Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Klaatu or the hopeful fable

by Martín Bonfil Olivera

Published on Milenio Diario, December 17, 2008

Science fiction, besides being a form of entertainment, usually communicates certain kinds of messages about science, technology and their effect in human society.

That's what the movie The day the earth stood still, a 1951 classic directed by Robert Wise and based on a Harry Bates, did. The story —an extraterrestrial being, together with a super-powerful robot, come to warn humankind of what can happen if they don't choose peace over war — was a typical cold war-era message .

The movie did not end the cold war, but left a mark on the people who watched it.

The new version that is currently being shown in theatres, starring Keanu Reeves (for once, his stiff acting suits the role) as Klaatu the extraterrestrial being, keeps, an updates, the earth-salvation moral of the story. And, apart from the weak ending —I understand that Klaatu's speech at the end of the movie could not be kept, but something should've been done to substitute it —, is a good (not great), exciting and interesting action movie.

Is it worth it to continue making science fiction movie fables? I don’t know, but they don't hurt either. The impact of movies as means to modify attitudes is well portrayed by movies like Philadelphia or An inconvenient truth, films that, using fiction or documentary, sparked a change in the public opinion about such important issues as AIDS-related discrimination or global warming. The day the earth stood still will not be that influential, surely, but at least it helps people who watch it, to remember that we have a pending issue: to stop hurting our planet.

Although it lacks strict science fiction —it's more a fantasy movie —, the 2008 version includes very welcomed updates to the original version's naïveté: the complex sphere instead of the flying saucer; the destructive nanomachines, the biotechnological placenta-space suit from which Klaatu is "born" in its human form… and it keeps the character of the sensible scientist that chats with the extraterrestrial and starts to convince him that humankind still has a salvation.

In summary, an enjoyable movie, that transmits a very valuable message and gives a positive image about science. Something to be thankful for.

(translated by Adrián Robles Benavides)

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