In Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Animal Dreams, a character named Codi is talking with Loyd, a Native American she dated as a teenager, about the responsibilities of taking care of the earth:
“Really, it’s like the spirits have made a deal with us.”
“And what is the deal?” I asked.
“We’re on our own. The spirits have been good enough to let us live here and use the utilities, and we’re saying: We know how nice you’re being. We appreciate the rain, we appreciate the sun, we appreciate the deer we took. Sorry if we messed up anything. You’ve gone to a lot of trouble, and we’ll try to be good guests.”
In The Day the Earth Stood Still, a reinvention of the 1951 science fiction classic, Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) finds herself on a mission to negotiate a new deal for earth’s humans as she patiently relates to Klaatu (Keanu Reeves), an extraterrestrial who has come to initiate a process that will rid the planet of the ones who have messed it up with their violence, selfishness, and greed. His worst assumptions about Americans are realized when he encounters Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates), the Secretary of Defense; the President was sent to a secure place after Klaatu’s spaceship landed in Central Park. She does not believe that he is benign and is willing to use all of the country’s military firepower against him and his gigantic robotic protector Gort.
In contrast, Dr. Benson tries to relate to Klaatu and is even more eager to help when she learns that the end of the human race may be imminent. This accomplished scientist is having a hard time raising Jacob (Jaden Smith), an independent eleven-year-old who misses his deceased father and insists on giving his step-mother a hard time. After years of playing computer games and watching American media, he immediately assumes that Klaatu is an enemy who must be stopped, despite what his stepmom says about trusting her and him.
Scott Derrickson directs this science fiction morality tale with an admirable mix of special effects elements and apocalyptic talk. We were quite taken with the concept of this drama — that Klaatu could be a “friend of the earth” without being a supporter of humans. Will Dr. Benson be able to convince him that people can change before it’s too late? She takes the extraterrestrial to meet Professor Barnhardt (John Cleese), a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who has been studying the evolutionary basis of altruism. He makes an earnest plea for humanity: “Judge us not by what we deserve, but by our potential.”
The Day the Earth Stood Still has some impressive special effects and some exciting action moments, but its ecological message is what makes it such an appealing film. We need to be better guests!
Special DVD features include a commentary by screenwriter David Scarpa; deleted scenes; a documentary “Re-imagining the Day”; featurettes: “Unleashing Gort,” “Watching the Skies: In Search of Extraterrestrial Life,” and “The Day the Earth Was ‘Green’ “; still galleries (concept art, storyboards, production photos); a digital copy of The Day the Earth Stood Still for portable media players; and the original 1951 movie on DVD.