We got treated to two scenes and the trailer for December alien semi-invasion movie The Day the Earth Stood Still, a remake of the classic early 1950s flick. Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, and director Scott Derrickson were on hand to discuss. While the original 50s film was about an alien who comes to Earth to tell humans to stop building atomic weapons or they'll be exterminated by the galactic community, the new flick has a contemporary twist that doesn't involve old-school atomics. Also, Keanu Reeves' Klaatu is extremely badass: We got treated to a clip where we see his full powers, which I'll delve into below, along with comments from Reeves, Connelly, and Derrickson.
In the first clip, we see a scene where Klaatu is held in custody after requesting to speak to world leaders. Instead of speaking to world leaders, he speaks to US official who interrogates him. You've probably seen this bit in the previews circulating online. What you haven't seen is that when Klaatu tells his interrogator to let him go, he follow up by using the interrogation device to shock the man unconscious, take over his brain, and steal all the information from his mind that he needs to escape the compound. Then he steals the guy's suit, and sends a screaming noise through the bluetooth headsets all the army ninjas are wearing, which seems to instantly kill them. (It's not clear if they're just stunned.) Reeves' robotic acting works well here: He's alien who is merely inhabiting a human body. Klaatu is way more badass than in the 50s version, where the alien is a gentle scientist. I get a kind of Terminator feeling from Reeves — he slays a base full of hardcore intelligence guys just by sending a crazy signal through their bluetooth devices. He is seriously scary.
Next we see a clip of Reeves with Jaden Smith, who plays Jacob, the kid he bonds with who teaches him what it means to be human. Jacob asks Klaatu why he looks so human if he's alien, and Reeves explains that before he wasn't human-looking — he was just Klaatu. They appear to be fleeing in a truck. Not sure what's happening, but it's clear that Klaatu has become more sympathetic to humans. Talking about the scene afterwards, Reeves said, "Klaatu's starting to have a conflict about a decision he made earlier in the film — he's being affected by humans. He's ambivalent about humans, that they're not as bad as he thought they were." Derrickson added that Reeves worked out the physicality of the character of Klaatu on his own, and that Derrickson really admired the way Reeves embodied an alien slowly coming to be human. The shift you see is physical, in the way he holds his body, as well as in his point of view. And it's true: in this clip, we really do see Klaatu moving and talking in a more human way than in his earlier, Terminator-style incarnation.
Derrickson told the audience that he met Robert Wise, director of the original Day the Earth Stood Still, when he was a film student. Wise advised him to that if he was interested in genre films, he ought to make his first film a horror film. Said Derrickson, "That's why I made The Exorcism of Emily Rose as my first film." No mention of the fact that his actual first film was a Hellraiser flick — I guess that was straight to video, so it doesn't count.
About his casting, Reeves said, "They knew I could play an alien." He describes Klaatu as "An entity trapped, or contained, in a human body. He objectifies everything around him. As opposed to the original, where Klaatu was warm and fuzzy, more human than human. I'm not that guy." Apparently when we first see him emerge from his spacecraft he may not be the guy we see on film. We'll get a glimpse of Klaatu's true face.
The new flick is in a contemporary setting. So why did Derrickson decide do that? He said today we're not dealing with nuclear threats now, we have different issues. From what everyone on the panel said, those issues are going to be environmental. Derrickson feels that few people have seen the original film, and he wants to spread the story of an alien who comes to Earth and assesses human nature from the outside.
Connelly talked about Helen Bensen, the doctor, and how her relationship with her son provides a way for Klaatu to understand how humans treat each other and their planet. The relationship between Klaatu and her son is still the heart of the film, like in the earlier version of the film.
Derrickson said they're still working on what Gort will look like. The ship is also a very unique design. They tried to create biological and technological alien ship — not a hard spacecraft, more of an organic spacecraft. It will look biological. He says you see this kind of representation of advanced technologies a lot in SF literature, but not so much in movies — that alien races may not be as interested in machines as we are. The ship is ecological, based in something biological. Like a small planet that travels. We actually get to see the ship in another clip.
Later, they showed us the official trailer. The ship looks like a glowing globe, sort of like a mini-Earth. And there is more than one ship: Many have come to all cities in the globe. We see huge waves of some alien tech washing over the world, disintegrating things. It seems like an odd choice, if the aliens are disturbed by humans destroying the Earth, that they would retaliate with a substance that destroys the Earth. But mostly we see it disintegrating trucks and sports stadiums, so maybe the aliens are most worried about diesel fuel and football riots.
Derrickson said what the new film retains from the original is a sense that humanity has a tendency to destroy itself, for a number of reasons (he was cagey about what those might be), but ultimately there is hope that humans may survive.
Overall, in terms of visuals and style, the film looks like an odd cross between Terminator 2 and X-Files. And I mean that in a good way.