It’s no surprise that when Hollywood decided to remake the 1951 sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still for modern audiences, the theme would change from nuclear war to the now much more popular fear of environmental collapse. There is a long tradition of movies with political messages.
But the strikingly different approach of each film speaks volumes about a shift in green philosophy of the last few years. It is apparently now unremarkable to believe that humanity should be sacrificed at the altar of Gaia.
The plot of both The Day the Earth Stood Still films is very simple - an alien named “Klaatu” visits Earth to teach humanity a lesson about its bad ways.
In the 1951 film, Klaatu is a sort of Christ-like figure, whose extraterrestrial intervention into human affairs brings about an age of peace. This original Klaatu is a charming alien who firmly but gently convinces mankind to abandon politics and warfare. Humanity obediently pulls back from the nuclear precipice. Peace and good times are then had by all.
In 2009, the filmmakers have changed Klaatu into a dictatorial environmentalist with a penchant for genocide. Keanu Reeves plays a Klaatu who fairly quickly decides that all humans need to be immediately eliminated for the sake of the earth. The new film is sort of like an episode of Doctor Who where the Daleks are the good guys.
Indeed, the alien civilisations of 2009 appear to be everything that the alien civilisations of 1951 were trying to stop. When the 1951 Klaatu steps out of his space ship, he immediately states that he has come to visit the earth “in peace and with good will”. By contrast, it seems that Keanu Reeves steps out of his space ship only to briefly survey the species he plans to destroy. This film has to be one of the most deeply anti-human movies in a long time.
So what does it say about our collective mental health that, when we try to imagine a “good” race of aliens, we also imagine that they would want to systematically slaughter us? If we’re lucky, the next bunch of extraterrestrial visitors will bring us the anti-depressants we so obviously need.
The extraordinary ideological change between the original The Day the Earth Stood Still and its remake shows how mainstream apocalyptic environmentalism has become. Obviously, the vast majority of those who care for the environment also think that the human race is probably worth keeping alive. But what was, just a few years ago, the harmless spluttering of Malthusian academics certain that the Earth needs to halve its population, is now being repackaged approvingly as infotainment.
Movies have always both reflected and distorted our cultural obsessions. Filmmakers aren’t stupid - they want movies to sell to as wide an audience as possible, so they try to mimic as best they can the attitudes and interests of the population at large.
But at the same time, the political views of most filmmakers hardly reflect the political views of that audience. You could shove the number of conservatives and libertarians in Hollywood into a small Prius, and still have enough room for their pets, or their guns - or whatever profit-loving, environment-hating, worker-oppressing things they like to carry around with them.
So every year, Hollywood produces a couple of films that are little more than vehicles for Tinseltown’s latest trendy ideology. Last year’s otherwise charming Wall-E depicted humanity as not just destructive, but also morbidly obese morons encased in hover-chairs. And the global warming disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow implied that the world was just one bonfire away from a climate implosion.
Presumably the next iteration of Godzilla will be born because of an aggregate global temperate change of 3 degrees spread over a century.
Of course, if you’re too quick to jump at the latest popular cause, it’s easy to make mistakes. Hollywood can get it spectacularly wrong. Remember the overpopulation crisis of the 1970s? A steady stream of films like Logan’s Run, Soylent Green, The Last Child, and Z.P.G. (which stood for the environmental movement’s aim of “zero population growth”) tried to popularise the bizarre idea that the amount of people the world had in 1978 was exactly the maximum population the world could hold.
But despite Hollywood’s best efforts at convincing us not to, we kept on breeding. At the time of writing, we have not yet had to resort to turning our dead into basic foodstuffs.
For decades, the film industry churned out films about the need for love, peace and just generally getting along. What made them stop? Bring back the original, kindly Klaatu, who wants to help humanity, not destroy it.