[Marxism] The Day the Earth Stood Still [was: RE: Rahm Emanuel makes the day brighter]

Joaquin Bustelo jbustelo at gmail.com
Thu Dec 25 19:56:55 MST 2008

Les wrote: "Keanu Reeves was the only good thing about the dreadful remake
of The Day the Earth Stood Still ...."

I guess in the sense that there was no trace of human personality in the
performance, so if your aliens are meant to act like a pet rock, then it
makes sense. 

But the movie was so stupid and incoherent that even this characterization
fell apart. 

First, the idea that the entire biosphere needed to be wiped clean is so
monumentally stupid it can only be compared to the infamous "we had to
destroy the village in order to save it" from Vietnam. In this sense, this
new Klaatu is extremely American. 

Second, the guy is on a mission to deliver a message to the United Nations.
The first person he asks says no, so he decides the entire biosphere has got
to go, except that he and his friends had already prepositioned a bunch of
arks for such an eventuality. Talk about prejudicing the outcome.

And the whole Noah's Ark idea that is central to the movie is just hoaky.
"Saving as many species as they can" isn't adequate remediation for ecocide,
as a race intelligent enough to recognize humanity is on an ecocidal
trajectory would surely understand. 

The presumably final decision to go ahead and do the wipe is made in the
middle of what is in essence an intrusive McDonald's commercial, but the
long-time spy the aliens have had on the planet refuses to leave preferring
to be destroyed as a human being. You'd think that would have given pause to
someone from an advanced civilization that even their own guy found
something of such great value here (implausible as that part of the movie
is) that he prefers to die with the humans than to go on living without

Inconsistencies abound. For example, when they get caught by a state
trooper, Klaatu chooses to crush him with a car and then resuscitate him,
instead of simply disarming him. And Klaatu quite considerately WAITS until
AFTER the state trooper has reported in before dealing with him. Similarly,
it takes the nanorobotic swarm about three seconds to demolish an entire
stadium, but once they get into the kid and his mom, they go into
ultra-slo-mo molasses mode so there can be an appropriate amount of time for
Keanu Reeves's failed attempts to emote and then for him to cast some more
of that alien magic pulling the robotic locusts into his body. We see
close-ups of the nanobots a couple of times and see that how they destroy is
to simply eat everything in sight. 
Yet the kid, on the verge of dying with the nanobots in him, makes a
miraculous immediate recovery as soon as Klaatu takes them into his own
body, never mind the damage they had ALREADY done. 

And then there's stuff that just grates. Instead of the Einsteinian figure
in the original movie, the woman takes Klaatu to meet with John Cleese of
Monty Python and Fawlty Towers fame. I know, I know, it is supposed to be
the world's leading scientist who just happens to be a close pal of the
woman, and who won a Nobel Prize for his work in biological altruism.
(Altruism! Get it?). But it is John Cleese just the same -- a complete
distraction especially as he is only allowed 4 or 5 lines to establish his
character, which they fail to do miserably.

The blackboard scene from the first movie is repeated except here it makes
no sense: what is a Nobel Prize Winning biologist doing writing equations on
a blackboard about relativistic physics? Moreover, with the Nobel Laureate's
protégé (the woman) introducing and vouching for Klaatu, there should be no
need for this sort of demonstration on Klaatu's part. And finally, who uses
chalk on a blackboard any more? Shouldn't the world's leading biologist AND
physicist at least have a whiteboard, if not a touch-screen five-foot-tall
plasma display, like the way-cool ones CNN had for the elections to
graphically plumb the heights of electoral cretinism? 

And then of course there's the final tidbit -- after having committed
genocide and ecocide on a massive albeit not complete scale, and WRONGLY so,
because he reverses course, Klaatu then hops into his sphere and turns out
the lights -- not on the preposterous looking spaceship, but throughout the
entire planet. Then without even a mumbling word of apology or explanation,
he just leaves. 

At least the dolphins had the decency to say, "So long, and thanks for all
the fish."

As the credits begin to roll we're left wondering whether Klaatu implicitly
lied to the woman and kid, making it SEEM like they would survive but
instead, by making human technology useless, causing the collapse of
civilization and thereby the elimination of nearly the entire human race by
a long-term turning off of the lights. And if that option WAS available,
wasn't the planned ecocide even more of a crime, not only against humanity,
but against nature, the earth, itself?

Or if the effect was just short term, and the laws if physics would soon be
back to normal, was Klaatu too dense to see that what he had just done
--wiped out the heart of the eastern United States-- would undoubtedly lead
the humans to subordinate EVERYTHING ELSE, including the environment, to
developing the technology that might fend of another such unprovoked (as far
as the humans know) attack and to eventually enable humanity to search the
heavens for the perpetrators in order to prevent another such attack by
wiping them out? 

In other words, is Klaatu entirely clueless that the likely consequences of
his intervention would be PRECISELY the opposite of those presumably
intended by him? 

*  *  *

The classic science fiction movies of the 1950's really made their mark a
few years later, as TV stations experimenting with post-prime-time
programming broadcast them and they found a ready audience among
radicalizing young people. They found an audience because they were socially
relevant --the anti-communist hysteria, for example, mirrored in the
attitude towards Klaatu in the 1951 "The Day the Earth Stood Still," in
"Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and in a different way by the monsters from
the ID of "Forbidden Planet."

There were, of course, many other "lesser" movies, mostly produced as
low-budget "B" movies (filler for Saturday afternoon "double features"). 

