Sunday, March 8, 2009

So Why The Day the Earth Stood Still?

It's a great film, by a great, and hugely eclectic director, Robert Wise (who made one other of my favorite films, The Haunting). Considered one of the three classic Sci Fi films from the 50s (the two others being, The War of the Worlds and Forbidden Planet), which by a remarkable coincidence happened to be the decade of my birth, I grew up watching this film, over and over again, whenever it came on TV. I thought Gort was so cool, so enigmatic, so powerful, so... precise. I thought the spaceship was so cool, so enigmatic, so powerful and precise. The way it opened up, and closed. No seams to be found, nothing to cut into. Gort, so unconcerned about what the mere humans were doing all around him, so stoic, yet fatefully aware. Klaatu and his mission to bring an everlasting peace to our world, despite ourselves. So cool that a film with this vision having been made a few years before I was even born. A true achievement.
Yet as I grew older and continued to review the film often, I noticed certain easily rectifiable problems that began to annoy me more every time I thought about them.
The science in the film being the main bug up my behind. The first occupation I ever thought about getting into was that of astronomer, so I studied up on the subject, and continue to do so to this day. I soon learned however that math was required, so I had to move on to other fields, but the little I did know of the subject allowed me to identify certain anachronisms within the movie that just screamed at me every time I watched it, and which should have been readily apparent to the film makers at the time of production. I couldn't understand how Wise could have allowed the film to be so inaccurate in such simple, but blazingly obvious errors. Such as:
Klaatu states he has traveled several months, over 250,000,000 miles to get to Earth. Well that's all well and good. That's about the same amount of speed our own spacecraft currently travel about the solar system at. However, 250,000,000 miles? There's nothing out there! 250,000,000 outward from the Earth would be somewhere in our asteroid belt (conversely, 250,000,000 sunward from the Earth would go straight through the sun, out the far side, and wind up about 33,000,000 miles beyond the orbit of Mars), where there is nothing, as far as we can currently tell, that would be able to support a civilization capable of building the spaceship and Gort. Nothing.
There were other things that bothered me as well that might not have been obvious, or available to the filmmakers at the time of production. Such as:
Klaatu is human. The movie portrays Klaatu as being of extraterrestrial origen, and being human, without explanation. Now every school child knows (those that haven't had Intelligent Design crammed down their poor little school children throats) that the odds of every particular accident, twist and turn of our evolutionary history being duplicated on any other planet in this galaxy, perhaps the entire universe, are exceptionally small. Itsy bitsy small. Astronomical, if you will. It just wouldn't happen, despite Star Trek.
It had to be explained.
As well as other little items, like how could our pathetic little atomic arsenal be a real threat to other planets without a viable delivery system; how Klaatu escaped so easily from the military, why there was no attempt to shoot down the spaceship even as it approached our nation's capital, etc.
So that is why I endeavored to write a remake of Robert Wise's masterwork, The Day the Earth Stood Still. My long time love and respect for the original, and my desire to, not make it better, but to update it in the attempt to make it a bit more palatable and relevant for our modern, Attention Deficit Disorder audience's.
I will not at this time make any reference or criticism of the latest remake of TDTESS, staring Keanu Reeves, and my favorite contemporary actress, Jennifer Connelly. My screenplay (my first) was written at least a year and a half before I ever heard the remake was being contemplated (Why didn't I submit my screenplay after it was finished? I had, and still do not have any idea of how to submit a screenplay. I'm just a guy who lives in a box... with low self esteem) I leave it up to you, dear reader, to decide your own preference.
So here it is then, my version of The Day the Earth the Stood Still at:


  1. NO COMMENTS!?? Mr. Joyce, rest assured you are not alone in both your opinions and your tastes. Right here on my desktop I just happen to have the three classics you mentioned, and I was born the year one of them was made, and they were given to me by an astronomer eight years my senior. Just thought I'd mention the coincidences/similarities.

    Bad science is what drew me to this site. 250G miles? That wouldn't even get you to the Oort Cloud! To say any more about that would be like beating a dead horse; it's not going to get up and go away at a brisk trot anytime soon.

    I thought I'd mention Bad Psychology, too. When Klaatu exits his ship and walks forward to withdraw his scanner, intended as a gift to the president, some IDIOT shoots him. Really. What kind of threat would a guy with a handgun pose to a massed army complete with heavy artillery and armored cavalry—and what about fire discipline? (I'm also a veteran as well as a writer) That's not realistic. The conditions under which firearms (and other weapons) may be deployed are VERY clearly delineated; such an action is a courts-martial offense under the UCMJ, and after the offendor paid the military piper, he'd have to stand trial in a CIVILIAN court.

    Bad Psych element #2: Klaatu expected to be able to call a worldwide summit to address the leaders of all the nations. The politico told him, "I've been dealing with Earth politics a lot longer than you," (paraphrased quote) but that's not the problem. If Klaatu and his people had been studying Earth and its peoples as long as he said he/they was/were, then he would NOT have made such a naïve assumption.

    But I love the film anyway. Suspended disbelief is necessary to enjoy much sci-fi. (The film's producers never claimed that the feature was scientifically accurate; you were expected to pay your 25¢, buy a tub of [real buttered] popcorn, a box of Ju-Ju Beans, and a huge soda, and that's it.)

    I would REALLY like to see TDTESS remade in the twenty-first century (people born in this century don't understand old codgers like us).

    I liked your comment about Star Trek. The number of humanoid races in the Federation and other alliances and civilizations is not realistic, highly improbable. I'd be more likely to win the lottery twenty-three times in a row with the same numbers.


  2. Just remember that the milky way was considered the entire universe when this film was made.

  3. Oh please! Did you base the 250M miles on a linear path? Have you forgotten how our satellites and probes travel to the other planets in our Solar System? And what's this about the psychological aspect? Do you watch the news channels at all and see how we interact with each other with our simple mechanical weapons? I better stop now, Klaatu may be watching and reading this.

  4. It is fully reasonable that Klaatu's home planet was Mars and his human biochemisty was due to Mars being the origin planet for humans in the ancient some ancient astronaut theorists suggest. It would seem logiical that Klaatu would have traveled from his planet
    when it was closest to Earth however it may have been prudent as a matter of urgency to come even so when furthest away...i.e. Earth is the third planet from the sun and Mars is the fourth. Each planet orbits the sun at differing speeds. Earth has an inside track, so it moves around the sun more quickly. Both planets also have elliptical orbits, so the distance between Earth and Mars constantly varies.

    Theoretically, the closest that both planets could come together is when Mars is at its nearest point to the sun and Earth is at its farthest. When that happens, the planets would be 33,900,000 miles, or 54,600,000 kilometers, away from each other. However, when both planets are at their farthest from the sun, they can be 250,000,000 miles, or 401,000,000 kilometers, away from each other. I would suggest that Harry Bates actually did his homework and was accurate in his suggestions as to the distance from Klaatu's planet.