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REMAKING THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL


 

In The Day The Earth Stood Still, a contemporary reinvention of the 1951 science fiction classic, renowned scientist Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) finds herself face to face with an alien called Klaatu (Keanu Reeves), who travels across the universe to warn of an impending global crisis . . .

When forces beyond Helen’s control treat the extraterrestrial as a hostile and deny his request to address the world’s leaders, she and her estranged stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith) quickly discover the deadly ramifications of Klaatu’s claim that he is “a friend to the Earth.”

Now Helen must find a way to convince the entity who was sent to destroy us that mankind is worth saving – but it may be too late.

The process has begun.

Mankind has long been fascinated by the possibility of life beyond Earth. Science fiction literature and films have served to not only entertain, but to address our questions, hopes and fears about extraterrestrial life. Such speculation has captivated our collective imagination and inspired the development of new technology to explore the farthest reaches of our universe and the very real possibility that we are not alone.

One of the most original and innovative films of the genre is the 1951 sci-fi classic The Day The Earth Stood Still, a truly groundbreaking movie that has influenced generations of sci-fi enthusiasts, authors and filmmakers. Directed by legendary filmmaker Robert Wise, the film tells the story of a benevolent, human-looking alien called Klaatu, who lands his spaceship in Washington D.C. with the goal of meeting with the leaders of Earth to warn that the violence that man is committing against man actually threatens the survival of other civilizations in the universe. With the help of Gort, his giant robotic bodyguard, Klaatu eludes the authorities who attempt to capture him and immerses himself in human culture to gain a better understanding of a species that seems committed to conflict and destruction. He befriends a widow and her son, and through the prism of their friendship he learns much about humanity – and ultimately challenges mankind to be its best version of itself.

"The premise for this remake is rooted not in man’s violence against man, but in mankind’s destruction of the Earth’s environment."

The film was revolutionary, not only in its then-cutting edge conceptualization of aliens, spaceships and robots, but in its audacious variation on a familiar allegory for the escalating tensions of the early Cold War era. “The entire canon of science fiction in America in the Fifties was constructed in such a way as to reinforce Western fears of the Eastern Bloc,” notes producer Erwin Stoff. “The ‘other’ to be feared was always a metaphor for Communism. What was remarkable about The Day the Earth Stood Still was that it placed the onus of responsibility on everyone equally. The ‘other’ to fear was ourselves – the nature of man and the terrible violence that humanity is capable of.”

Another aspect of the film that sets it apart is the perspective from which it unfolds. “One of the really unique things about the story is that it’s told from the alien’s point of view,” Stoff observes. “We’ve seen a lot of movies about aliens, but rarely do we see ourselves as the aliens.”

The idea of remaking The Day the Earth Stood Still first struck Stoff, who has managed Reeves for over 20 years, in the wake of their success on the 1994 blockbuster Speed. During a meeting with at Twentieth Century Fox studios, Stoff noticed a poster for the classic film hanging on the wall. “I said, ‘Forget about the project I came here to talk to you about. What we should do is develop The Day the Earth Stood Still with Keanu playing Klaatu,’” he remembers. “It seemed like a great idea, but for one reason or another, it didn’t happen. Then, as destiny would have it, a draft showed up on my doorstep twelve years later.”

As re-conceived by screenwriter David Scarpa and director Scott Derrickson, the premise for the 2008 version of The Day The Earth Stood Still is rooted not in man’s violence against man, but in mankind’s destruction of the Earth’s environment. “I’m a tremendous fan of the original film,” Derrickson says. “It was so interesting and original and progressive for its time – in the visual effects, in the way it commented on the Cold War tensions of that era, in the idea of seeing humanity from an outsider’s perspective. It’s a truly great film, but most modern audiences haven’t seen it. I feel like people deserve to know this story, and this was a fantastic opportunity to retell it in a way that addresses the issues and conflicts that are affecting us now.”

“There is nothing the original film says about the nature of mankind that isn’t every bit as timely and relevant to this generation of movie audiences,” Stoff believes. “It’s the specifics of the way we now have the capability to destroy ourselves that have changed. The evidence that we are doing potentially irreparable harm to the environment is pretty irrefutable. The challenges that we face today are no less daunting, and if we fail at them, no less lethal, than the ones that we faced before the end of the Cold War.”

“In re-imagining this picture, we had an opportunity to capture a real kind of angst that people are living with today, a very present concern that the way we are living may have disastrous consequences for the planet,” says Reeves. “I feel like this movie is responding to those anxieties. It’s holding a mirror up to our relationship with nature and asking us to look at our impact on the planet, for the survival of our species and others.”

For Derrickson, the project is the unforeseen culmination of a close encounter he enjoyed with Robert Wise as a film student, when he made a short film that was accepted to a festival in Indiana where the legendary director was being honored. At a private dinner with Wise arranged by the festival’s program director, Derrickson asked the two-time Oscar winner if he had any advice for him as a young filmmaker. “He told me that if I was interested in genre films, then I should make my first film a horror film, because a horror film will really show what you can do as a director,” Derrickson says. “I kept that in mind, and it was one of the reasons why I made [the successful horror film] The Exorcism of Emily Rose as my first film. But I had no idea that I would be sitting here one day talking about re-imagining his great film The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

“A lot of my enthusiasm for getting involved with this project and wanting Keanu to be part of it was the fact that I had seen The Exorcism of Emily Rose and was completely knocked out by Scott as a director,” Stoff says. “There is a thriller element to this film, a real sense of danger about Klaatu. You’re not sure what he’s going to do next, or how far he’s going to take things. Scott is a masterful storyteller in terms of creating that kind of tension and mystery and danger.”
 


 



 

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