The Earth may have stood still, but time hasn’t.
In the 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still, a classic crowned one of the 10 greatest sci-fi movies of all time by the American Film Institute this summer, an alien named Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and his silver robot Gort (Lock Martin) land a metallic saucer on the Mall in Washington, D.C., and disembark to deliver a message to mankind. Like the acclaimed movie itself, that message was very much of its time—a warning against the dangers of international tensions of the Cold War and our innate tendency to react violently to anything alien.
Although the director, screenwriter and star responsible for remaking The Day the Earth Stood Still all agree that the original’s “very, very ’50s” imagery needed to be updated for modern moviegoers, the basic concept of its fantastic story remains relevant to the Earth of 2008.
“The question was: Why make it? Why make the remake? Why redo a classic?” says Keanu Reeves, who plays Klaatu. “And I think one of the things about a classic in this case—especially in science fiction—is that you can translate it to another time.”
Director Scott Derrickson—an ardent admirer of not only the original
The Day the Earth Stood Still
but also its late helmer, Academy Award winner Robert Wise—agrees with his star.
“The original, I think, is one of those films that doesn’t play to a contemporary audience the same way it did play to people at the time [of its initial release]. When you talk to people who saw the film when it came out—or, certainly, to people who saw it when they were children—it was terrifying to them. It was a really, really frightening film at that time,” says Derrickson, “It can be argued that The Day the Earth Stood Still was the first film that really made science fiction a serious genre. And in terms of the craftsmanship of the film, it’s the combination of a bunch of remarkable elements—the invention of Gort, the acting of Michael Rennie, the score by Bernard Herrmann. All of those things add up to a really unique, distinctive movie on every level."
“There really never was a reason to remake the original for 40 or 50 years, because it did what it did as a message movie about the nuclear age so well,” says screenwriter David Scarpa. “Things needed to come full circle, I think, before there was a rationale for retelling that story . But we have come full circle to where, for the first time, there’s a question as to whether man again represents an existential threat to the Earth."
The full version of this article appears in the December 2008 issue of