Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Tedium of Propaganda

"Wounded Eye of Horus" in promo poster outside theater-
and the dumbest tagline ever.


Well, me and the missus and I trekked up to the frozen gateway of the New Jersey Skylands to see The Day the Earth Stood Still (finally). We caught a matinee while I was catching a breather from work. If you want to know why I don't write much about all of the latest movies, maybe the fact that it cost 17 bucks for two tickets to a matinee showing of a month-old movie will explain that. The only reason I didn't wait for it to come out on video is that a commenter here revealed it took place in NJ. Sadly, I was disappointed in the movie itself, which I very much wanted to like. Just 'cause I'm contrary like that.

As we've seen in the poster art, the story is rife with green suns, which turn out to be arks. It also features Jennifer Connelly, whom Jake has been looking at in depth. There's a Will Smith connection in his son Jaden, who is awkwardly cast as Jennifer Connelly's stepson. The light-skinned Jaden wouldn't have made more sense had he been JC's son with a dark-skinned father ( a la Micah in Heroes), and the explanation of that retcon took up valuable time at an inopportune time in the story. There was the requisite Horus symbolism with Smith's character- he is "stung" by insectoid nanobots, just as Horus was stung by scorpions sent by Set to the Marsh of Buto. Klaatu also sacrifices himself to save the earth, like any number of ancient fetility gods.

It turns out that parts of the film were shot in Downey, CA, where Karen Carpenter lived and died, which is a fascinating tie-in to the "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" synchs we looked at last month. The movie borrows liberally from The X-Files, in that Klaatu sheds his skin like a supersoldier, and he can heal like Jeremiah Smith. Gort is taken to Mount Weather, where Mulder discovered the exact date for alien colonization. And despite the New Jersey setting, most of the exteriors were shot in X-Files country (British Columbia*), which made me root for it, even if I were disappointed. There's even a nanobot subplot, which again ties back to X-Files mythology. And actress Lorena Gale appears briefly in both this and the new XF film.

You don't get any sense of New Jersey, as I mentioned before. The screenwriters don't seem very familiar with the state's topography (there's no I-67 here), and mislabel the Jersey Skylands as the Highlands (which is the coastal town where Kevin Smith grew up).

Plotwise, the film got off to a rollicking start and then ran out of gas, at least for me. Having Keanu Reeves walk around in the rain for 45 minutes doesn't make for nail-biting alien-invasion drama. As for the "message" of the film, I'm sure any alien race who had the wherewithall to get here would understand environmental science well enough to realize that the planet will kill us off itself if we ever become a serious threat to it (the so-called "Sixth Extinction," another X-Files tie-in). John Cleese's character seemed a missed opportunity as well, a pale shadow of Sam Jaffee's memorable turn in the original.

All of this is yet another object lesson in the tedium of propaganda, the futility of art created to advance a dubious political agenda. A better film would allow the audience to discover the urgency of Klaatu's mission without being hammered over the head with it. But a better film would also not exist simply to service corporate hypocrisy on environmental issues. Hypocrisy which only alienates (no pun intended) people from serious environmentalism.

Oh well, if you haven't seen it already, rent this for synch-hunting value. I'm sure you guys will catch stuff I missed (I will mention that the nanobot cloud reminded me of the angel of death scenario in Jack Kirby's Silver Star). I did get a personal synch out of it, though; I hadn't seen Keanu on the big screen since Constantine, and I never noticed before that he and I have identical scars on our upper lips.

Hey, I have to have something to show for my 17 bucks. Plus popcorn.

*British Columbia is also the home of the Langely School, which produced a haunting version of "Calling Occupants."


  1. was the reeves character a enki representation? I heard there is a quote that said something to effect of" I want to stay with my people." So if we beamed it off planet, to someone who knows the real plot line of our little terra rock, they may know it. just wondering as I have not yet seen it.

  2. I liked your comment about serious environmentalism. Which seems to have been co-opted almost at once and turned into just another "green" way of making bucks. Sigh...

    Which brings us back to the Sky Gods returning to make everything all right, and it makes me wonder, because the evangelical Right is always blamed for it's "end of the world" mindset which makes it OK to destroy the current world.

    However, the evangelical nutters always assume that the world will need rebuilding after the Second Coming and one might think that stewardship would come into the equation. Indeed, most of the (OK, radical) churches I am currently acquainted with are very into ideas of sustainability and stewardship.

    And it makes me wonder about the elite, especially with all your coverage of "Atlantis rising" and such. They seem to act as if they and their children won't actually be around to experience the fruits of their actions. Hmmm.

  3. When you think of how long the Earth has been here, you really cannot comprehend it from a human-lifespan point of view. You want to, but inevitably you only see it in relation to your own fate/end. So yes the planet will go on. Considering there are 6 billion plus out there as we go to sleep tonight I think the planet is somewhat stable. I mean for as good as it could be and as bad as it could get, right now, it is somewhat stable in most categories. One could argue this way and that a way over ruling elites and the poor/needy. But no matter what effect each(rich and poor) goes for, there is a stabilizing natural order that is revealed. Do you really think the power elite want to be left with a rotten apple to play with? Do you really think off planet creatures want to play mom and dad here? The answer is no, I would assume. Once again, think how old the Earth is in years. And realize this fact. This is, more than likely, the greatest amount of humans that have ever existed here. Ever...

    If anything, Earth needs to self regulate, above the table. If it cannot, well.......write your own endings, you will anyways.

