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Peter T. Chattaway

Dark Planet

Alien as messiah?

The alien messiah is a staple of science fiction, and few have been as messianic as Klaatu, who came to Earth to deliver a message of peace and a warning of possible apocalyptic doom in the original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). The clues are all there: he walks incognito among regular people under the name "Carpenter," he is ignored by the governments of this world and ultimately killed by its soldiers, he is brought back to life inside his tomb-like spaceship with the help of a guardian robot (who dispenses with the human troops stationed nearby), and then he emerges to spread one last message to the entire world before he ascends back into the heavens. And yet, director Robert Wise claimed he was unaware of the Christological parallels until other people began to point them out to him.

No such ignorance lies behind the new version, which is directed by Scott Derrickson, one of the few openly Christian writer-directors working in Hollywood. But the new film comes at a time when ideas about gods, aliens, and human beings have become a little more, well, complicated. Derrickson himself is no stranger to complicated thinking; his previous film, The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), was carefully designed to stimulate discussion on the nature of faith and doubt without tilting its scales entirely to one side or the other. However, his new film, which the studio had been developing for some time before he came on board, is caught between the demands of a major-studio tentpole and the inclinations of its makers, just as it is caught between the need to bring the material up to date and the pressure, from fans and others, to recycle familiar elements from the original film even when they don't seem to fit the new movie's internal logic.

The basic elements go back to a 1940 short story by Harry Bates called "Farewell to the Master." In that story, an alien named Klaatu—"godlike" in appearance, we're told—steps from a ship that has appeared out ...

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