December 10, 2008

While your mind is untainted

Do yourself a favor and get hold of the the 1951 version of The Day the Earth Stood Still and appreciate its many, many strengths before seeing the remake.

It's one of my all time favorite films. I don't know much about the remake aside from the cast, which worries me. I also expect that the new version will take an ecological slant, which just wouldn't make sense in the original: Michael Rennie explicitly didn't care if we destroyed our planet; he just didn't want us threatening other civilizations.

The original isn't perfect, of course. It's no better than its time period, which is no excuse for its shortcomings. For instance, we are shown a Washington D.C. with about three black people in it, as I recall: a custodian or waiter, and two spectators maybe at the spaceship landing. Not exactly enlightened. Patricia Neal's strong character turning into a basso profundo scream queen is also kind of cringe-worthy, but her sexist dick boyfriend (Hugh Marlowe, if I recall correctly) is at least portrayed as such. She's a widow with a young son,

The film is also a product of its time in terms of the Cold War and nuclear threat issues; as I've said, I don't see how today's world would be of any interest to these aliens, since we don't seem to be threatening them, except maybe with tool boxes and other assorted space junk. Or maybe the inhabitants of Pluto (ticks and fleas) are pissed because their planet isn't a planet any more? I guess I'll have to wait and see.

I keep thinking of the remake of Planet of the Apes, where though the original set the bar lower than did Robert Wise's DTESS, the star-studded remake didn't even come close. If I'm wrong, fantastic. I'll be glad to be wrong. In the meantime, though, take in the fantastic Bernard Hermann score, Sam Jaffe's excellent portrayal of the professor, and Aunt Bea's wonderful character turn. Take in the scene where the physicians at Walter Reed(!) sit around puffing madly on cigarettes as they marvel at Klaatu's amazing lung capacity. It's a great film.

Why don't they try remaking some failed films instead of putting their grubby mitts all over the classics? If you want to dabble in science fiction, hell, take another swing at Lost in Space. If you want to take a good idea that wasn't a great film and try to do something with it, how about A Boy and His Dog?


Michael said...

I'm not a fan of recent remakes, though if you want to take a dip in some real horsesh*t, watch the 90's version of The Haunting just to see how bad things can get. But I'm tempted by this one, partly because Keanu Reeves may have finally found a part that fits him to a tee--he won't have to attempt to give expression to a wide range of emotions.

As you note, the original does have some problems, but it also has a veneer of affection that even re-watchings today cannot totally erase (is that a kind of mixed metaphor?) And, of course, it gave us that deathless phrase, "Klaatu barada nikto," and gave Ringo Starr his best album cover (Goodnight Vienna).

Tom said...

I am dreading this remake, too. I had an old VHS video tape I had playing in the background most of the time I was writing my dissertation, with this film and The Thing (from Another World) on it. At one time I knew them almost word-for-word.

And I still think "barada nikto" must translate to "Implement Plan B."

JB said...

Yes, I believe based on that movie where he played Buddha or something that Keanu should be able to match Michael Rennie's emotional range.

I liked the Kurt Russell remake of The Thing okay; maybe I'd feel better about this if it had Kurt Russell playing Klaatu.

Actually, I think "barada nikto" would mean ... "told me to tell you to implement plan B."