The 1951 movie The Day the Earth Stood Still is considered a classic. The original story featured the enigmatic alien Klaatu (Michael Rennie) bringing a message from distant civilizations warning against our nuclear proliferation and tendency to almost blow ourselves up. This landmark movie sent a definitive Cold War message to the masses: shape up — or else. While on earth Klaatu is befriended by Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) and her son Bobby (Billy Gray) while the giant robot Gort guards Klaatu’s space ship.
Now Director Scott Derrickson has taken on the monumental task of remaking — or reimaging, as they like to call it now — this much loved science fiction movie. Over the years many writers and directors have wanted to redo the film, but nothing went beyond a lot of talk until Derrickson recently took up the challenge, directing a script by David Scarpa.
This new 20th Century Fox version stars Keanu Reeves as Klaatu, with Jennifer Connelly as Helen Benson — now Doctor Benson, a brilliant and renowned astrobiologist specializing in possible alien life forms. Jaden Smith plays her dysfunctional stepson, Jacob, with Jon Hamm as Benson’s scientist teammate. And Gort is back, bigger and stronger then ever. The movie is now playing in theaters across the US and in IMAX.
Scott Derrickson, along with stars Reeves and Connelly, plus co-star Jon Hamm answered questions from reporters at a recent Beverly Hills Press Conference, and Pop Culture Zoo was there.
PCZ: Is the line “Klaatu barada nikto” in the new film?
SCOTT DERRICKSON: It is. It’s in the movie when he [Klaatu] stops Gort. It’s a loud part of the movie, so I don’t know…
KEANU REEVES: We did some crazy stuff on that line. We played it backwards, we played it forwards.
PCZ: Is it electronically altered? It’s very hard to tell what he’s saying.
DERRICKSON: It’s spoken by the alien, but he’s not in human form at that point. But it’s his [Reeves’] voice. I think that the main piece we used was a combination of you [to Reeves] saying it normally front wards, then he memorized it backwards and then we played it forwards so it’s a combination of those two things. We had fun there.
PCZ: Wasn’t it Reeves’ idea to put the line in the movie?
DERRICKSON: Yeah, I think it was. He had the first draft of the script and it wasn’t in there.
REEVES: Yes, where is the barada nikto? We’ve got to put that in there.
PCZ: How did you approach remaking such a classic film and still satisfy the fans of the original but bring something new to the story?
DERRICKSON: It was a big concern and something I spent a lot of time thinking about trying to figure out where do I strike the balance. It’s a 57 years old film with elements that are both iconic that fans of the original will still want to see. And at the same time modern audiences have their own expectations and they’re the bulk of the people who will go see this.
“It’s a 57 years old film with elements that are both iconic that fans of the original will still want to see. And at the same time modern audiences have their own expectations and they’re the bulk of the people who will go see this.” – Director Scott Derrickson
I really tried to learn from what Philip Kaufman did with his version of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. I had seen the Phil Kaufman film and it scared the crap out of me. It made a major impression. It was the first
I didn’t see the Don Siegel [Invasion Of The Body Snatchers] version until I was in college. And when I went back and looked at both of those again it seemed that Kaufman did a really great job of trying to take everything he could from the original version that would update to a late 70s audience. And that movie is a very nice balance.
With this I watched the original several times to figure out just what has to be there. Gort had to be there. Certainly it had to be the basic storyline, but also what things did we have to adjust, to fulfill a modern audience’s expectations.
PCZ: To Jennifer Connelly: How did you feel about the changes to the female lead from a mom/secretary in the original to a mom/astrobiologist in this version?
JENNIFER CONNELLY: The vocational changes were there when I came into it.
DERRICKSON: It was one of the selling points for me of having the lead character be a serious scientist. I love the idea that there are some scientists who do very serious work about possible theories of alien life forms. So part of the updating of the movie was to represent this fragmented family and to change this lead character to this progressive woman.
CONNELLY: It was a great opportunity and I recognize that and it’s a surprising role to find in this kind of film. I love what she represented and the kind of person she was. I love that she’s the one who is put in this position and has this responsibility [to try and save the world].
PCZ: How was working with Jaden Smith as your stepson?
CONNELLY: Jaden was great. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better-looking human being in my life. He’s remarkable. It was a really tough role and it demanded a lot of him, but I think he met all of the challenges put to him.
PCZ: The message of the original film could be read as, “Give peace a chance.” The message in the new version seems more with “Give earth, the environment, a chance.” So why the change in the message?
DERRICKSON: I still think this movie says a lot about war. I think the film comments a lot about the American military policy and the war that we’re in and the human propensity to destroy each other. I love Klaatu’s line, “You treat the world like you treat each other.” That’s one of my favorite lines that he has in the movie. That sums up the two issues that are there. I think the issue with the environment is that it is a true and impending threat to our long-term survival.
PCZ: For Keanu: How did you deal with playing an alien?
REEVES: It’s a challenge. In a way, the role started more alien than human, then going to more human than alien. I thought that would be fun. I was trying to have this kind of separateness. Something behind the eyes. Not having these traditional behavioral cues, but there is something involved there, but again it’s quite sinister. He has been shot so I think there’s something behind his eyes that isn’t neutral.
PCZ: Why do you end up doing so many science fiction type movies?
REEVES: I love the [science-fiction/fantasy] genre – I love it in cinema, literature and graphic novels. I grew up on it and I’ve had the opportunity to participate in some good stories in the genre.
PCZ: For Jon Hamm: How was it going from starring in Mad Men to this?
JON HAMM: I’d been on big movies before, but never with very much to do. [This film] was overwhelming – I got on the plane, I got off the plane, went into wardrobe and 24 hours later I was shooting in front of four hundred extras. It was a gut-check in a way, but it was an incredible opportunity and a new experience in a really cool story in a really cool movie.
PCZ: In the original movie Klaatu gives his message to the entire world and it’s basically, “It’s up to you to change.” But in this one only a few people know what his message is so what are we in the end left with in this version?
REEVES: It’s up to you also, but I’ve got a big stick. (Everyone laughing.)
DERRICKSON: Give peace a chance … and if you don’t, we’ll come back and kill you.
PCZ: But he only gave that message to a couple of scientists and a child and not too many people listen to scientists these days.
DERRICKSON: They will after the situation that Klaatu has left the world in. This was something that was definitely talked about. First of all the movie isn’t clear about how long this power is going to be shut off… that’s one of the things that is open ended. The original is very peace through strength… I’ve got a bigger bomb then you so we’d all better be nice.
Modern audiences won’t stand for that. I don’t like it as a moviegoer either to be told here’s what you’re supposed to think. I very much like the idea to put forth images and but forth ideas and let the audience go away and let them make of it what they will. It was not to deliver a message; it was to deliver a picture of where we are. All the issues that we are in, solving those issues will come at a price, a sacrifice.
REEVES: It’s a version of modern storytelling. In our film the message is not put out to the people, but it has traveled in a way. It’s gone from Helen, to Jacob, it’s gone to Barnhardt, the scientist; it’s gone to the Secretary of Defense. It’s gone to you guys [the reporters.] (Big laugh from everyone.)
DERRICKSON: He’s right. And one of the conscious decisions we made to keep in this movie was the original Christ story. A lot has been made of this. Klaatu is a Christ figure, the way he comes to earth, walks among us and gives us wisdom, and dies and is resurrected. But I like the idea that the message in this movie gets out the way that Christ’s message did get out. When he died it was 12 guys and him that were being chased. And yet the message got out. It’s there. It’s just not obvious.