Most of the 1950 science fiction films have their remakes in 2000s. The Day The Earth Stood Still is one of them. Original film is shot in 1951 by Robert Wise and its remake is shot in 2008 by Scott Derrickson. In this paper, I am going to discuss the similarities and differences of the remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still with regard to the original movie. Firstly, I want to emphasize on the ideologies that govern both versions of films and the reasons behind them. Secondly, given these ideologies, I try to point out how the Other figure is portrayed in these two versions. Of course, in five decades there are so many developments in technology and these developments obviously reflected to the remakes. I am going to clarify how these developments affect mise-en-scene and cinematography. There are also some common things stayed behind the original one in the remake. I will try to show them and try to find out why they are left so. Finally, I want to give some important aspects of the remake that signify the purpose of the remake is not nostalgia but political and social factors comparable to the ones that are in the original.
Before starting my paper, I want to give a brief summary of the 1951 made movie and some aspects of characters in order to be more comprehensible. The movie is based on Edmund North’s short story. It is obvious from the start of the movie that it is not made for only entertainment purposes rather it is a sophisticated, massage-laden film. Klaatu, human like alien, and Gort , a giant robot, landed on the mall in Washington D.C. with an alien flying saucer. Unlike what is expected, Klaatu is not a hostile alien with evil intentions rather he is a medium of interplanetary peace. He warned the world to give up violent and harmful actions and use of technology, because otherwise, he said, the earth will be destroyed. However, he is confronted with violence of US army and killed at the end of the movie. of course, this is a very basic summary of the plot but I think it will be useful when explaining scenes in details.
It is also worth to state 2008 made movie’s plot because I think there are some obvious differences besides whole technological developments and ideology. In the remake, Klaatu and Gort landed on the same place however they seemed much more hostile this time even they explained their intention as not hostile. Up to the end of the movie when Klaatu changed his mind, the remake seems like the continuation of the original movie. At the end of the original movie, Klaatu explicitly warned the earth people stopping the violence or they will be destroyed. In the remake, Klaatu’s intention is to kill the human race and save the planet earth. He explicitly says that ‘ we cannot risk the survival of this planet for the sake of one species’. (00:59:40) So, we clearly understand that in the remake it is not warning anymore. Of course, there are other changes like the child’s name and Helen’s job. In the remake, Helen did not have a lover and the child is not her real child, but he is her ex-husband’s child. Klaatu did not go to a boarding house. From the start, Helen knew that he is an alien. He did not adopt a name ( he did in 1951 version, Mr. Carpenter, which has a special meaning that will be explained later).
THE IDEOLOGY BEHIND THE ORIGINAL MOVIE
So far, I give some basic points of both versions’ plot. Although they seem insufficient, I will give details later. Now, I want to focus on the ideology governed the original movie. I thinks it is the most striking part of the movie, which differs it from the contemporaries of it. The Day The Earth Stood Still is an obvious reference to Cold War era. Throughout the film, there are certain criticisms of the growth of arms race and tendency toward violence. The Cold War era people are shown as being extremely xenophobic. The mass media which is a great medium of propaganda is highly criticized too because of causing mass panic and prejudice. From the very beginning of the movie, media informed and warned people in a panic way, though the saucer is not even landed.(00:02:32-00:03:46) Klaatu is very fond of peace and international cooperation. It is obvious because he came to earth in order to keep the interplanetary peace in secure. This can be seen as a metaphor of United Nations’ mission. In the Cold War era, the most fearful thing is the invasion of Russian communism. All the xenophobic and hysteric reactions developed as a result of anti-communism. However, the film apparently insisted on that US and Russia had better get along with each other. Otherwise, their hatred for each other will cause the destruction of the universe as a result of the use of nuclear weapons. It is also clearly said by Klaatu that Earth’s violent tendency toward aliens and each other is very immature. They even cannot agree on a place of meeting. This is very childish.
Another thing which the movie criticizes directly is the state of weaponry and medicine. The defensive strategy applied by US is shown as ridiculous. Their techniques and weaponry are shown as insufficient. In the beginning scene when Gort destroys whole weaponry and even tanks of the Us army is a good example to justify this. (00:10:46) Although the movie insisted on an international peace cooperation, UN which is supposed to be a one, also criticized. Officially in 1951, the headquarters of UN is in New York. However, Klaatu landed his saucer on Washington. This is a mark that shows UN as a dysfunctional, useless organization. In the scene of hospital, the evolution of earth’s medicine is also humiliated. The life expectancy in Klaatu’s planet is 130 years depending on their advanced medicine. (00:17:36)
THE IDEOLOGY BEHIND THE REMAKE
It is clear that what drives people to make a remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still is not the continuation of the Cold War era. However, it is not the love of nostalgia too. There are similar problems in 2008 and 1951 political and social situation which is basically degeneration. As I mentioned earlier, the remake of the film is so much like the continuation of the original one. The intention in 1951 is the warning but in 2008 the intention is destroying the human race. I think, this is made because there is no change in human actions. The usage of nuclear weapons, overly consumption of natural resources in order to make more money, climatic changes due to the wrong usage of chemicals by humanity are just part of these degenerations. Another think that justifies my claim is that at the early twenty-first century, US accepted the role of global policeman, just like in the movie. In the 1951 version, Klaatu says that the robotic force, in which Gort is included, is found to keep the peace stable. They are programmed to destroy the things or places which have tendency towards violence and mass destruction. This is what happens in 2003, invasion of Iraq by US. America sees Iraq’s aggression as a threat to itself and other nation and legitimizes the invasion. Just like in the 2008, Klaatu returned to destroy the human race because they did not change their hostile behaviors.
