by Brad Nelson
I made the mistake a while back of watching the 2008 version of The Day The Earth Stood Still. I had to go back and watch the original just to cleanse the palate. The 2008 version was that bad. But the original is certainly a movie that could have been due a remake. And although I eyerolled at the whole environmental destruction theme of the horrible 2008 film, it could have worked as a premise had they actually written it in a believable way.
The original 1951 film had a number of solid time-tested sci-fi and cultural themes in it. I especially loved the idea that there was this entire federation of planets out there who put machines above themselves as the ultimate law enforcers (and, yes, I do hate those automatic robotic traffic cams that do much the same thing). Supposedly if any planet tried to make war on another, the robots such as Gort would step in and give that planet the death penalty. (Talk about the ultimate no-tolerance policy. This was definitely a libtard plan.) The details are sketchy on how all this works, but given the ultimatum that Klaatu (the interplanetary ambassador) was conveying to the earth, that robot-based law was surely quite Draconian. But Klaatu said that they had found peace in this way.
Handing ourselves over to the judgment of an authority vested with greater power than we have is what the rule of law is all about. Judges, juries, and legislatures are vested with Gort-like power over us, which is why limits on that power are so critical. Power tends to turn Draconian rather quickly. But, in theory, the Gort system of justice isn’t terribly different in concept than judges and juries, if simply on a planetary scale (and one assume that when one’s planet has been turned into a smoldering cinder, the appeal process was a moot point).
But, of course, handing that kind of power over to robots is a whole other thing. It’s an admission by mankind (or by whatever advanced life forms exist in that planetary federation) that they are not wise enough to govern themselves. The entire 1951 movie oozes with Klaatu’s own disdain for humans. (And I love that.) In his mind (and this is such a great sci-fi theme), reason must triumph over animal passions and destructive urges.
In our own day, scientists and intellectuals of all stripes tend to think that they are above all that human madness because they are so smart and guided by “reason.” History generally shows quite otherwise, but it’s a great theme and a great hope of mankind that we can transcend our ignorance via reason and intelligence alone. And sometimes we even do.
But even in Klaatu’s universe they couldn’t. They could only punt. They built robots to watch over them and to pull the plug on any planets running amok. They took the decision out of their own hands. It was their own sort of built-in doomsday device a la Dr. Strangelove. And this theme of finding our salvation through technology is a common one and a good one; It makes for great sci-fi. But it’s interesting to contrast this theme in The Day the Earth Stood Still with movies such as The Matrix and Terminator wherein humans are trying desperately to escape their enslavement by machines. (And will we mere humans ever escape Obamacare?)
One of the great lines of The Day the Earth Stood Still, and one I had never really noticed before, comes at the end when Klaatu is explaining galactic policy to the gathered scientists and others:
“The universe grows smaller every day, and the threat of aggression by any group anywhere can no longer be tolerated. There must be security for all or no one is secure. Now, this does not mean giving up any freedom except the freedom to act irresponsibly.”
Wow, especially that last part. What is so interesting is that lines like that could have (and probably were) said by Stalin, Hillary Clinton, or any statist-oriented politician. It’s the appeal of tyrants couched in proper Orwellian sophistry. Inherent to freedom is the freedom to act irresponsibly, to smoke a cigarette, to eat a Big Mac, to drive a big car, to say unpopular things, to do all sorts of “irresponsible” things. Man, I’d never quite noticed before the Big Brother nature of those words spoken by Klaatu. Great stuff.
And it makes me realize that what we didn’t need was a remake of this movie. We needed a sequel. We needed to peer into this supposed galactic utopia being administered by the all-powerful Gort robots. That would be great to see. You’d have all kinds of possibilities for talking about core human issues. Would such a civilization of planets be a paradise or, perhaps more likely, a police state?
Anyway, my advice still remains the same for Klaatu. Whenever you’re visiting a new planet, don’t pull out of your pocket something that looks like a ray gun and then point it at an assemblage of geared-up army personnel who all have rifles and tanks cocked and pointed at you. Bad idea, and you have no one but yourself to blame if you get shot.
This original 1951 movie is very good at very precisely outlining, in glorious black-and-white, common attitudes about mankind and as well as interesting futuristic ideas. Even if these futuristic ideas are wrong or wouldn’t likely work, that’s the fun of sci-fi. You get to play what-if. The 2008 version, on the other hand, was a bunch of ill-conceived, half-baked garbage compared to this one. And, yes, watching the old one again reset my sci-fi meter to “like.”
Perhaps underrated is the clarity, creativity, and imagination that went into some of this early sci-fi. They were able to paint in bold colors (even in black-and-white) while today we flounder in idiotic PC notions with special effects that don’t drive the story but tend to swamp any possibility of a good one. God, I do love this old stuff. I give the original 3 too-trusting-with-her-kid-with-a-stranger’s out of 5. • (782 views)