current scientific understandings, the filmmakers were able to exploit an external fear for alien civilisations to probe a greater danger lying within humanity itself.
The new film, directed by Scott Derrickson, seems to have supplanted the originals cold war didactic message for an environmental one. Which, really, shouldn’t come as a surprise. The marriage of science fiction and enviromental activism is not particularly new; Dennis Quaid put on his snowboots for Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow and just these last few months we have WALL-E and The Happening (and of course, can one forget Al Gore’s fantastical sci-fi contribution in 2006?).
This trailer may dull the negative reaction, however, because it does actually have a good feel to it. While I don’t know how Keanu Reeves will fare as Klaatu (I suppose his limited acting range actually may lend itself to a cold inhuman character), Jennifer Connolly and Kathy Bates (watch for Will Smith’s son in there as well) may make this film an enjoyable viewing. The director, Derrickson, has mostly worked within the horror genre (such as The Excorism of Emily Rose) so may bring a darker, bleaker tone to a story that has often been stapled by shallow popcorn nonsense. And since Paramount Pictures abdicated the Christmas period by shifting JJ Abram’s Star Trek to May, this could be the sci-fi monster to conquer the holidays.
As an aside, watching the trailer, I couldn’t help but imagine this as the X-files film Chris Carter should have delivered this year. Not the tame ice-bound treasure hunt with some serial killer werewolf lodged in the shadows that we’re getting instead. At the very least, I would have thought only something similar to the scale and epic sensibilities of The Day the Earth Stood Still could have justified bringing Scully and Mulder back to conclude one of the best shows of the nineties.