Saturday, 5 July 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #123: The Revenant of Relevance

Hollywood's remake/rehash machine has struck again. This time it's Robert Wise's classic SF movie The Day The Earth Stood Still, and the remake stars the hypnotic eyebrows of Jennifer Connelly, and Hollywood's favourite non-denominational agnostic Jesus: Keanu Reeves as Klaatu.

Now I'm not going to gripe about the reported atrocity of leaving out the towering android Gort* from the remake, I'm going to use it to talk about relevance.

If you haven't seen the original Day, then be warned, HERE BE BIG FAT SPOILERS.

The first version of
Day was very relevant for its time. The early 1950s was a time of great prosperity for America in the years after World War 2, but also of great unease. Unease that came in the form of a mushroom cloud. The world was just realizing that a cold war had developed between the democratic USA and the Soviet Union. Both countries were military and nuclear superpowers, and both were expecting the other to press that proverbial button and nuke the planet into oblivion.

The police action war in Korea, and other proxy conflicts kept an undercurrent of unease running through everything, and whether they knew it or not, it ran through popular culture.

The plot of the original Day involved the humanoid alien Klaatu and his metallic sidekick Gort arriving on an already jittery planet and scaring the royal piss out them with a few well chosen demonstrations of power.

Now what was relevant about Day was the reason why Klaatu and Gort did their royal piss-scaring. Klaatu's bosses (in the firs
t draft it was rumoured to be Gort) are not happy about a hostile and tempermental race like humanity having nuclear weapons that could threaten them.

They want humanity to straighten up and fly right, or they will dole out a big can of the cosmic harshness.

Now we come to the remake.

In the remake Agnostic Jesus shows up on Earth, sans Gort, to tell them that his people will destroy the human race if they don't stop..... wait for it..... GLOBAL WARMING.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

Every story and storyteller wants to be relevant to the times they live in. It's an essential ingredient in making that all-important emotional connection to the audience. However, relevance can also be a trap because there are two ways a story can be relevant:

NATURAL RELEVANCE: This arises when the story is conceived from the societal attitudes, tensions, and events that surround every writer. And it's at it's best when it's unintentional. Ask the people behind the classic original Invasion of the Body Snatchers about McCarthyism and paranoia, and they'll tell you that all they wanted to do was to make a good sci-fi movie.

FORCED RELEVANCE: Occurs when you have a story, but don't have any real connection to the zeitgeist. So the storyteller looks around, finds something that they think must be relevant, but is more along the lines of being trendy in their immediate social circle, and slams it in with a hammer.

Forced Relevance is the trap.

The wedging in of current events into a story in an attempt to manufacture relevance creates an aura of phoniness around the story. It also creates some pretty major plot holes, like:

And with the Day the Earth Stood Still: Why do the aliens care if humanity snuffs itself and go to all the trouble of sending Agnostic Jesus to threaten to snuff them if they don't stop snuffing themselves?

Does that make much sense?

At least in the original the original writer sat back and thought: "Now why would the alien visit?" And then thought: "Of course, they're worried about our nukes attacking them and want to stop us before we can threaten them!" That's a natural development of relevance, not an attempt to land a red carpet invite at the premiere of An Inconvenient Truth 2: Electric Boogaloo.

Global Warming doesn't threaten Alpha Centauri, or even Mars, and I hope that any society capable of interstellar travel would be capable of simply coming down and saying: "We have a clean alternative energy source made from your own feces, an unlimited resource, and will set it all up in exchange for Jennifer Connelly, whose eyebrows are worshipped on our planet," than go to all the trouble of putting together an elaborate CGI extravaganza to scare the bejibbers out of humanity.

It's called the smart way of doing business.

And it's not just in the new Day:

Look M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening where the world's plants decide to kill humanity as punishment for Global Warming.

Which begs the questions: Whether you believe in antropogenic global warming or not, why would plants be pissed off from longer growing seasons, and more carbon dioxide, which they consume in order to grow? And why not centuries early after millennia of being eaten, burned, and woven into clothing?

Pixar's Wall-E, features a human race capable of interstellar travel, and constructing armies of independently intelligent robots, but are not capable of recycling or telling those robots to load unrecyclable garbage into some of those interstellar space-ships to send them into the nearest black hole.

These are what you call big-ass plot holes, and exist because the folks in Hollywood like to go around claiming to be "green" because while they drove their SUVs to their private jets, while their McMansions are left empty with the air-conditioning running full tilt and the windows open, their personal assistant drive a hybrid. I've done a little research on the issue of Hollywood environmentalism, and found that the only one that walks the walk is Ed Begley jr.

But "green" is the talk of tinseltown and while they may not walk the walk, they do talk the talk, constantly, and are going to ram it into everything they possibly can, because it gives them the illusion of "making a difference."

Now sometimes these forced-relevance films can be well-made, and they may even be profitable, but... and this is a positively elephantine but, they probably won't become classics. The original Day is a classic because it captured the zeitgeist of its time and while times have changed it can still be enjoyed by modern intelligent viewers.

Stories with forced relevance, don't really capture the zeitgeist of their time, just what the folks in Hollywood think is important, which means it's not about the feelings of an age, but the trendy attitudes of that time, and the trendiness, the plot holes, and that aura of phoniness, keeps it from being timely, and it just becomes dated.

*Gort was a BAD-ASS. Leaving him out has automatically turned me against the movie for all time, and nothing will change my mind about it. I am that judgemental and pig-headed!


  1. Who, exactly, do they think is going to pay money to see this?

    I'd have thought that the spanking "The Happening" is taking at the box office would be enough to give them pause.

    Nobody likes being lectured to. Especially lectured DOWN to.

    And no Gort? WTF?!?

  2. I know. Was it Samuel Goldwyn who said: If you want to send a message, use Western Union.

    I have no problems with messages and relevant themes in stories, but they have to evolve naturally from the material, not shoved in later.

  3. Look M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening where the world's plants decide to kill humanity as punishment for Global Warming.

    Actually as I pointed out in my review of it, I think the Happening says plants are attacking because of nuclear power. (it happens in the northeast which has "the most nuclear power plants in the US", it happens again at the end in France - famous for nuke power - and there is a shot of a nuke plant in the background during an important exposition scene)

    Of course, I think this is probably even dumber than AGW as a cause or at least, makes the movie even MORE dated. But I thought you'd want to be technically correct. (and I want to save you the agony of seeing it yourself)