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thedaytheearthstoodstillpic.jpgBy Rebecca Cusey
It is no small task taking a movie considered one of the greatest of all times and remaking it. Director Scott Derrickson took on the job of updating 1951’s classic Sci-fi The Day the Earth Stood Still into a slick, action packed new film, which opens today.
While the basic elements remain, Derrickson has switched out the tinny spaceship of the original for a glowing, spinning globe ship, the GORT robot for a giant nano-technology being, and the Cold War message for an environmental one.
“I think the original film has a grand reputation for the political ideas in it,” said Derrickson in an interview. “They are certainly there and they’re strong. I think both the original film and this film are still films that are much more about human nature than about even the social issues. It’s about how our human nature has this propensity toward self destruction and whether or not we have the capacity to avoid that.”
The movie tells the story of the arrival of an alien ship in Central Park, New York City. Scientist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connnelly) is drafted as part of the government’s reaction team. She learns to trust, at least a little, an alien-human hybrid Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) and helps him escape the government compound where he has been confined.
Along with her adopted son Jacob (Jaden Smith), she helps Klaatu carry out his mission against a backdrop of civil unrest and panic. However, they soon discover that Klaatu has been sent not to save the human race, but to destroy it. Multiple interplanetary civilizations have determined that humans are destroying the earth and have passed judgment on it. The plan is to exterminate all humans and their artifacts. Benson must convince Klaatu that there is something to humanity worth saving. Along the way, eye-popping special effects evoke a new generation of sci-fi advanced alien civilizations and keep the action moving.

“In the original,” explained Derrickson, “it was the cold war, the fact that we in a perilous situation where we were possibly going to destroy ourselves literally, through nuclear weapons. We do have another peril we are bringing upon ourselves with the destruction of our environment. It’s serious and it’s real and it’s something that I thought made sense in terms of updating the story.”
To that end, the imagery in the movie centers on environmentalism. Alien ships appear and act as intergalactic arks, shielding the species of earth from destruction. GORT’s nano-robots destroy all manmade things – and men – in their path, but leave nature intact. Machines, such as tanks, guns, or cars, are demonized. Machines like baby heartbeat monitors, electron microscopes or crop planters presumably get caught up in the fray.
Derrickson, an outspoken Christian and graduate of Christian college Biola, explains his theology of environmentalism this way: “My perspective on it is tied very deeply to my faith. I believe we are the stewards of God’s creation. That God made the world and made it good and imparted responsibility to us to tend to it and tend to it well. Whatever position you take about eschatology, and where civilization is going, I think either way, you have to treat the environment with the same respect as you treat your body. That God is not done with the earth. The earth matters to God. Deeply. He’s going to redeem it. Period. Just as he’s going to redeem my body. Period. And I have to treat it as a divine thing.”
Although the environmental message is strong, the movie’s emotional punch comes from Klaatu’s growing awareness of the good side of humanity. “He starts more alien than human, but becomes more human than alien,” said Reeves.
As in the original movie, the messy, self-destructive, confusing human races shows Klaatu another side of love, compassion, and ability to learn. The beauty of humanity inspires him to sacrifice. It is this quality, which is also the heart of the original, that elevates the film from being just another environmental message movie to something more profound.
—Rebecca Cusey is an L.A.-based entertainment reporter.
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