Give The Earth a Chance

It's often difficult to be a Science Fiction fan. We must endure much. The disdain of our fellow man for our geekness and the outright fury of our own geekly kind for holding contrary views to their contrary views - oh yes it is quite a complicated existence. As rabid fans of all things sci-fi we tend to become instant critic and often executioner to any questionable media set in our path. I'll admit to doing it myself a time or two. However being a true sci-fi geek means you must try to hold yourself to a different standard - or perhaps a more tolerant one.

I spied a movie poster for a remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still recently which happens to be one of my favorite classic sci-fi flicks of all time. I was immediately excited to see the idea getting some play again because let's face it, Gort is frakken cool. My joy was sort lived. No sooner had I called my gaggle of geeks over to converse about this latest hotness than they started much whining and pot-shotting about how crappy it was going to be.

Respected members of the media also caved to the allure of negativity about the upcoming release. I value the right of sci-fi enthusiasts to blow raspberries at the finest of flicks in protest but I felt certain judging it after having seen ninety seconds of the film four months in advance is a trifle premature. They are of course entitled to their learned opinions but I must shake my head in shame at the collective reactions of my geeky brethren.

I agree that the 1950's version of this movie is a timeless classic that everyone should witness. Its stern warning of bleak futures and what we might aspire to should we answer the call to greatness was imprinted into my brain at an early age. The six year old version of me, a very young (very annoying) blond-headed boy who walked about with limbs frozen, answered only to Gort and repeated the words "Klaatu barada nikto" in response to every question anyone asked him loved this movie. Nothing has changed that love for it since then.

Oh yes, I feel the very real danger of Klaatu and Gort falling into the same level of despair that Tom Cruise brought to War of The Worlds. I know Keanu Reeves and Jaden Smith will most definitely give the movie a different vibe than the Michael Rennie and Billy Gray did fifty years ago. There will be more action scenes and most likely some of the suspense created by black and white mood lighting will be replaced by special effects.

However, the one thing that upsets me more than any of that could ever hope to is the knowledge that many young people couldn't tell me who Gort is if I stuck a gun to their head and denied them access to google. The message is lost in time - and that's a fate worse than anything modern Hollywood could do to it.

I find I don't always share the vehement contempt for remakes that many pros and geeks alike have voiced so eloquently. Remakes can often be good things that add to the depth and understanding of the viewer as well as being works of art onto themselves such as the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica or Batman to name a few recent ones.

Just because a story was told before doesn't make it the final and only possible word on the subject. Humans tell stories - it's what we do and how we learn. It's been this way for thousands of years. Countless stories have been told, changed, retold and changed again with each generation making their stab at telling their vision of it. Undeniably, some retellings are superior to others and it's not always better the next time around.

Somewhere along the way the sci-fi geek arose to stand amongst the bleating herd and crave something different and new. Though no two geeks will agree on which 'Trek is best or how light speed might actually be achieved there is one constant that remains true - we can see past what is real and imagine what could be. This is the beating heart of sci-fi and what we must remember to channel when a new piece of media is presented to us.

There is an excellent scene in the Pixar movie Ratatouille where the longtime cynic Anton Ego explains the nature of being a critic.

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.

To sum that up, the view is good from the cheap seats.

Simply being a naysayer and habitually blasting any piece of creative work takes little effort or thought. Value and enjoyment can be found in many works both great and shameful and it begins with our own imagination and openness to the ideas and concepts put forward. Still, sometimes after careful viewing loathing is indeed warranted but reserving that wrath until after you've seen the film is to be recommended.

13 Responses to "Give The Earth a Chance"
  1. Mike says:

    Excellent article. I couldn’t agree with you more. While I’m ashamed to say it, I haven’t seen the original. (It’s way before my time) But I at least know about it and some of it’s characters. I’m planning on seeing it before the new one comes out. Even having not seen the original, I was really excited to see they were doing a remake.

  2. Gryper says:

    The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of my favorites too. I think this remake will be great and it might follow the short story more closely than the original film. In Farewell to the Master by Harry Bates the robot’s name is Gnut . Guess the filmmakers didn’t like the sound of the original name. 🙂 I’m re-reading the story online in two parts, the first one is here:

    The site also give you background on Bates and when/where the story was published. Enjoy!

  3. Armando says:

    As a habitual neysayer and all around curmudgeon I have to say, I don’t know: “klaatu, barada, nikto?”

