Keith Paterson, a fellow Torontonian, who reminds me that we met at the local lit fest The Word on the Street, writes to say,
Being familiar with your blogs, it seems that you are, like myself a science fiction fan. So I thought you might be interested to hear how ID concepts are finding their way into popular entertainment.
This week I saw the new remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Now I am a big fan of the original 1951 version and I own it on DVD.
Being a big fan I was sceptical about the remake because it just didn’t need remaking! Would you remake Casablanca? (Although I am sure somewhere in Hollywood someone is thinking about it.)
Still, even though I didn’t want to like the new version, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Maybe not a glowing endorsement, but I found in spite of myself I couldn’t dislike it and Keanu was not bad in his role as Klaatu. There is a time and a place for wooden acting and this was one of them. However unless I missed it, no one in the movie says the classic line, “Klaatu Barada Nikto”. So that’s disappointing.
The Christian allusions aren’t as strong in this version as in the original. In the original, Klaatu the alien messenger descends from the heavens offering the gift of healing and bearing a message for the world that could mean either salvation or destruction. He is killed by small minded authorities but is resurrected a short time later; he delivers his final message of peace to the world before ascending back into the heavens. Oh and his cover name while walking among the humans? Mr Carpenter.
In the new movie he is just Klaatu, he walks on water, he doesn’t need resurrecting but he does resurrect someone else and his message is not so much one of salvation or destruction as a warning of impending destruction. In the first movie, intelligent space-faring civilizations of the cosmos warned humanity that if they didn’t give up our war-like ways they would cleanse the Earth of us. They could ignore us before we had nukes but now we were a threat to everyone. In the new movie the intelligent space-faring nations are alarmed at the environmental damage we are wreaking on Earth. Klaatu is kind of an alien Al Gore (“An Inconvenient Alien?”). More on that later.
The ID influence comes in at a few points through the movie. First when Earth scientists are examining the shell coating Klaatu’s body when he first arrives. They realize it is placental tissue, a “bio-engineered space suit”. The doctor played by Jennifer Conolly says that this “makes sense, considering that placenta is a life-support system”. Which of course is how someone with a design perspective would look at placenta.
Next up is Gort, remember Gort? The giant, super cool silver robot that protects Klaatu’s flying saucer the original. In this movie he is computer generated, which is a shame. In the new movie someone in the military asks if it is a machine or a living thing. The scientists reply that it is both and neither. They say that they are calling it G.O.R.T which is an acronym for Genetically Organized Robotic Technology. (I know: groan.) So GORT at least is intelligently designed.
Finally and to me most startling is the appearance in the movie of the Rare Earth hypothesis. As I mentioned, in the original Klaatu says that the advanced alien civilizations can no longer afford to ignore us because our nuclear technology makes us a threat to them all. That threat reflected the times the original movie was made in, just 6 years after Hiroshima. In this movie the aliens want to wipe us off the Earth for environmental reasons. The Earth is dying and humans are killing it. Klaatu says (this is an exact quote); “There are only a handful of planets in the Cosmos that are capable of supporting complex life. This one, can’t be allowed to perish.”
Well knock me down with a feather! That is the Rare Earth hypothesis to a letter! Usually as you know you have in science fiction a Star Trek style universe where planets capable of supporting complex life (M class planets) are a dime a dozen and the Universe is just filled to bursting with civilizations and species that look just like us save for the bumps on their foreheads. Presumably, evolution “finds” the same answers on those planets (or budgetary considerations limit costume and makeup options!) Now I’ve got lots of love for Star Trek but it is kind of refreshing to have a movie where a key ID concept makes its appearance. Now I’d love to see a movie that works in the Privileged Planet hypothesis!
The Rare Earth hypothesis does not directly support design as a feature of our universe. Life could be rare in an undesigned universe.
However, in terms of popular culture, the fact is that anti-design folk like Carl Sagan used the argument that Earth-like planets could happen “just naturally” as support for their views*. The fact that that is not likely must necessarily count against their status in the museum and science class culture, as Greater Prophets who must be listened to with awe and respect. Not that anyone would dare admit it just now.
*And, curiously, when Sagan wrote his own novel, and later film Contact, it is based explicitly on a design hypothesis, the designers being space aliens.
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