TRANSITION FROM MODERNITY TO POSTMODERNITY
Another important thing that should be stated is that five decades changes the main streams too. The transition from modernism to post modernism cannot be ignored. The basic thing which is common in post modernism is the loss or corrosion of strict binaries. In the movie the basic binary is human versus alien. It is very clear in robot scenes however not in the scenes of human-like alien, Klaatu. Klaatu is born like a human being in a fetal position and grows ,even much faster but still in a way that humans evolve. The main point which blurs his being human or an alien is his emotions. He is so sensitive to love and nature that we become suspicious about his being a human. In the scene when Sarah hugs Jacob, Klaatu immediately changes his mind and starts to believe that humanity can still change. Professor Barnhardt, an Einstein like figure, has less importance on the remake than on the 1951 version. I think, this also signifies the transition from modernity to post modernity. Modernity has an obvious respect for science and reason. Moreover, it is believed that every problem even the political ones can be solved by science. However, in post modernity, emotions become more dominant. That’s why Klaatu changes his mind when he saw the love of Helen to her child.
It seems to me that, the main problem that governed the remake version is the global warming. In one scenes, when Klaatu explains his real intention to Helen, he says that: ‘ There are only handful planets in cosmos that are capable of supporting complex life’. (00:59:49) So, we understand that destroying the earth means destroying the biological life on earth. The ozone layer depletion, water and earth pollution will destroy the climate and accordingly the earth. That’s why the spheres coming from the space took some species with them in the movie. The invasion of the chemical component which destroys all the buildings and people is portrayed so much like acid rains. So, I think instead of a political ground the remake has much more social and physical meaning in it.
THE PORTRAYAL OF THE OTHER
Most of the aliens in 1950’s science fiction films are presented as hostile and brutal. Their intention is mostly destroy or control the earth. On the other hand, in the first half of the 50’s there are some examples of aliens that are the savior of humanity. The alien, Klaatu has the intention of saving the planet earth. He gave that message in a different way: even though the film is a dystopia, Klaatu gives a utopian message. In short, surprisingly, in The Day The Earth Stood Still , the alien figure is a savior to humanity who warn humanity about a danger. Klaatu and Gort as the others are also portrayed like more advanced in most of the areas than humans. They try to enlighten fearful, xenophobic earth people. They are more advanced in mathematics, we see Klaatu solves the equation which Barnhardt is not able to do, medicine, we see their life expectancy is much longer, and also weaponry, they can create a robotic force which is unconquerable.
From these we can infer that the film tries to defamiliarize viewers to the idea that aliens are the ultimate other. The scene in hospital emphasizes this by giving the information that Klaatu has the same biological system with the humans. Film, systematically identifies the audience with Klaatu and his views about anti-military force. Film does this using some motifs such as identifying Klaatu with Jesus Christ. His coming to the earth and facing with hatred is parallel to Christ’s life. But the most remarkable motif in which we can identify Christ with Klaatu is the name he adopts when he appears like a human: Carpenter which is the craft of Christ. At the end of the movie, Klaatu sacrifices himself to the safe of earth, to a higher good just like Jesus Christ died for humanities’ sins. He gives messages of peace and tolerance, tries to shape the humanity. The sympathy is made between the viewer and Klaatu by showing him as a father figure for Bobby.
In the remake, although Klaatu is still a human-like alien figure, it is shown as much more hostile in accordance with his intention. He came this time to save the earth from human beings. However, proceeding scenes shows us that with changing his mind in front of love and compassion, he becomes much more human than humans. For the sake of advancements in technology that provides advanced costumes and special effects, Gort and Klaatu can be seen much more alien like. In the original Gort’s dimensions are not so much exaggerated and its costume made up a rubbish is much more flexible like human body. Klaatu also has a very humane costume, even when he is an alien. On the other hand, in the remake the exaggerated body of Gort and the extraordinary tissue of his body underlines their being aliens much more than the original one.
