Q&A: More Earth Spoilers
SCI FI Wire took part in a special news conference with the cast and creators of The Day the Earth Stood Still aimed at science fiction and tech Web sites in Beverly Hills, Calif., over the weekend. The questions were a bit more focused on the SF elements of the movie, unlike a more general news conference (excerpted here) earlier the same day.
Director Scott Derrickson and stars Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly and Jon Hamm took part. Following is an edited version of the news conference. The movie opens Dec. 12. (There are spoilers ahead!)
The most famous phrase from the original 1951 movie is "Klaatu barada nikto." Is it in this version?
Derrickson: It is in the movie, yeah. And we're trying to figure out why anyone missed it. ... We went in there and tried to keep the volume up pretty loud on it. But it's when ... he stops Gort. It's in there pretty clear. It's a loud part of the movie, so I don't know if it's this theater, ... because I've heard that from someone else, too. But I also know a lot of people have heard it, so it's definitely there.
Is it electronically altered?
Derrickson: I mean, it's not just spoken. ... It's spoken from the alien, you know, that's not in human form at that point. So, yeah, it's ... an affected, you know, sound. We did pretty clearly [say] "Klaatu barada nikto." And it's Keanu. It's his voice.
Reeves: I mean, we did some crazy stuff with that line, didn't we? I mean, I said it backwards, I tried to say it forward, in different voices.
Derrickson: We recorded it like 20 different ways.
Reeves: Different ways. What did you pick?
Derrickson: ... I think that the main piece that we used was a combination of you saying it normally frontwards and then he memorized it backwards and then said it backwards, and then we played it forward, so it was a combination of those two things that's in there. ...
Reeves: ... We cared, so it's a drag that you didn't hear it.
Derrickson: Yeah, because we worked hard on that. ...
I'll have to see it again.
Derrickson: Yeah, you'll have to see it again, that's the idea [laughs].
But it was Keanu's idea to put the line in the movie? It wasn't in the remake's original script.
Derrickson: ... That's right. ... The first draft that we had of the script, it wasn't in there. Is that right?
Reeves: Yeah, it was just like, Where's the "barada nikto"?Right? Yeah, it's got to be there.
Was there a concern satisfying people who had seen the original film?
Derrickson: ... It was a big concern, and it's something that I spent a lot of time thinking about, you know, trying to figure out: Where do I strike the balance? Because it is a 57-year-old film with elements that are both iconic and that fans of the original expect and want to see, and, at the same time, modern audiences have their own expectations, and they're going to be the bulk of the people who go to see this. ...
I really tried to learn from what Philip Kaufman did with his  remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I went and looked at those two films again. And I had seen the Philip Kaufman film at the drive-in when I was a kid. Just scared the crap out of me and made a major impression on me. It was the first serious science fiction film I had seen. And I didn't see the [original 1956] Don Siegal version until, I think, I was in college. And when I went back and looked at both of those again, it just seemed like Philip Kaufman did a really great job of trying to take everything that he could from the original version that would update to a late-'70s audience. And he kept a lot of it. He kept the tone of paranoia. He kept the manner in which ... the people who had been taken over, the way that they sort of represented themselves, in a zombie kind of fashion. Then he brought everything about what was at that time modern filmmaking. Color photography and method acting. And that movie is a very balanced, I think, ... interplay between respect for the movie he was remaking and late-1970s cinema.
And so with this one, I tried to rewatch the original several times and really figure out, A, what are the things that just have to be there? ... Gort had to be there. It certainly had to be the basic storyline. ... Figuring out what those elements are and try to figure out everything I could bring from that original to a modern audience, and the things that wouldn't [work] I had to adjust ... so it would fulfill a modern audience's expectations. ... I watched a print of it the other day, and I think there is kind of an interesting retro feel in it, combined with current popcorn tent-pole moviemaking. It's interesting, and that was essentially the goal.
For Jennifer and Scott, can you talk about the updating of Jennifer's character?
