3 Stars - Challenging
The original 1951 film “The Day the Earth Stood Still” is considered to be in the top ten science fiction films of all time. In this 2008 remake, the basic theme of an alien coming to our world to hold human beings accountable for our destructive behavior remains the same, but most of the issues and the characters have been changed to current day settings.
In 1951, the concern was that humans would destroy the earth with nuclear weapons, but in 2008, the threat is environmental. Similarly, in the original film, the leading female character Helen Benson was a secretary, while in 2008, Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) is a leading astrobiologist and professor at Princeton University. An additional change is that the alien creature, Klaatu (Keanu Reeves), is not simply humanoid in form as he was in 1951, but in this film he is a cloned human with an alien consciousness – an incarnated human.
In this 2008 version, Klaatu is not here to destroy the earth so that humans are prevented from taking their nuclear destruction to other worlds, but he is going to save the earth by placing the animals in “ark-like-spheres” to protect them while his robotic creature GORT (Genetically Organized Robotic Technology) creates a swarm of insect-like nanites that devour humans and, paradoxically, human technology.
Written as a modern morality play, the religious themes are obvious. From the references to Noah’s ark and the judgment upon humanity as seen in the Bible’s Old Testament, to the “incarnated human” who lays down his life to save humanity, to the fifth trumpet in the book of Revelation releasing a swarm of locusts upon humanity, Biblical symbolism is used extensively.
But to say that this film is only a religious allegory would be untrue. Klaatu explains to Professor Barnhardt (John Cleese), who had won the Nobel Prize for his work in evolutionary altruism, that his own species had evolved into an altruistic way of life when their existence had been threatened by a climatic danger. This explanation is a common belief among materialists who look to our evolution into loving beings as the solution to human problems.
The villain of this film also fits current prejudices as the Secretary of Defense, Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates), demonstrates a hostility toward Klaatu that is unfounded. This is seen when Klaatu asks to address the United Nations as the leaders of the human race in an attempt to reason with them to change their ways, but Jackson will have nothing to do with it. Instead, she attacks the biosphere that is Klaatu’s spaceship.
Based on a short story by Harry Bates and directed by Scott Derrickson, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” is an intriguing story that lacks a clear understanding of itself. But it communicates one truth clearly: Love is what makes human beings worthy of being saved. That is a message with which everyone can agree.
- When Klaatu is brought to earth and emerges from the “placenta-like spacesuit” he is wearing, he quickly grows into an adult body with full communication ability. Do you think this is a believable scientific possibility? Why or why not?
- The love which Helen has for her step-son Jacob (Jaden Smith) comes into full-bloom just when Klaatu needs to see the “other side” of humanity. Do you believe our love is the “other side” of us? If not, what is love and how does it relate to our penchant for violence?
- Do you believe there is life on other planets? Do you think that life could or would come to earth to hold us accountable for our destructive behaviors? Why do you answer as you do?