The surprising inference in both movies is that scientists’ are showed as the ultimate other. Because of the technology and knowledge they used in their works , scientists are seen as weird and abnormal by common people. They never understand what scientists do and scientists never explain anything about their job to them. So, the secrecy and mysteriousness make them the other comparing with common people. It is very obvious in the remake, when the government took Helen hastily from her house, giving no explanation, in a pure secrecy. (00:08:02-00:11:13)
I have another comment on the issue of otherness in both movies. I think, in both films, the characters who play Helen sees the ultimate other as the government because of their policies. In the remake, however, it is much more surprising because Helen is a scientist which is a job seen as other in the society but she is not aware of this. She seems to put the government as the other position. The scene where the secretary of president says that she did not give the codes to geneticists to work with because they are the properties of US Government, Helen’s look clearly have the attitude toward the other. (00:30:04-00:30:11)
MISE-EN-SCENE AND CINEMATOGRAPHY DIFFERENCES IN ACCORDANCE WITH TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS
Now, on this part of my paper, I want to point out some parallel scenes from both original movie and the remake to show how technological advancements affect mise-en-scene and cinematography. At the start of the movies, the scenes in which an extraordinary thing coming to the earth is the most striking ones that shows the technological advancements. (In remake: 00:13:14-00:13:26), (in the original: 00:02:00-00:02:29). Of course, the special effects and advanced technology usage is very charming and makes people more concentrated on the seriousness of the action. It is also the same for mise-en-scene. The scenes when the saucer landed on earth and first appearance of Klaatu and Gort are worth to be presented by means of costumes and special effects. In the original one, there are not so much special effects. Klaatu’s costume is very human-like made of fabric although it is an alien. Gort’s costume is a aluminum painted rubber suit which is flexible rather than stable which is expected from a robot. The saucer has not much special effects, lights or bells. The design of ship can be considered as minimalist. Since it is motionless most of the time, it requires not much special effects. The only usage of effects is the rays coming from Gort’s eyes and destroys the weaponry of the US army. On the other hand, the music is so much impressive in the original one that the lack of technology or special effects do not make even the 21th century viewer uncomfortable. The usage of theremin is replaced the need for sound effects usually made by computers or synthesizers in nowadays. It gives the audience the feeling of something strange to us is coming or speaking. Moreover, Bernard Hermann’s score creates a notion of suspense in most of the scenes. Gort’s being muted is also another uncomforting element in the movie. It creates fear and nervousness in the audience that something dangerous can suddenly come to happen. Most of the time, in science fiction movies, silence is associated with power and being omniscient. Gort is in some sense portrayed as omniscient because the robotic force is stated as unconquered by Klaatu.
On the other hand, in the remake, special effects and technological advances, computers, developed lighting techniques and computer made creations are directs the whole film. It is undeniable that these effects give more pleasure to the audience however, most of the critiques agree on the failure of the remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still. The spheres in which Klaatu and Gort came and also which took some species when going back to their planet is computer-made. It is much more exaggerated with the water-like circles moving around and bright like coming out. Not showing the inside of the ship may make the audience curious, but I think showing it in the original movie makes the audience much more impressed and believe the reality of that ship. The robot, Gort is also computer made in the remake. It is a giant robot in some sense human shape but emotionless. This makes the audience a little bit nervous because whether it will attack or not is not clear. This is not a bad thing of course, moreover, it is done intentionally. On the other hand, it is very ironic that a peace keeping robot does his mission with pushing force. This gigantic, computer robot may impress the viewer at first sight, however I think it is more suitable for a movie of this kind to have a more realistic and human-like robot like in the 50’s. finally, I want to mention Klaatu’s costume and appearance. Klaatu is acted much more beautifully in 50’s when he is in the costume of human beings. The goal of the film is to blur the strict distinction between alien and human being and Michael Rennie achieved this successfully by giving appropriate emotions of humans, correct accent of English and consistent facial expressions. Whereas in the remake, it seems to me that, up to the end of the movie, Klaatu acted by Keanu Reeves is much more alien-like even in the society. His facial expressions are so senseless. In the scene when he is born like a human being he says clearly that it will be difficult to adopt the life on earth.(00:31:14) Although the remake is seen as a failure, I have to confess that the cover tissue of Klaatu’s body is really impressive.
To sum up, I do not think there are much things left in the remake. Besides all the cinematic elements, the whole ideology is changed. One may see the remake as a science fiction covered a love story in it but I think this would be a slight criticism. The 50’s cold war era is reflected on the original movie successfully and cleverly. On the other hand, the ecological damage made by 21th century people is also very cleverly put in the remake. Obviously, the damage we give the earth would be the cause of collapse of the earth. The extinct species, pollution of water, earth and air, nuclear and chemical trashes, the ozone layer depletion, acid rains, the rate of radiation in the earth and air… Insofar they create new diseases like various types of cancers. The scientists also claim in everywhere that we destroy the earth. Therefore, besides the whole mise-en-scene and cinematography, this movie has something to say to the audiences, not the same with the original one but may be a consequence coming from that time. In order to ensure the integrity of the whole plot, some characters are changed, given different jobs and some of them disappears in the remake. However, there are still some parallel scenes like Klaatu’s being shot and Gort’s destroying of the weaponry of the army. Still, most of them are changed in accordance with technological advancements, especially the elements of mise-en-scene, namely costume, settings, sound, lighting… If we look at these differences in a harmony with the new plot, I think the remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still can be more meaningful.