Science fiction author Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics are a trimmed down version of The Ten Commandments for androids. Simple, direct and to the point, Asimov declared, “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.”
Asimov’s rules have inspired short stories, video games, music and cartoons. Roland Charles Wagner’s short story gave them an erotic spin in Three Laws of Robotic Sexuality, while the game Portal 2 sees all military androids sharing one copy of the laws of robotics.
And in the Mega Man series by Archie Comics, automatons are almost defeated by an anti-robotic terrorist group because they must abide by the three laws.
This weekend, Baymax, the lovable inflatable robot at the heart of Big Hero Six, abides by the laws. “Hello,” he says. “I am Baymax, your personal health-care companion.”
The roly-poly inflatable bot can almost instantly diagnose and treat a variety of diseases but even when he is transformed into a crime-fighting warrior, he still plays by the rules.
Asimov’s stories have been turned into films like I, Robot and Bicentennial Man, where the robots follow the dictums. But not all movies stay true to the rules.
In Alien, the Hyperdyne Systems 120-A/2 cyborg character Bishop (Ian Holm) says, “It is impossible for me to harm, or, by omission of action, allow to be harmed, a human being,” but later tries to kill Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) by choking her with a rolled up porno magazine.
The 1951 classic The Day the Earth Stood Still has both good and evil robots. When alien android Klaatu’s message of friendship to earthlings is met with a bullet from a sniper, his eight-foot metal robotic assistant Gort lets loose with a disintegration death ray.
Finally, worse than Blade Runner’s killer android Roy (Rutger Hauer) or the robot gunslinger from Westworld, is Maximilian, the silent-but-deadly android from The Black Hole.
Not only does he wordlessly do the bidding of the evil Dr. Hans Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell), the blood-red bot later merges with his human creator to lord over the fire and brimstone of hell. Lawgiver Asimov surely would not approve.
No one has spent as much on screen time jumping from dimension to dimension as Keanu Reeves. All the way back to Bill and Ted’s excellent time traveling adventures through to Neo in the Matrix and Constantine his characters have tripped the light fantastic, jumping from one plane to the another. His latest film, The Day the Earth Stood Still, a reinvention of the 1951 classic, sees him once again careening from outer space to the more mortal plane of Earth.
Reeves is Klaatu, an alien messenger in human form who comes to Earth to rescue the planet, but not necessarily its inhabitants. “If the Earth dies, you die,” he says. “If you die, the Earth survives.” When his attempts to communicate and reason with the leaders of Earth fail, he goes ahead with his plan to eliminate all humans. Humankind’s only chance of survival is in the hands of Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) and stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith) who work to convince Klaatu that humans are worth saving, that given the chance they will mend their wasteful ways and save the planet. Can they convince the strange visitor to spare them before his coconspirator GORT, a giant biological robot hell bent to complete his mission, finishes the job?
The Day the Earth Stood Still updates the original’s Cold War themes of the dangers of nuclear warfare to the more contemporary hot button issues of the environment, global warming and man’s systematic destruction of the planet. It’s a good message wrapped up in an average, listless movie.
The film gets off to a s-l-o-w start when, without any explanation, Reeves is seen chipping away at a mysterious orb on a mountain top in India in 1928. Cut to eighty years later the orb lands in Central Park and expels the human now wrapped in gelatinous goop. The sequence takes forever and sets the tone for the rest of the languidly paced story.
Reeves’s take on Klaatu doesn’t help matters any. As the intellectually gifted alien housed in human form he is even more deadpan and monotone than usual. It is, I suppose, an attempt to portray Klaatu’s otherworldliness but Keanu’s low-energy performance as he drones on about the environment makes staid enviro-warrior Al Gore look like the easily excitable Richard Simmons by comparison.
Ditto for John Hamm. His work as Don Draper on Mad Men is so detailed and interesting it’s a shame to see him reduced to bland second-leading man here.
The film doesn’t limit itself to the environmental situation; it also takes jabs at America’s current political climate. When Benson asks why she has been summoned by the government she’s told simply and vaguely, “It’s a matter of national security.”
“Well, that could mean whatever you want it to mean,” she says.
That’s a clever and insightful exchange. It’s just too bad it’s one of the few moments in the film that gives off sparks.
The Day the Earth Stood Still is a big budget but unnecessary remake of a sci-fi classic; a movie that doesn’t improve on its source material despite its best intentions.
Keanu Reeves as an alien? Okay, we’ll bite. The idea certainly seemed heaven-sent to producers of 20th Century Fox’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” a film which will make history on December 12 as it becomes the first motion picture to be literally transmitted into deep space.
“It’s headed for Alpha Centauri,” says script consultant Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at The SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. Of course, no one knows if life exists there. “If it does and anybody’s cruising in that vicinity in four-and-a-half years from now they’ll enjoy seeing it,” he told CTV.ca.
Love him or hate him, other worldly roles have helped turn Reeves into Hollywood’s $3-billion man – the staggering figure his films have grossed to date.
“The Matrix” series made $1.7 billion. “The Matrix Reloaded alone pulled in $740 million. Dollar for dollar Reeves’ “Pow” at the box office is undeniable. But it annoys his critics.
To them, the 44-year-old’s looks and luck have been the secret of his success in films like “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” “Constantine” and “Speed.”
To others, Reeves’ reserved delivery is the definition of his acting brilliance.
With his reticent, Zen-like presence, the existential Reeves seemed locked, loaded and downright destined to play Klaatu, the famed alien herald who comes to earth at the height of its Cold War fever to warn humanity of impending doom if it doesn’t change its petty, squabbling ways.