The truth is that in the 50's and much of the 60's, there was no room in the
very limited mainstream media of those days for a frontal attack on the
government or U.S. society. So seemingly quite distant settings became the
vehicles not exactly for dissident views, but mostly for posing questions in
a dissident way or whose answers pointed in a dissident direction. 

How much of it was due to the zeitgeist and how much due to conscious and
even self-conscious choice by filmmakers is an open question. George A.
Romero, Night of the Living Dead "auteur," denies that the execution of Ben
in that movie, the lead anti-zombie character, who is Black, by an
anti-zombie white cracker posse, was at all a reference to the "racial
tensions" of the late 60's, and that a Black actor was cast in the lead
simply because he was the best actor they could get on an extremely limited

But the plain fact is that the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King took
place shortly before Romero and his friends started shooting, and still
traumatized the nation towards the end of the year when the movie was
released. And as a High School senior who managed to catch the film when it
was fleetingly shown in Miami one weekend, I had no doubt what its message
was. Shot in stark, black and white tones reminiscent of Vietnam news
footage, it would be decades before I learned Romero also always claimed
they did it in black and white because they couldn't afford color. 


I could cite other incidents of those years to make my point. 

I think it was the summer of 1964, I got to go to the Miami premiere of a
Hard Day's Night by winning a radio contest, which asked listeners to call
in with the line the alien said to the woman in the Day the Earth Stood
still to tell the robot not to destroy the earth. "Platu Mirada Nick Toe" is
what I heard, (not the "Klaatu barada nicto" that seems to be the more
precise transcription) but it was close enough and I won the prize --
tickets to the premiere and a copy of the album. 

WHY did I as a 13-year-old remember the phrase from some 1951 B-movie that
I'd seen on late-night TV? Because even then I was starting to radicalize, I
think, and the movie spoke, not just to my concerns, but to those of a
generation. Not the generation for which it was made, but the one that came

That is, I think, the *fundamental* problem with this remake, and not just
this one. This production was billed as a "re-imagining" of the movie in the
present day, i.e., the waning phase of Bush's second term. But they did not
have the courage to raise the real hot-button issues of THIS day and age.

Early in the new movie, Klaatu is subjected to interrogation. But it is
brief, and after the interrogator refuses to even acknowledge Klaatu's
EXTREMELY flat statement to the effect that "you should let me go," Klaatu
uses his magical powers to bust loose and move on to the chase sequences
that replace the missing heart of this movie. 

To make the 1951 movie for today, Klaatu would need to be electro-shocked,
beaten and water-boarded. And the character would have to have some good,
rational motivation for putting up with it, without exercising his
super-powers, and then eventually deciding to make use of them. Instead, the
movie chooses to take up the use of --presumably-- a "truth serum" in the
interrogation. No guts, none whatsoever.

But perhaps even taking on torture would not have worked, because the point
of the Day the Earth Stood Still in the 50's and early 60's is that it
evoked the madness of the arms race and "Mutually Assured Destruction," the
commies-under-the-bed hysteria which had begun to wane but was still being
crammed down the throats of high school students in courses with names like
"Americanism versus Communism." And you could not find any criticism of
those things in the "mainstream" media which is the only media 99% of us had
access to.

TODAY it may not be mainstream, but a criticism, nay, denunciation of U.S.
torture policy and the U.S. role in the world in general is easily
accessible to virtually all high schoolers in the U.S. via the Internet.
Back then, I remember scouring libraries and bookstores in Miami looking for
Bernard B. Fall's book, "The Two Vietnams" and treasuring the "Where is
Vietnam?" collection of poems that I'd found at the "beatnik" bookstore in
Coconut Grove.

But in an age when "An inconvenient Truth" can win Oscars and the book
version top the New York Times best-seller list for weeks, what point is
there to a movie like this? Sure the 1951 original pulled its punches, but
at least they were punches. But you can't make that movie today. To me, one
of the strongest, perhaps the strongest scene in the 1951 original is where
we scan the faces of the various kinds of people present at this world
assemblage pulled together by the film's Einstein character, and we come
across a Black man's face. Yes, they pulled that punch. The man was wearing
a clerical collar. But in a film set in DC, then as now heavily Black, which
had not yet strayed across a Black face, not even mopping a floor, that the
wisest of the wise would INCLUDE a Black person in the assembly to listen to
Klaatu's message was a powerful statement.

The new version of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" fails because it is a
fake and a fraud. A phony.

In 1951, some filmmakers had the courage to at least RAISE important issues
that were censored out of public discourse. No matter how indirectly these
were raised, nor how many punches they pulled, they did something socially
significant. TODAY gutless wonders like studio execs and Keanu Reeves (who
not only "starred" but played a significant role in shaping the script and
story line) don't even dare raise the issue of torture and raise
environmental concerns only to make their movie seem "relevant" and "edgy"
while having such contempt for their audience that the "environmental"
champion in their movie proposes to destroy the planet in order to "save" it
-- and makes a fairly good start of it before changing his mind. But EVEN IF
they had not completely messed it up the movie still would not have worked.
It was the broader social context and atmosphere that made those films of
the 50's great. 

It is not enough to "re-imagine" for today by changing the issue from war to
the environment and the alien's action from a stunning yet basically
harmless parlor trick by way of warning to genocide. What they did in the
50's was to *create* something new -- which is the last thing media
conglomerates have a stomach for.


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