    Honestly, I fear I fall in the category of your friends who berate this movie based on 9 seconds of footage. Perhaps not with the same level of vitriol, but I am rather skeptical about the possibility that this movie will be anywhere near the level of the original (which I only caught for the first time in the last year. For shame!). But, I think you’re right in that it is sad that the movie’s message has been lost in time and that perhaps this version will catch a few younger eyes and ears and inspire just a little bit, even if it does have Keanu Reeves as the star (hey, it worked on The Matrix, after all!).

    The fact that it’s a remake doesn’t matter much to me. There are way too many remakes out there and most fall flat on their faces, but I think that our beloved BSG (and The Fugitive, and Chris Nolan’s Batman, etc.) shows that remakes can be inspired and inspiring if the people on the creative end bring imagination and vision to the project and are allowed to carry it out. So, we’ll see how Gort does this time around.

  4. Pike says:

    “The message is lost in time – and that’s a fate worse than anything modern Hollywood could do to it.”

    Damnit Sean, why’d you have to go talk sense? I was working up a righteous indignation.

  5. amyinchicago says:

    I really love this post.

  6. storyknife says:

    What Sean said! I bought The Day the Earth Stood Still the instant it was out on DVD (and This Island Earth, too, so there). When I drove through Gort, Ireland, I rolled down the window and stuck my head out and hollered “Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!” to the manifest alarm of my travelling companion. I’ll be first in line to see the remake, and if I don’t like it, I can always come home and watch the original again. Given all the crap that Hollywood churns out on a regular basis, a remake of this film is a miracle of inspiration and intelligence comparison. I love the idea of introducing it to a whole new generation.

    What I’m wondering is if the remake will restore Bates’s original ending. In his short story, Klaatu’s just a mouthpiece. The robot is the boss.

  7. Leah says:

    I really enjoyed the original and always wish they would just come up with a different title for the remakes. That way the movies can tell the story in their own way without the comparisons. The tag line gives me hope that the movie will be good even if not like the original. It says something like if you die the earth will still live. I do not think the new version is going for the innocents of the original but times have changed.

  8. Dave says:

    Gort was indeed frakkin awesome.

  9. Kappa says:

    Amen, Rev. Sean! I must sheepishly admit that I’ve only seen bits and pieces of *The Day the Earth Stood Still*, but you make a lot of excellent points on giving re-makes a chance in general. Some are good, and some are not, just like movies in general. If nothing else, I tend to find it interesting to see what elements of the original are changed in re-makes, not to prove that one version is “better” or “more true” than the other, but to think about how those changes might reflect how our culture has changed over time. As a pretty extreme example, the two BSG’s definitely reflect the time periods from which they came, but even purportedly “timeless” stories, and, on the other end of the spectrum, historical dramas, tend to be influenced by the times and cultures their creators live in. I think one of the ways to enjoy re-makes is to not fight those kinds of changes and just be glad that the core of the story is so meaningful and relate-able that it still resonates in a different era.

  10. Tom says:

    Yeah, I’m currently watching the original BSG and it obviously came from the era of David and Sean Cassidy, weather style or culture a movie should reflect the times. I think where the bad remakes go wrong is relying on the latest technology and forgetting that a great movie is all about the story and characters we care about.

  11. bkitty says:

    Love your post! Love the bag, love the shoes- LOVE IT!

  12. exoduscrusade says:

    Definitely a good point. I still remember seeing the first time i saw the preview for this movie (right before the new Batman) and being filled with childlike wonder at what could come next. i havent yet had the pleasure of looking forward to great epics like star wars or the matrix, the Lord of the Rings or the Narnia chronicles and wether or not my opinions of those movies arent important. In looking to this new experience i’ve already gained something priceless. my mind can move around the pieces it knows, crafting storyline after possible storyline and still be suprised by what happens when i see it on the silver screen. to me that’s something that’s lost most when you bash a movie right out of the previews. could any of us imagine hating the first star wars before it came out? “spaceships and lasers? magicians and a guy with asthma(i apologize for reffering to the awesomeness of Lord Vader in such a way)” we’ve already lost something which is dearest to the geek above good graphics, new technology, or even a good story. we have stolen from ourselves the gift of imagination.

  13. Michael DeGregorio says:

    Over the last (has it REALLY been) two years, I have yelled out loud at more than one thing you’ve said in the podcast and i’ve found myself in stern disagreement on many points with you, but my friend, you totally NAILED it this time.
    This post, and your thoughts expressed there in, was a work of absolute beauty. You said all the things i’ve always thought, but couldn’t get into words.
    Well done, Rev, well done indeed.

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