What could be better than comparing and contrasting an original science-fiction movie with its remake? There are a lot of things, to be honest. My primary goal is to display both the strengths and weaknesses of each movie. But this study could be fun if put in the scenario of a boxing match, with the declaration of a winner at the end of the review.
Both films step out into the ring in relatively the same way: there’s an outer-space scene that eventually shows a beautiful, serene planet Earth. The cheesy, yet memorable music of the old film captivates its listeners as the title and credits start to roll. The new film has an equally impressive but eerie score with a cool shot of the moon and some kind of mountain range. The moon actually looks like it is in an eclipse and immediately becomes part of the movie title: I’m already filled with intrigue!
The old film wastes no time with the introduction of our main character, Klatu, and his flying saucer. I like the dramatic radio dialogue, similar to “War of the Worlds”, but the announcer also tried to calm the frantic public, curious yet terrified about the impending visitor from a distant galaxy. That display packs a powerful punch. However, the new film uses calculated blows with timed precision. Speaking of time, the new movie opens to a mountain range in India, circa 1928. A mountain climber happens to discover a beautiful, brightly-colored sphere with spinning clouds inside of it. Curiosity overcomes this guy as he takes his axe and pokes the sphere. The bright, piercing lights overwhelm the man, causing him to faint or perhaps succumb to death. Flash forward to present-day time at Princeton University, where a beautiful, smart and busy Jennifer Connelly plays the part of an astro-biologist named Dr. Helen Benson. Her world is about to get turned upside down: it’s not from her obnoxious yet lovable little stepson, played perfectly by Jayden Smith. It’s actually the fact that NASA has detected and calculated the arrival of Klatu and his spaceship, which the Earth perceives as a threatening meteor on account of the extreme traveling speed. The new Klatu knows how to make an entrance as a weird-looking, faceless entity that gets shot by the military just for attempting to shake Helen’s hand. The old Klatu gets shot while offering a piece of new, helpful technology to the public. He looks human and isn’t ashamed to admit to doctors his ripe old age of 78, even though he appears to be in his late 30’s. I can’t believe that 70 is the new 40, so that is an upper-cut punch! This gets more for my imagination to work with, as opposed to the new film. Both spaceships land in different cities but manage to stay within the United States. The military of the old movie is surprisingly comical when Klatu tells everybody that he comes in peace, which prompts the men to switch from big guns to little ones. However, the new version contains a menacing plot masked behind supposed goodwill: when the spaceship lands, there’s a huge gust of wind that almost blows away an infant in a baby carriage. Nobody has come in peace for this scenario!
It’s pretty cool how the new Klatu uses the intelligence officials like little puppets, especially in the scene depicting a lie detector test. The old Klatu is more like a peaceful hippie, but it’s not his fault: the plots of both films are considerably different. The old one focuses on warning Earth’s inhabitants of total annihilation if they don’t change their violent ways. The new movie assumes we have already gone too far, thanks to our technology and overwhelming desire to nuke everything in sight. We have to save ourselves from the mysterious “process” that new Klatu is forced to begin which will rid our world of humanity and then re-populate the earth with a collection of various animals that were attracted to numerous spheres around the globe. As a Christian, I love the references to Noah’s Ark by actress Kathy Bates, who plays a no-nonsense secretary of defense for America. The old movie’s secretary is cordial to the alien, but very boring.
As the storylines in each of these movies continues, the character studies pack some powerful blows. Jayden’s character is clearly still mourning the loss of his military/engineer father. The angst he portrays is raw and convincing. Bobby, the old film child, gets technical points for befriending Klatu and showing him a side to humanity that is both endearing and nostalgic. I liked how GORT is introduced in both films – a formidable opponent, if crossed the wrong way. Klatu’s ridiculous language to control the robot is entertaining, but so is the military’s invention of an acronym for this huge guardian of steel: Genetically Organized Robotic Technology. This is cheesy, yet effective, still paying tribute to the old film. I secretly wished for the new Klatu to use the same language. Lastly, I loved how the new GORT was a secret weapon of mass distraction. My hat goes off to the special effects for the 21st century. However, the special effects for the old movie are great if kept in perspective: they were on the cutting edge for their day, and I can respect that.
Both Klatus are sexy, in their own particular way. But I tend to favor the original one because he acknowledges a belief in God, even if in an indirect way. Because of the plot, the real meaning of the title comes when the old Klatu decides to stop all of the electricity and technology of the Earth for exactly half an hour. His powers are subtle, and he never gets cocky. The new Klatu accidentally kills a police officer then brings him back to life with a police car and his own body as a jump-start catalyst. Both elderly professors that are visited in each film have some valid philosophical points about the survival of our species as well as general human nature.
I refuse to give too much away about the plots, so I will comment on the last parts of both films. The tempo and/or pace of both movies picks up in the last 40 minutes. The secretary of state plays more of a villain in the new movie, but it’s almost necessary, to a certain degree. However, there is a surprisingly ruthless side to her that is revealed towards the very end. I liked how the old Klatu comes back to life from a second gunshot wound, but isn’t promised a total recovery. The new Klatu clearly makes more of a sacrifice to save humanity, and one can assume that he still survived at the end, but not as a human. The title isn’t as obvious in the new film until the last few minutes, but it still pays tribute (yet again) to the original movie.
At first, I thought the winner would be the remake by a TKO, but with some serious considerations, I have to declare a tie. Both films contained a charm about them, staying true to the spirit of the science fiction genre. Almost all of the characters were memorable and realistic, to a certain point. Both films are worth the price of a rental and should be watched in a single evening, if possible, especially with family members of varying ages. The “…Day the Earth Stood Still” should be a night for the entire family to stand still and view these two films for sheer pleasure and delight.