JoBlo.com Visits the Set of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL
by Ammon Gilbert
“Klaatu barada nikto.” In 1951, 20th Century Fox released the Sci-Fi classic THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and audiences around the world watched in horror as a flying saucer landed in the middle of Washington, D.C., and gave the planet an ultimatum: stop blowing yourselves up, or we will do it for you!!! To this day, it’s renowned as one of the best Sci-Fi films ever made--so naturally, what does Hollywood do? They remake it, of course!
When JoBlo asked me if I wanted to fly to Vancouver, B.C., to visit the set of Fox’s THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (DTESS) remake, I couldn’t turn it down. Not because I'm all for the remake, but because of the chance to meet the film’s stars: Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly!
Director Scott Derrickson is helming the remake, and as he rocked us with his freshman effort THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, there’s high hopes that he’ll do the same here. Along with Reeves and Connelly, DTESS co-stars Kathy Bates, John Cleese, Jon Hamm, and Jaden Smith. Will the remake outdo (or simply stand up to) the original? Let’s find out!
After being picked up from the hotel mid-morning, our motley crew of journalists were shuttled (gagged and blind-folded) to the production office, to a room lined with concept art and select storyboards from DTESS. The panels (45 in all) featured the striking images of giant blue and fire-red sun-like orbs (looking like the time-travel sphere from THE TERMINATOR series) in various locations around the globe, Keanu (as Klaatu) chillin’ out in a slick designer suite (much like he rocked in CONSTANTINE), an organic alien pace suite, a few of Jennifer and her step-son Jaden, and yes--even a glimpse of Gort, the iconic robotic alien protector of Klaatu – one of the single-most recognizable figures from the original film; however, we were later told the figure in the concept panels was not the final look of Gort--which was a relief, as it didn't look too hot.
One wall of the room featured a pencil-sketched storyboard sequence detailing how Klaatu escapes the military hospital’s cell in which he has been confined. Beginning with a close up on his eye, the camera travels through his eye (almost like entering the STARGATE), and out through the eye of a surveillance camera monitoring the cell’s door from the outside. From the camera’s lens, Klaatu spies two guards standing watch. Pretty cool little sequence--I’m guessing this is how Klaatu knows how many troopers he has to f*ck up to escape.
After given time to peruse the concept art and storyboards (all of which were impressive), production designer David Brisbin, special effects team Jeff Okun and Tom Boland, and practical effects maestro Todd Masters (of MastersFX) came in and chatted with us about the visual look, feel, and effects of the film. Without boring you too much (those FX guys can talk!), here are the highlights of what they had to say:
- The space ship is an Orb--and there are multiple Orbs that land in different locations all around the globe, including the desert, the ocean, the swamp, and the forest--each Orb has a different purpose.
- The Orbs change color, based on Klaatu’s mood--when angry, the Orb is red, when calm, the Orb is blue.
- The Orbs arrive throughout different times in history--we are shown the arrivals of the Orbs throughout time before the arrival in Central Park.
- Helen (Jennifer Connolly) is an Ethnobiologist (and not a lonely housewife) in this version.
- The film is environmentally conscience--Klaatu comes to Earth to warn us to stop polluting and take better care of our planet (instead of warning us to stop using Atomic Weapons).
- The color palette director Derrickson wanted to use for the film’s overall pallet featured lots of blues and greens--similar to the colors of the original's theatrical poster (below).
- WETA is doing most of the post-production special effects.
- There are HUNDREDS of special effects shots.
- Derrickson believes that when it comes to effects, if you can shoot it, you should.
- There are a few stages to Klaatu’s organic space suite: the first stage, the suite is translucent; the second stage, the suite is solid; the third stage, you can see the inner being inside the suite; the fourth stage is the dissection of the suite; the final stage is the transition stage, when Klaatu (looking like Keanu) emerges.
- The transformation scene when Klaatu turns into a human--is shot in a similar manner as the werewolf transformation in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON.
- Gort is somewhere between 25 and 35 feet tall.
Masters was also cool enough to bring in some prosthetic limbs of Klaatu’s space used during the film’s “dissection” scene. Apparently MastersFX specializes in creating dead bodies that look real--case in point, the alien parts he brought in looked real! Made from the same plastic used in sex toys, the skin of the forearm/hand/fingers of the organic space suite split open down the forearm (for the dissection) where you could check out the bone underneath, covered in bloody veins and sticky alien goop. Very cool – so cool, in fact, that I had to wash the goop from my hands afterwards.
The downside to the presentation? Masters told us the dissection scene is the only FX scene that will use practical effects--and even that will be overworked and blended with CG in the final cut. Bummer--hopefully we won’t be able to tell the difference.
At the end of the effects presentation, we were presented with a ‘Pre-Vis’ of the arrival scene. A Pre-Vis (or Pre-Visualization) is a rough animated squence put together to get an idea of how a scene will look once it’s shot and edited together, mostly done with sequences featuring lots of action and/or special effects. The scene was of Klaatu’s arrival to Earth, and it went a bit like this:
The Orb approaches through space (like the landing of PREDATOR), and slowly floats down in the middle of New York City’s Central Park. Shortly after ‘landing’ (it’s floating a few feet off the ground, as it’s a giant ball of light and energy), the Orb is surrounded by police and military units--all approaching with guns drawn, taking aim and ready to fire. Snipers arrive on the rooftops of the buildings surrounding Central Park, taking aim and putting the Orb in their crosshairs. The light of the Orb narrows and focuses at the base, where a humanoid figure of light emerges, walking towards the surrounding barricade. This is Klaatu, in his translucent space suite. Helen (the Ethnobiologist, rocking a full body de-tox suite) is the first one to greet Klaatu as he emerges. A second later, a random shot by a trigger happy gunman is heard, and Klaatu is hit in the chest – blood splatters all over the front of Helen’s suite and across her face shield. Helen stands there in shock for a second, then the stomping sound of screeching metal and robotic footsteps comes from within the Orb and a shadow emerges…
And the Pre-Vis ends there. No Gort for us to see in action, but we all knew that the sounds we were hearing was Gort emerging from the Orb, ready to protect Klaatu from the a-holes who just shot him. The scene was more action-packed and dramatic than the original’s arrival in Washington D.C., but equally as effective. If the final product ends up looking like this, we’ll be in for an entertaining ride.
