Saturday, December 13, 2008

"Klatu Barata Nikto!"

I can't imagine a remake of this movie, the 1951 sci fi classic The Day The Earth Stood Still. And yet, just such a remake starring Keanu Reeves as Klatu opened yesterday here in New York and presumably around the rest of the country. I haven't seen it, but the previews don't look promising. It looks like the 1951 classic remade into a video game for teenage boys from what I can see in the ad clips.

Most of the original movie was taken up with the drama of Klatu hiding out among us frightened earthlings and negotiating his way around our terror and paranoia. I'm sure this was riveting for the audiences of 1951. Frances Bavier ("Aunt Bea" from the old Andy Griffith Show) as a frightened fellow boarder at the incognito Klatu's residence was far scarier than Gort the robot. I doubt audiences today would have much patience for that. And that would be the aspect of the movie most worth updating, not the special effects (which by 1951 standards were remarkable).

The Day The Earth Stood Still was an anti-paranoia tale for a very paranoid age, the Red Scare era. Most sci fi movies of the 1950s capitalized on that paranoia, including great movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. For it's day, this was a very brave movie, even more bravely intended for the popular market. It came out right on the eve of the Korean War. The worst of the hysteria and the witch hunts were still in the future. This movie turned out to be prophetic as popular paranoia whipped up by political demagogues and the press proceeded to ruin the lives of thousands of people who just happened to be perceived as different and therefore threatening.

I've always loved this movie.  I love the brave plucky young Patricia Neal as she faces down Gort.  Gort may look hokey by today's standards of special effects, but the way he is lit and photographed in scene after scene makes him look far more ominous and menacing than most of the drooling realistic monsters of today.  Special effects will never be a substitute for imagination and good cinematography.  I love the interior of the space ship in this movie, a very minimal set.  Its alien creepy quality is almost entirely a creation of artful lighting and camera angles.  For me, the movie's now very dated aspects only enhance its appeal and the strangeness of the alien visitation.

I hope I'm wrong about the new remake.  This could be a great story for today's paranoid age.


Counterlight said...

I forgot to mention Bernard Herman's wonderful film score for this movie, theremin and all.

susan s. said...

Most remakes leave me cold, and I avoid them like the plague.

The best line in the review in the SFChron was, "Keanu Reeves attempts to capitalize on his wooden acting style in the role of Klaatu, an alien."

I loved the music in the original, too. It was the first time I had ever heard a theremin.