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The original focused on the growing threat from Commie weary government factions. The update moved everything to the Me Decade desires of the ‘70s and the self-help capital of Northern California. Steeped in the cynicism of the time and updating the premise to employ a more eco-conscious calling, the remake did a great job of both upping the alien-ation and anxiety factors. The final shot of Donald Sutherland remains as memorable as Kevin McCarthy’s call of ““You’re Next!”
John Carpenter jumps into the social commentary corral with this potent political satire and ends up scoring major humor hit points. Big ups for casting then wrestling sensation “Rowdy” Roddy Piper as his protagonist and staging an epic fistfight that’s since gone down in brazen B-movie history. The main narrative has America being brainwashed by class-conscious aliens using media-enhanced subliminal messages. Instead of battling with weapons, these ETs are using wits—and as usual, they are winning.
As he did with 2012, Roland Emmerich created the legitimate last word on silly, science fiction falderal. In between the flag waving and the character stereotyping, the eye-popping special effects and severe narrative flaws, we get the kind of extraterrestrial beat down our filmic forebearers could only dream of—that is, if their visions were filled with cliches, crude attempts at comedy, and a last act plot point that has even luddites laughing at its ludicrousness.
It’s amazing—in the span of almost thirty years, this remarkable movie has gone from geek show to cinematic classic. When it was released, John Carpenter’s gore-filled update of the ‘50s icon was slammed for being too focused on splatter and not enough on suspense. Today, it’s viewed as a viable statement on distrust and ballsy biological terror. All blood bathing aside, Rob Bottin’s make-up work is award worthy, and the entire production takes on a decidedly ominous tone.
There is an unusual amount of optimism in the original version of this story, a sense that mankind can come to its senses and stop its path toward self-destruction before Klaatu and his alien pals have to shut it all down… for good. This is the thoughtful version of the threat, the considered challenge between competing galaxies. Unlike the contemporary take which had to go overboard with the eye candy, this is food for the mind, not the brainless.
// Notes from the Road
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