Day's Reeves Pushed Real Science
by Mike Szymanski
The Day the Earth Stood Still director Scott Derrickson told an audience at Pasadena's California Institute of Technology last week that star Keanu Reeves was instrumental in keeping the film's science as real as possible.
"It was Keanu who insisted that the character that Klaatu is taken to have a Nobel Prize that he won for something that might be relevant and important to the story," Derrickson said in a panel that included professors and Reeves. "So we all did some research and picked that the scientist that Klaatu meets won for biological altruism. It's a phrase that most people would gloss over, but it means a lot to the people who would understand it."
Reeves added: "It's important that we respect the science as much as possible."
Reeves and Derrickson were on hand to unspool about a half-hour of footage from the upcoming movie, a remake of Robert Wise's 1951 SF classic. "We hired a real astrobiologist [to] help us with some of the dialogue in the script," Derrickson said. "He did that equation that is on the board [in the film]. ... Advanced science is sexy, especially when it looks like Jennifer Connelly."
The audience appreciated that, unlike the 1951 version, the update has smart scientists who are women and updates the creaky dialogue.
"I love science fiction," Derrickson said. "There is a lot happening in science fiction literature, and cinema is running far behind. There is a lack of respect for science specificity in the movies, but Keanu made a big deal about it. At first I didn't get it, but then I understood. All the scientific equations are correct. A lot of the dialogue was changed from the original script."
For example, when something is falling from the sky, the character now says, "It's a gravitational free-fall trajectory." The script previously had a bit of nonsensical technobabble. It was a scientist who argued for the change, Derrickson said. He replied, "OK, help me write it the correct way, and don't sound so condescending."
Reeves said that the movie's environmental message is big and that his character, an alien who has come to Earth with a mission, is a bit more sinister.
"We explain things more than in the original movie," Derrickson said. "When Michael Rennie comes out of the spaceship that lands, he comes out as a human from an alien planet, and there's no explanation. We have an explanation for that and show that if we would visit another planet, we couldn't necessarily consume anything there because our biochemistry wouldn't work. We would have to adapt to that world, and we show how that happens."
Caltech astrophysicist Sean Carroll, who shared the dais with the actor and director, said, "Science fiction like this makes us ask questions about what we would do if we came face to face with another civilization and how we would handle it as scientists and as human beings. It's very healthy for us all."
The Day the Earth Stood Still opens nationwide on Dec. 12.