11 Dec 2008

“Klaatu Barada Nikto” To You, Too

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Clara Moskowitz describes how Hollywood updates message Sci Fi cinema. In the end, audiences will find that Keanu Reeves is no Michael Rennie.

If aliens ever visit Earth, they’ll be coming to reprimand us for bad behavior.

That’s the premise of the 1951 classic sci-fi film “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” as well as the brand-new Fox remake of the same name, in theaters Friday. In the intervening 50 years, humanity hasn’t gotten any better, the filmmakers seem to conclude — we’ve just switched to new transgressions.

In the mid 20th century our most pressing concern about ourselves was the threat of humans annihilating each other with nuclear weapons. The original film follows Klaatu, a human-looking alien who comes to Earth with his bodyguard robot Gort, to warn people to cease and desist with the nukes before we contaminate the rest of the Galaxy with them.

The new version of the film focuses on a more contemporary preoccupation: the threat of climate change and environmental degradation. The new Klaatu, played by Keanu Reeves, couldn’t care less if we blew ourselves to bits, but would we mind not taking out the rest of the species on Earth, as well as our rare habitable planet, with us? ..

..It falls to astrobiologist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) and her stepson Jacob (Jayden Smith, son of Will Smith) to convince Klaatu that humans aren’t beyond redemption, that we really can change our gas-guzzling, trash-dumping ways.

“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,” (deep-thinker Keanu) Reeves said. “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.”

In a sign of its own commitment to change, Fox designated “The Day the Earth Stood Still”as its first “green” production. Though some trees were doubtless harmed in the making of this film, the studio endeavored to produce the picture with the smallest possible environmental impact. That meant less paper printing of photo stills for the art department, the use of recyclable materials and biodegradable products to create sets and props, and lumber from sustainably-managed forests.

The studio even enforced an “idle-free mandate,” whereby any member of the crew sitting in a production vehicle for more than three minutes had to cut the engine rather than idle while waiting.

In another grand gesture, Fox plans to transmit the entire film into space on Friday via dish antenna through the Orlando, Fla.-based Deep Space Communications Network firm. In what the studio is calling “the world’s first galactic motion picture release,” the movie will be broadcast in the direction of the closest star system, Alpha Centauri, where eager aliens waiting with popcorn could view it by 2012, when the signal arrives.

Some might suggest that physically transmitting the complete set of distribution prints into deep space would be even better.

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