  4. I wouldn't be surprised if they decided to do a remake of Plan 9 From Outer Space. Maybe you didn't enjoy the movie because it's an artistically crude bastardization of its original form, like most remakes (re-births)

  5. When you look at these two stats below from the websites, it may seem somewhat unfathomable. Try to imagine living a lifespan for 3000 years. For most, it is an unfathomable lifespan to calculate. Now try to see the Earth as a Billion year plus formation. Now what's 3000 years in comparison to 100 million years or even 1 Billion? Let alone the 100 years you may or may not live. For humor I will add my new favorite REM son,"SuperNatural SuperSerius," and a link for it from a youtube site.

  6. Nice post..again. :)

    So Chris you have identical scars with K-R...I have the same birth date with K-R...which is the 2nd of September..not the same age.

    I always liked Keanu(not for his acting skills) but something to do with his Persona. In the occult/symbolic/proganda zooo(or Circus) he has been in the thick of it. Ze MatriX.

    Thought i'd share my thoughts..

    Love your insight and view.


  7. Well Chris, you're my Jesus on this one: you saw it, so I don't have to.

    On the subject of propaganda: Was it me, or is The Dark Knight also an indoctrination into the idea that modern weaponry is our friend?

    While I found the story of its predecessor engaging (including the gadgetry), The Dark Knight had little more than military propaganda and Ledger to offer (no pun intended).

  8. I think anyone looking to understand The Dark Knight should read Frank Miller's comic The Dark Knight Returns. If you get a sense of Miller's politics, either in that comic or in his interviews, it will put the movie in much greater context. The more I think of the movie the more I see it as being very much the spiritual adaptation of the comic. Miller's next Batman project is Batman vs Osama Bin Laden, which should be interesting if they make that into a movie.

  9. Chris, here are some interesting sync winks springing from the passing of The Prisoner's Patrick MacGoohan:

    "The Prisoner: By numbers

    17 episodes broadcast between October 1967 and February 1968.

    11 million viewers each week during an era of only two terrestrial channels.

    6 the gentleman hero played by McGoohan.

    1 the hero's elusive and unidentified captor."

    And in the series, it turns out that #6 actually IS #1, his own tormentor. 6 + 1 = 7.


  11. Haven't seen the new one yet, but watched the original with a buddy a few weeks ago. Hilarious experience.

  12. I'll have to take your word about Miller's Dark Knight Returns - I'm an out gay guy and every sentence of Millers work always screams to me of a certain type of fractured personality . . . .(like the kind that helped build Fascism cuz they REALLY liked the uniforms . . . ) so can't read him.
    What I found mostly curious about the politics of TDTESS was not the heavy-handedness - in whatever version, Klaatu's mission is political and any movie built around this story would have to be politicized - it ain't a BEM Invasion movie - It was that the original movie's politics was abandoned in the first place.
    With the US engaged in what many worldwide would consider an illegal war; with the increasing militarization of domestic security and policing, The anti-war message of the original would have been EVEN MORE timely if it had been repeated now.
    Why the fear to examine such thoughts now when it is needed?
    . .and to substitute it with a message that is on the surface a feel-good issue, but the resolution that is presented to us in the movie is decidedly fascistic itself.
    This movie unsettled me.

  13. Interesting and very valid points, David. Hollywood then and now are two totally different industries. Speaking of Miller, did you vote in the Timm vs Miller Funnybook Faceoff? You might find it interesting.

  14. WatchNewMovies.Com

    when you want to save your $17

  15. They did warn you, CK. But would you listen? :)

  16. Hi Christopher K ,

    I enjoy your blog, very much.
    Me, I am waiting for this film on TV.
    Why would I pay to see it ? when it was beam out to space for Aliens free of charges.

    The slaves on Earth always have to pay apparently. I am surprised nobody ever mentioned this.

    I would love to know on what format did the send it, mp4, mfpg, flv, divx, swf..?

    But since I have been rebelling for some times now. So I pass. Gonna watch Star Trek, as "Data" insert his "Emotion Chip" shaped like a "Pineal Gland", once again.

    keep up the good work!!!


  17. Since we have no knowledge of how extraterrestrials might think, their paradigms might diverge from ours in ways difficult to imagine. Even if their physics and engineering are millennia beyond what we can achieve, their views on "environmental science" might be driven by beliefs many of us would find simplistic. After all, they might find it more compelling to focus on practical applications, such as glowing green spacefaring orbs and GORTs, and utilize them to "spread their gospel."

    Of course, I'm discussing possible ET paradigms in terms we would understand. Maybe they don't have academic disciplines that correpsond exactly with ours.

    Whatever the case, something sufficiently compelling drove Klaatu et al to decide that the Earth (and, by extension, the universe) would be better served by a quasi-Biblical plague designed to wipe out humanity. We expect ETs to be more "logical" than us simply because they can hop in a spacecraft and travel through space with ease, while we can barely get a couple of people back to the Moon. Taking these notions into consideration, Klaatu's mission seems driven by belief. In the end, it takes some humans to set him straight... to bring him "back to Earth."

    Thinking about corporate hypocrisy, the usage of McDonald's in a key scene did seem paradoxical. Although I enjoy the occassional Big Mac, I don't readily associate McD's with environmental sensitivity. And yet, Klaatu and his old pal are sipping tea (of all things) right there as they figure out what to do about humanity and its environmentally-insensitive ways... almost as if Rachel Carson and Earth Day never registered with anyone. Once again, I guess it all goes back to ET self-righteousness.

    I will say that I was also expecting more from the John Cleese character. There was great potential for more philosophical dialogue, but I suppose that would bore viewers too much. The Bach was a lovely respite, though.

    (Sorry to hear about the "17" bucks, Chris.)


  18. Jason, in animation they do the voice acting first and then frame the motion around the voices. I have a strong feeling that Hollywood these days does the effects sequences first and shoehorns a "story" into them.

    Such a shame. But not surprising.