Last week I reviewed the 1951 classic The Day the Earth Stood Still. Before watching the original, I had decided to watch the 2008 remake. I now regret my decision. Let’s talk about the 2008 movie featuring Keanu Reeves.
The 2008 movie opens with essentially the same beats as the original. The spaceship lands, but it is not metal; it’s a bizarre space orb, made of different kinds of luminescent biological material. This change gives the aliens an ethereal quality. They are entities that have reached demi-god status. The writers even go to the trouble of showing the ship hovering over a cathedral, illuminating the building.
The movie is practically screaming, “They’re Angels! Get it!” The alien, Klaatu, steps out and is shot, just as in 1951 and then Gort, his robot sidekick, steps out in all his CGI glory. And the CGI is hideous.
Here’s a word of advice for the producers. If your CGI robot looks less believable than his 1951 counterpart, reconsider your remake.
Gort destroys some weapons, as he did in the previous version, until Klaatu tells him to knock it off. Then Klaatu demands to see the world leaders — and is again told he can’t. But this time, instead of the looming threat of the Cold War serving as the justification for their inaccessibility, the Secretary of State is just plain mean. So, as before, Klaatu escapes and goes out to survey the real world. Here is where the movie falls apart.
In the original, Klaatu is charmed by the people of Earth. He wants to save them from themselves. In the remake, Klaatu simply isn’t human-like. He shows no emotions, no empathy. He acts as if life has very little value. In fact, there is a scene where he hears Bach playing in Professor Barnhardt’s study and is both shocked and moved, as if he’s hearing music for the first time.
But he’s also furious that humans are destroying the Earth. He kills humans without the slightest hesitation but ascribes great value to a catfish. So why would he care about the catfish? This is one of the big contradictions in the movie. The aliens are meant to be seen as above us. They’ve transcended their physical beings — but they have no comprehension of basic human emotions.
If these aliens are superior, then how can they lack an understanding of concepts such as love? There are scenes within the film where the writers show the value of human emotion, and they make it clear that this is something the aliens lack. So how are these aliens superior? The answer is that they are superior by both their technology and their unity. Klaatu is shown to hold cosmic communion with superior beings through the orbs. Their oneness seems to be the trait that the writers hold in a higher regard than they hold human values.
This idea is never directly stated. The writers unconsciously reveal their message when Gort is unleashed. In the first film, Gort had a laser and was indestructible. But in the remake, Gort disintegrates into a swarm of metal bugs… bugs that eat metal and replicate. He becomes a plague, a true hive. Isn’t it interesting that the writers chose to use a swarm as their perfect alien technology? I’m not sure this plays into the aliens as angels idea, unless of course, we are thinking of an angel of death.
In terms of messaging, the moral is incoherent. As best as I could make out, technology is bad because it’s killing the planet, so the aliens respond by starting to kill the planet. To be fair, before destroying everything, they capture a number a species, two by two,. and pull them into space. But what kind of sense does it make to say that humans are destroying the planet so the superior aliens are going to punish the humans by killing the planet faster? To me, the message seemed more like, “Hey you can’t advance more than us. That’s not fair. So, we’re going to kill you before you surpass us.”
The whole destroying-the-Earth stuff thus seems like just handy propaganda from a hostile alien force. But what do I know? I mean, after all, the aliens are angels, they’re better than us because they don’t disagree… or something, so they wouldn’t lie. That would be too human.
Of course, the main characters scream that they can change and the Klaatu changes his mind because he picked up those pesky human emotions — and the Earth is saved.
This movie left me confused and annoyed. There’s no exploration as to what the aliens are and whether or not the whole angel-like appearance was just a façade, or anything else remotely interesting. It seems to me a bunch of suits decided that the 1951 version was lame, and that they could make a better one. The end result is a movie with the twice the budget and half the clarity.
Here’s the earlier review: Enforce the law with no bias? Use robots! Oops, wait…
The 2008 remake of the 1951 film, The Day the Earth Stood Still, explores the concept. Even if the robots were somehow to self-replicate, the first cause would always be a being with opinions. He who controls the robots would control the galaxy. (Gary Varner)