But scan the blogosphere and earthlings are divided about Hollywood’s casting choice, as well as the very idea of remaking what the American Film Institute called the No. 5 science-fiction movie of all time in 2008.
Will earthlings embrace Keanu as Klaatu?
“When will all these remakes end?” “Keanu, oh no! Has Hollywood gone mad?” “Brilliant casting. Can’t wait to see it.” There’s nothing iffy about moviegoers’ feelings concerning this 21st-century redo of Robert Wise’s 1951 gem.
“Keanu Reeves is Keanu Reeves,” says George Zotti, manager of Silver Snail Comics in Toronto. “He’s a huge star and it makes perfect sense to hire him for this remake. But I know people who won’t go and see the movie just because Keanu is in it”
As the film’s release looms closer, Zotti doesn’t deny the fact that the remake has renewed an interest in the 1951 classic, particularly in Klaatu’s killer robot “Gort,” the most recognizable figure from the original film.
“We’ve got 12-inch ‘Gort’ figures, wind-up toys and metal figures from the ’70s. The new film has certainly made people come in looking for this older merchandise,” says Zotti.
“There’s always going to be that argument of why should we remake a film that still holds up and is, quite frankly, rather awesome,” says Canada AM movie critic Richard Crouse. His take on Keanu’s performance? “I think he’s mistaken, listless…he’s even more monotone than unusual in this one…He’s no Michael Rennie.”
But as Crouse says, “The bottom line, as always when Hollywood does a remake of a great classic, is to introduce it to a younger audience.”
With its $100 million-dollar budget and CGI effects, that’s exactly what director Scott Derrickson (“The Exorcism of Emily Rose”) has done, but with a few timely twists.
Replacing Cold War era fears with an environmental message, Klaatu no longer resembles the fatherly, compassionate character made famous by British stage actor Rennie.
“In this remake the hero/villain lines are blurred,” Reeves told CTV’s etalk. “He was an interesting role and a fun role to play.”
Reeves has described his incarnation of Klaatu as “more sinister and tough, ready to execute a judgment, but he eventually breaks down and becomes more human and starts to understand what a human can do.”
“Unlike the original, Klaatu comes here with a job to do and the humans are in the way,” says Shostak, who spent considerable time on the film’s Vancouver set with Reeves and co-stars John Cleese and Jennifer Connelly.
“Keanu was very focused on getting this duality in the character just right,” says Shostak. But Reeves and Cleese also plagued the scientist with big questions about the universe.
“Is life really out there Seth? That’s all they’d want to know. They drove me nuts,” says Shostak, who credits the 1951 classic for inspiring him to become an astronomer.
“I haven’t seen the final cut, but one part of the remake process did bother me,” says Shostak. “It was Scott’s decision to eliminate Klaatu’s final soliloquy before he leaves Earth. To me that was moment was thrilling. But Scott felt today’s audiences wouldn’t sit through three minutes of talk. Maybe he’s right. I don’t know.”
For those who haven’t seen the original, Klaatu’s message to earthlings is simple and hopeful. Shape up, stop fighting amongst yourselves or we’ll come back and take care of you. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.
The new trailer, however, show’s Keanu’s Klaatu feeling far less benevolent: As he says, “If the Earth dies, you die. If you die, the Earth survives.”
Two different films. Two different leading men. Will Reeves cream Rennie? Will Derrickson’s version nuke Robert Wise’s original into intergalactic oblivion? As Klaatu says, “The decision is yours.”
Recently a giant meteor lit up the Canadian prairie sky. “It was really bright. We weren’t really sure what happened … got up to look out the window, and all of a sudden, we heard this rumbling,” said one witness.
If this happened in a movie, a nerdy lab-coated scientist would say something like, “No telling what kind of meteor it is or what goes on inside of it … it’s been gathering the secrets of time and space for billions of years,” before giant bugs or aliens hatch from the mysterious rock, bringing intergalactic mayhem with them.
Next week a massive fireball will bring Keanu Reeves crashing to earth in The Day the Earth Stood Still, a remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic. In it he plays Klaatu, an ambassador from an extraterrestrial confederation who arrives with a simple message for the people of the third rock from the sun: “If the Earth dies, you die. If you die, the Earth survives.”
All in all, fireballs are usually bad news.
Remember Cloverfield? After a burst of light from the sky illuminated lower Manhattan, a colossal creature resembling a giant sweaty salamander with the mumps laid waste to the city.
In The Day of the Triffids meteors do double dastardly duty. First, a colorful meteor shower attracts worldwide attention, but the light from the shower renders most of Earth’s population blind. Next, spores from the meteors turn into plant-like space aliens. That development leads to my favorite-ever line in a meteor movie.
“Keep behind me,” says hero Tony Goodwin. “There’s no sense in getting killed by a plant.”
Movie meteors aren’t always bad, however. Robert Townsend wrote, directed and starred in Meteor Man about a meek Washington, D.C., teacher who develops superpowers after being hit by a glowing green meteor. Using his newly found abilities he cleans up the streets after a drug lord moves into his neighborhood.
So far there haven’t been any reports from the prairies of alien spores, superhuman behavior or giant beasts terrorizing Brandon, Man., but if movie science is to be believed anything is possible.
According to Paul Frees in The Monolith Monsters you never know when the meteor will make itself known. “Meteors!” he says. “Another strange calling card from the limitless regions of space — its substance unknown, its secrets unexplored. The meteor lies dormant in the night — waiting!”