'Earth' director has new view of Klaatu
by Tom Baker
"We are stunningly committed to the destruction of others and the destruction of ourselves," Scott Derrickson says of human nature. "And yet...[when] we approach true disaster, we recognize it and then have a stunning resiliency and a stunning ability to transform."
Derrickson is the director of The Day the Earth Stood Still, a movie in which a space alien named Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) coolly reveals that humanity is due to be exterminated for the greater good of the galaxy. It is a remake of a 1951 movie of the same title.
The original film's Klaatu (Michael Rennie) has often been described as a kindly Christ figure who came to Earth to save humanity by urging people to live in peace, only to see them react violently.
Speaking with The Daily Yomiuri on a visit to Tokyo last week, Derrickson acknowledged the Christ parallels but put more emphasis on differences. He paraphrased the 1951 Klaatu's farewell speech in the movie's last scene as: "We've seen you fight your wars...but now you've got nuclear weapons. Now you're a threat to us...So either change and mend your ways, or my giant robot here is going to blast you all into extinction. Bye!"
"I don't think that's him coming to help us," Derrickson says. Rather, the old Klaatu represents "a form of oppressive fascism."
In Derrickson's new version of the sci-fi classic, the nuclear threat is still real but is no longer the front-burner issue.
"We came so close to nuclear war, especially in the Cuban missile crisis. I mean, we were inches from global catastrophe...I think the fact that we averted global annihilation is proof of what I'm saying [about humanity's ability to change]," Derrickson says.
In the new film, Klaatu is mainly concerned with humanity's negative effect on the ecology of one of the few planets that can support complex life.
The 1951 Klaatu was "kind" and "congenial," but "I liked the idea of Klaatu being more of a symbol of this time. He is more ominous, he is more threatening, he is more menacing, he is morally complicated, and I would even say morally confused at some points--he's perplexed by what he's grappling with," Derrickson says.
What he's grappling with is the very fate of humanity.
"I didn't think of this deliberately, but I think that it's a fair interpretation that he starts off like the Old Testament God," the director says. "He's come to assess and judge and ultimately to exterminate, but in his Christ-myth-story incarnation, recognizes the power of love."
Derrickson kept the Biblical motifs that can be perceived in the older film, and added a few more, such as having Klaatu walk on water. And U.S. Defense Secretary Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates) likens Klaatu's probable intentions to Noah's flood.
The new film's closing credits acknowledge the cooperation of the real-life Department of Defense, in a marked contrast to the U.S. military's refusal to get involved in the production of 1951 film.
Derrickson says that when the script was sent to the military in the hope of gaining their cooperation, "I didn't expect to get it...because it's pretty obvious that the movie is an admission...that there's something wrong with our military machine and our military mindset. And [yet] they were thrilled to be a part of it. And so when I met with them, I asked them why.
"And they said, 'Because we love Regina's character; we love how you've presented the secretary of defense.' And I said, 'How so?' and they just said, 'She's open-minded, she's strong, she recognizes a very real threat when no one else does'--which I do think is interesting. Everyone else wants to be nice to the alien, and she's afraid of it; she thinks it's out to destroy us. She does turn out to be right; you've got to give her some credit there," Derrickson says.
"But then she realizes that continuing to attack it is a mistake, and that's not how this particular problem is going to get solved, and lobbing bombs at the problem is only going to make it worse. And she undergoes a thoughtful transition and recognizes...[that] letting this other person, the Jennifer Connelly character [scientist-cum-diplomat Helen Benson], do her thing, is the wiser route."
He continues: "They just liked that presentation of the main character representing the military altering her perspective, growing in her perspective. I mean, if that doesn't say something about America itself, that the Department of Defense wanted that portrayal of themselves out there in the world. And that makes me proud of my country.
"And that's the way the vast majority of Americans feel, which is, 'Yeah, we kind of made a mess of some things...We're a big hammer; we've got to stop treating every problem like a nail.'"
Derrickson ends the interview by calling an attack on Klaatu's cloudlike ship "visual symbolism for the fighting of terrorism. You know, that you get this small band of danger, and if you start lobbing bombs at it, it's just going to get bigger."
"The Day the Earth Stood Still" is currently playing.