Monday, November 17, 2008
Page vs. film- THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL
In advance of the coming remake film (and because its been on my bookshelf for years) I have finally read the short story that was the basis of the 1951 film THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. I suspect that the new film due out in December will either harken back to the printed tale for inspiration or go completely insane with modern CGI crap. I, of course, hope for a stab at fidelity to the story but…..
The story, published in 1930 as ‘Farewell to the Master’ by Harry Bates, is a darned good science fiction tale and I was pretty surprised by the changes made in the first filmed version. The story takes place in an unspecified future not too different from the 20th century. The main character is a photojournalist named Chris Sutherland who relates how four months previous an object appeared in Washington, DC and from its interior came two beings. One was an eight foot tall metal robot and the other a man named Klaatu. This is where the film departs from the tale for the first time in several ways. First- the name of the robot is Gnut in the story but Gort in the film. I guess having someone say something that would have to be pronounced ending in NUT was deemed silly and I’d have to agree. Also, the robot is made of a greenish metal (as is the ship/object) and looks like a large man- not the featureless automaton of the movie.
Minutes after coming out and speaking to the gathered crowd Klaatu is shot down as in the film but here it isn’t a trigger happy soldier but a raving religious fanatic babbling about the visitors being sent by Satan. You just know that wasn’t going to make it past the Hayes Code in 1951! And to even further bend the brain of anyone who has seen the film Klaatu dies! Actually dies and is buried by the horrified people of Earth who fear possible retribution from either Gnut or wherever the aliens come from.
Gnut remains motionless and silent after Klaatu’s death and in the intervening time laboratories and a museum are built around the metal creature and the ship. Both objects prove impervious to the investigations of frustrated human scientists. But on a visit to the museum Sutherland notices that Gnut’s foot has moved from where it was just days earlier and makes plans to watch the robot that night after everyone is gone.
The story continues on from there in a very satisfactory and even touching way and could actually provide some of the explosions and action you expect from a 21st century sci-fi film. It doesn’t provide a sappy love story but I’m sure Hollywood will shoehorn one into the new film anyway seeing as the 1951 film did as well.
I’ll be curious to see the new movie but I suspect I’m going to feel it is a pale, obvious thing next to the original short story and film.