From the production offices, we were shuttled off again, this time to a gated studio lot a half a city away--and onto the set of DTESS. Normally, walking onto set is a blinding experience--as you go from the brightness outside, to the darkness inside--while trying to navigate around power cords, props, and other on-set equipment. This time was no exception. We walked onto set single-file (past the set of a hospital operating room) to the Video Village where we would later sit to watch the scene being filmed.
My Run-In with Keanu - Part I
As I walked toward the Video Village, my eyes adjusting to the light difference, I began to see a pasty-white dude in a green hospital gown, walking onto the set from the opposite direction. As I got closer, my eyes now fully adjusted, I’m like "Whoa, that’s f*cking Keanu Reeves!” I realize this just as I’m about to walk right into the guy--lucky for me, I steer my course a little to the right and our collision was closely averted. That’s right--I almost crashed into Keanu Reeves!
I make it to the Video Village, and recoup from the almost-collision. I don’t normally get star-struck, but we’re talking Ted Logan! Johnny Utah! Neo! Constantine! Whew--I really needed to sit down.
A few mintues later, the filming of scene 44A began and my attention was drawn to the monitors in front of me, displaying what was being filmed just 20 feet away. The scene featured the oh-so-lovely Jennifer Connelly, and as they filmed the same scene a total of seven times, I came away with a crystal clear picture of how it all went down. Close your eyes and picture this:
Helen (Connolly), rocking a pony tail and in civilian clothing, enters the observatory room – then through the airlocked doors and into the operating room, where a fogged over chamber (like a coffin) is being monitored by a dude in a lab coat. Walking carefully to the chamber, Helen looks down with incredibly caring eyes and asks the dude in the lab coat a question.
Helen: How is its neuroactivity?
Lab Coat: His MPRI is lit up like Times Sqaure.
Helen: It’s dreaming...
After a silent pause, Klaatu begins FLAILING in the chamber. Helen screams for help, dude in coat goes to some other monitoring devices. A guy in a suite (Jon Hamm) rushes in through the same doors as Helen did, and looks down at the flailing Klaatu in the chamber. He looks down at Klaatu, then up at Helen – and realization kicks in.
Suite Guy: It’s looking at you. Speak to it.
Reluctantly, Helen stares at Klaatu as he calms down.
Helen: My name is Dr. Helen Benson. We are here to help you. You have nothing to fear.
As Klaatu finally calms down inside the chamber, his tired voice comes up from within.
Klaatu: ..help you… nothing to fear…
Helen stares down in disbelief, then back up in the guy in the suite. They stare at each other, digesting what just happened.
Why seven times? Besides the slight change in dialog here and there, every scene was delivered exactly the same. Solid work by all (though Hamm was the weakest link), the scene worked for me. So much so, that everytime Klaatu started flailing and freaking out in his chamber--I jumped! Every f*cking time, I jumped. It’s a total ‘Boo!’ scare, and yet it was effective enough to have me jump like a twelve year old girl. Considering there was no music, nor context to the scene, that’s saying a lot (either the scene was well done and scary, or I’m just a f*cking pussy).
After that it was time for lunch (hmmmm…. Kraft Food Services….) then off to the press conference interviews with Reeves, Connelly, Hamm, Derrickson, and producer Erwing Stoff. You’ll have to wait til’ a little later this week to check those out (it’ll be worth it – I promise).
My Run-In with Keanu - Part II
After the interviews it was time to head back to our everyday lives and leave the set of DTESS. As the group was leaving, I ducked out to see a man about a horse, and became separated from the group as I emerged from the restroom. Using my best navigational abilities, I attempted to make my way through the sea of trailers to connect back up with the rest of the group. During this journey, I happened to by pass Keanu Reeves (again!), having a smoke break just outside his trailer’s door. Did I say “Hey Keanu, when’s BILL & TED 3 coming out?” or “Dude, POINT BREAK is the shit!” or even “Can I have an autograph?”--no, no I didn’t. Actually, I didn’t say shit--I simply smiled politely and kept on my quest. In return, he gave me a grimmaced look and inhaled, much like Constantine would. You may be saying to yourself “Dude, you’re a f*cking wus,” and you’d be right. But before I blurted out my fanboy remark, I reminded myself that saying any of those things wasn’t professional--and as much as I'd hate to admit, I'm a f*cking professional! At least, that’s what I like to tell myself...
I’d like to thank Melinda Wood for setting up the set visit, as well as the whole cast and crew of DTESS who were cool enough to let us interupt their daily routine to ask a bunch of questions--not to mention flipping the bill. Much appreciated, and yes--I must say I had a pretty damn good time.
At the end of the day, I walked away with an overall positive feeling about the DTESS remake. Lots of special effects, and a dedicated cast and crew who could pull it all together. Of course, a lot can happen to the final product between half way through production and opening day, but if it stays on course and meets expectations of all involved, it should be a worth the ten bucks for a trip to the theater.
Are you dying to know what happened during the interview with the Keanu, Jennifer, and the director? Of course you are--stick around for those interviews in just a few days.
Watch for THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL in theaters everywhere December 12th, 2008!