Derrickson: ... You should give credit to David Scarpa and the script that he wrote, which was the one we started with, and it was something that was one of the selling points for me in wanting to do the movie. I really liked the idea of having a lead character who was a serious scientist. ... She wasn't an astrobiologist. I don't remember what she was. But I loved the idea that ... there are very serious scientists who do very serious work about plausible theories of alien life. And when I started reading about them and reading things that were written by them, it's really fascinating stuff. ...
Part of the updating of the movie in general was to represent this kind of complex, ... fragmented family and ... have this lead character be this progressive woman who has this intelligent, scientific profession that she's a leader in and good enough that she's chosen for this very elite team. ... I thought that would be a lead character that people these days would enjoy following through the movie.
The original film's theme deals with war and peace. This one is more about the environment. Why was that change made?
Derrickson: I certainly think that this movie still says a lot about war. So I think they're both in there. It ... doesn't say anything about nuclear war, and ... the original was very much about the Cold War and the fear of the bomb. But I do think that the film certainly comments a lot about American military policy and the war that we're in. That's in there. And just the human propensity to destroy each other.
I love Klaatu's line: He says, "You treat the world like you treat each other." That's one of my favorite lines that he has in the movie, because I feel like that kind of sums up the two issues that are there. But I think that the issue with the environment is that it's the growing ... problem, probably, of all of our problems that we're getting ourselves into. That is a true, impending threat to ... our long-term survival. And we can't ... destroy the thing that keeps us alive, this planet. So I like that ... updating ... the original to a new set of these social issues is part of what, I think, justifies doing a remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. ...
Keanu, about portraying an alien in a human body: A couple other actors have tried this, and it's a challenge to not be a caricature. Can you talk about balancing that?
Reeves: ... It's a challenge. ... The role [starts] more alien than human and kind of [goes] to more human than alien. So ... that seemed like fun to do. ... I was just trying to have this kind of separateness between his [consciousness]--something behind the eyes--[and his body]. Kind of having none of your traditional behavioral cues in the beginning. But not ... a neutral affect. Like, there's something involved there. I mean, in the beginning he's quite sinister. He has been shot. So, you know, I think that there's something behind those eyes that ... it's not an empty kind of thing or neutral. ... I was just trying, I guess, to have both, you know: kind of have a real character there. Have something existing there. ...
A big key difference that I see between the first version of the movie and this one is that in the end of the first one, Klaatu actually stands in front of the ship and says it's up to you. In this one, the only people who know that are the scientists and the child, and it's a private message. Why the change?
Reeves: Right. It's up to you, but also I've got a big stick. ...
Derrickson: ... This is something that was definitely talked about. First of all, the movie's not clear about how long this power is going to be shut off. ... That's one of the things that I like that's open-ended about it. I definitely think that the original ending, I've never been able personally to unpack the end message that he even gives, just because of what Keanu just said. It is a very "give peace a chance" thing, "It's up to you." And then at the end, "If you don't, we will kill you." ...
Reeves: Still Old Testament. Back to the Old Testament.
Derrickson: And some people have accused the original of being a fascist film, because of that thing, or a very "peace through strength" message. ...
I do think that the didactic nature of the ending, you know, of just the directness of "Here's the message, here's the message" to the audience. Modern audiences won't stand for that. ...
I like very much the idea of being able to put forth images and put forth ideas and let the audience go away and make of it what they will. And the attempt in this movie was not to deliver a message. It was to deliver a picture of where we are. And what I love about the ending is that Klaatu does make this big sacrifice. He does say to them, "It's going to come at a price to you and your way of life." And that the issues that the movie is talking about, you know, all the crises that we're in--the military crisis, the financial crisis, the environmental crisis-- ... solving those problems will come at a price. They will demand sacrifice. And this, I think, [is] the more interesting 21st-century way to present those ideas: ... to do it visually and to do it not too directly and to put it out there in a way that lets people talk about it at the end.