>To celebrate or mourn the release on December 12th of The Day the Earth Stood Still , a remake of the classic 1951 sci-fi film starring Keanu Reeves I have compiled a list of some of the most significant re-threads of key science-fiction films from the 1950’s.
The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)and (2008)
In the 2008 reboot, Reeves is perfectly cast as a dead eyed, monotone voiced alien messenger named Klaatu who visits earth to warn mankind of the potential destruction of the human race due to global warming. The original film, directed by Robert Wise and made during the early years of the Cold War and the invention of the atom bomb, was a pacifist fable with Klaatu urging the human race to turn away from warfare and violence in order to prevent the eventual destruction of the Earth.
The remake, directed by Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) has a much larger budget and the special effects do indeed look impressive with Gort, Klaatu’s robot enforcer now seemingly the size of a skyscraper as opposed to his comparatively modest dimensions in the original. Whether the modern version will have as lasting an impact as it’s predecessor remains to be seen with the preview indicating that Derrickson has favoured lavish Independence Day style spectacle over subtle drama.
Invasion of The Body Snatchers (1956) and (1978)
Body Snatchers (1993)
The Invasion (2007)
To date, there have been no less than four screen adaptations of Jack Finney’s 1955 novel The Body Snatchers in which a small American town is invaded by pod people from outer space. The most celebrated versions to date are Don Siegels‘ 1956 version, rife with 50’s paranoia and viewed as an allegory for McCarthyism and the anti-communist agenda of it’s acolytes and Philip Kaufman’s 1978 chilling post-Watergate vision of a mistrustful, self-absorbed and confused society in which the the replacement of your loved ones by emotionally detached beings from another planet is barely noticed.
Maverick director Abel Ferrara’s unjustly maligned early 90’s interpretation relocates the story’s premise to a military base and centres around a young family who have just moved into the area and offers a more psychological approach as a rebellious teenage daughter begins to feel ‘alienated’ by her conformist surroundings and the breakdown of her relationship with her father and stepmother.
Finally, 2007’s much troubled ‘The Invasion’ for the most part directed by Oliver Hirschbigel who was then replaced by James Mc Teigue (V for Vendetta)for extensive re-shoots is unsurprisingly the least effective of the bunch. Loosely adapting the source material with no pod people in sight just a disease spread from person to person much like the ‘rage’ virus in 28 Days Later. It begins in a relatively creepy and subtle fashion but then abruptly morphs into a mediocre action chase film. The miscasting of the eternally breathless Nicole Kidman in the central role of a plucky psychiatrist fighting to protect her son from being infected by the alien virus certainly doesn’t help either.
The Thing From Another World (1951) and The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter has often acknowledged the influence of Howard Hawks on his work so it’s only fitting that he would get a chance to remake Hawk’s The Thing from Another World, a favourite during Carpenter’s formative childhood. While the film’s director is often credited as Christian Nyby, it has been acknowledged that Hawks served as an uncredited director and writer on the picture.
Adapted by Charles Lederer and Hawks from John W Campbell’s Jr’s novella ‘Who Goes There?, The Thing from Another World pits a team of scientists and Airforce crew stationed in the Arctic against a malevolent plant-like alien life-form. The creature in this version is a humanoid creature referred to as an ‘intellectual carrot’ who needs blood to survive. Hawk’s film relies more on suspense, snappy dialogue and solid characterisation than spectacular monster effects or gore, mainly due to a low budget and the restrictions imposed by the Hays Code at the time in relation to depictions of on-screen violence.
Which cannot be said of the re-make. The Thing adheres to the original Campbell story in that the creature is now a shape-shifting alien who crash lands on Earth and has the ability to absorb the personalities and physical characteristics of any life form it encounters. With the largest budget of his career and free from the the film-making restrictions in which Hawks and his production team had to operate within, Carpenter with the help of young make-up effects artist Rob Bottin ran wild and produced one of the most bizarre, disgusting and terrifying movie monsters ever to slither across the big screen.
The special make-up effects were a combination of hand-made and mechanical craftsmanship and the creature effects for the most part still look impressive 26 years on as they have a vibrant, organic quality to them. Carpenter doesn’t stint on the gore and strange, repulsive imagery but without the solid script by Bill Lancaster and sterling performances from his all-male cast lead by Carpenter regular Kurt Russell, The Thing would just be another freak show. There is a sustained air of paranoid tension and menace throughout the film from the first notes of Ennio Morricone’s minimalist score through to the apocalyptic finale which and the director orchestrates the bleak scenario for maximum effect with the sure hand of a master craftsman.
The Fly (1958) and (1986)
One of David Cronenberg’s finest works, his 1986 remake of the sci-fi/horror B movie The Fly to transcend it’s genre whilst delivering the goods in terms of gore and horror, specifically Body Horror. It is regarded as a vast improvement on the original low budget shocker directed by Kurt Neumaann about a scientist who is transformed into a half-human/half fly abomination.
Cronenberg and screenwriter Charles Pogue approach their version as an intimate chamber piece as a tragic love story develops between a quirky scientific genius and journalist (played by then real-life couple Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis) Goldblum’s character Seth Brundle, accidentally merges with a household fly whilst experimenting with his telepod,a teleportation device of his own creation.
In the initial stages, Brundle experiences a physical rejuvenation, becoming stronger and more agile. Then, slowly his body begins to disintegrate as it begins it’s slow mutation into that of half man and half-fly. As his body begins to degenerate, Brundle becomes more fearful, paranoid and more dangerous driving away Veronica and isolating himself in his apartment and becoming jealous of Veronica’s relationship with Stathis (John Getz)her former lover.
His journey from optimistic hubris to dispassionate despair as he becomes an ‘insect who dreamed he was a man and loved it…’ is unexpectedly heart-breaking and horrifying thanks in no small part to both Goldblum’s intelligent portrayal and Chris Walas’s spectacularly gruesome Oscar-winning make-up effects.
The Blob (1958) and (1988)
The original Blob movie is most famous for launching Steve Mc Queen on the road to stardom and providing a catchy novelty hit entitled ‘Beware of the Blob’ written by then workaday songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David. As as it’s place in the science fiction/horror film pantheon goes, it’s influence is fairly negligible.
A meteor containing an amorphous alien substance crash lands near a small town and proceeds to devour and terrorize the local community with only two plucky, resourceful teenagers to save the day. And that’s pretty much it, no sociological or political subtext. Just a fun, woodenly acted cheesy drive-in movie.
So, why remake it as director Chuck Russell proceeded to do in 1988? Well I guess for the sheer fun of it as the remake is basically just a more expensive, souped up version of the original complete with swearing,cutting edge visual effects and explicit violence designed to appeal to young delinquents of the 80’s raised on blood-spattered franchises featuring Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger.
The film was a flop at the time but I vaguely remember it being an enjoyable fright fest with a kick ass heroine, a horrific mullet sported by Kevin Dillon as the town rebel and the best ‘guy getting sucked down a sinkhole’ scene I’ve ever seen.
One of the screenwriters on The Blob was none other than Frank Darabont who had previously scripted 1987’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and who would go onto direct more respectable prestige fare such as ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ although he recently returned to his first love with a terrific adaptation of Stephen King’s novella The Mist in 2007.