A s is inevitable with a remake of a film, especially one first released more than five decades ago, changes have been made in the new edition. Some of the changes are automatic upgrades, others are less successful. The end result is a brand new, big-budget remake of a sci-fi classic that is ... OK.
Screenwriter David Scarpa did his best to stick to the 1951 script by Edmund H. North. The alien visitor Klaatu (Keanu Reeves), Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) and Professor Barnhardt (John Cleese) are all present and accounted for. So is Klaatu's giant robot, Gort. Scarpa does put a modern spin on things as "Gort" becomes "G.O.R.T." (Genetically Organized Robotic Technology); the military gives the massive robot-humanoid-thingy an acronym. Subtle, and actually mildly amusing. The military would do something like that, right?
Klaatu's arrival on Earth is very similar to the original. Klaatu never means any harm to us humans, but of course once he steps out of his ship somebody gets trigger-happy and takes him down. It is actually more believable in the '51 version. Seriously, do you really think a mass of armed, nervous Americans ranging from LAPD to SWAT would be able to resist opening fire on an alien after the first shot?
Klaatu is here, as Reeves promises in his well-crafted monotone, "to save the planet." He wants to talk to the world's leaders. This is true in both versions. But since the United States found him, we certainly aren't about to just let the rest of the world have access! In 2008's version it is the Secretary of Defense (Kathy Bates) who balks at Klaatu's request. Thus, instead of letting the well-meaning alien help the planet, she opts to have him interrogated. Sounds about right, doesn't it?
Klaatu plays along for a bit before using his mysterious electricity-manipulation powers to escape with ease into New York City.
From this point on, Scarpa's "TDTESS" begins to deviate well off the 1951 path. The original saw Klaatu living in secret among the general population; Scarpa's version features an ongoing and never-ending manhunt for the fugitive Klaatu. The original had Klaatu essentially causing a worldwide power outage to make things stand still; Scarpa's version features worldwide panic, evacuations, deserted cities and, finally, an ominous cloud of bugs that G.O.R.T. releases which evaporates everything in its path.
Save the planet. Get rid of us.
It's a natural update on things, I suppose. Although, in all honesty, I'm not sure that a worldwide power outage wouldn't have been more interesting to watch. The world ending, or humanity ending, has been done before. It would have been interesting for once to see filmmakers not just go for the most overly dramatic thing possible. And seriously, how helpless did you feel the last time you were without power for more than 10 minutes? It certainly made my apartment stand still.
I did mention an automatic upgrade: special effects. G.O.R.T. especially. Gone is an actor in an oversized space suit. CGI gives us a mountainous humanoid-robot that is sleek, intimidating and impervious.
In the end, though, what's the lesson? In 1951 it was simply, "Abandon warfare and stop scaring the rest of the galaxy, or else." This time it is never spelled out, although Klaatu does eventually stop the ominous cloud from wiping us out completely (New York Giants fans will need a new stadium, though).
Humanity is given a mulligan. The idea is that significant change can only come at the brink of extinction and since we have just been at said brink, we'll shape up and stop killing our planet.
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