The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) vs. The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
The second edition of Original vs. Remake is another alien-invasion film made initially in the 1950’s and remade in the early 21st century, but will the original win out again?
The story of the film (spoiler alert, by the way) is that a humanoid-alien, Klaatu (Michael Rennie/Keanu Reeves) arrives on Earth with a robot named Gort in hope to communicate a message to a group of world leaders in a bid to get humanity to change its ways as they’re starting to become more of a threat to the wider universe. This gets lost, however, as he’s accidentally shot and treated like a criminal as he’s not from Earth, thus forcing Klaatu on the run. And while the films both focus on that at its core, they’re done completely differently.
In the original Klaatu is a well-meaning alien who genuinely cares for humanity and wants to help itself while in the remake he’s a stone-faced alien who will happily wipe out humanity because he can’t get an audience with world leaders (a fact he repeatedly asks for in the original but doesn’t seem to care too much for in the remake after asking once). He also has infinite powers in the remake and he comes across as an actual villain, the very villain humanity have labelled him as (and it’s not a case of him becoming what they’ve made him), while the original had him as misunderstood yet feared due to his alien nature. Gort is also changed from a man in a suit to a CGI giant (he also grows from about eight-feet to an absolute giant), which takes away so much of the menace about him, and the spaceship has changed from a normal flying-saucer looking ship to some giant orb-ball-thing. An orb-ball-thing which isn’t alone in the remake as apparently hundreds of them have landed and have deployed these aliens to live among us for years to determine our willingness to change, and it only takes one of these deployed aliens to give Klaatu the authority to wipe out humanity.
It just gets everything wrong. The original wasn’t about the wiping out of humanity; it was about needing humanity to change. His lecture at the end of the original comes across as both sympathetic and warning, while Reeves’ Klaatu doesn’t care and seemingly changes his mind at will (a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of a man easily swayed in his mind). Seriously, one old alien tells him humans are awful and Klaatu decides to kill all humans, but a Helen who protests that humans can change (an ordinary woman speaking on behalf of all humanity) he decides to give them another chance. His character and motivations are so poorly written, which is incredible as there’s a prior film and a short-story before that for inspiration on how to do the character.
As I noted in the review for the remake, I can accept when a film takes a previously told story in a new direction, but this version of Klaatu and Gort as well as the new plot is so far removed from the source material that it may have well saved itself some money in acquiring the naming rights from the original and called it Humans Change or Else, or something terrible (a terrible title to fit a terrible film). It never clearly explains why Helen helps Klaatu and it annoys us at every turn by having Helen be the step-mother so a mother and fatherless son, meaning arguments and temper tantrums occur at every turn. I wouldn’t say the original is a fantastic film (game-changing for the 1950’s, though), due in part to its abrupt ending and there being some storytelling issues, but it’s Oscar-worthy in comparison to what they thought would showcase the story to a newer audience. The storyline was worse, the acting was worse, the characters were worse, the script was worse: just stick to the original.