Independence Day has one of my most favorite hero duos of all time: Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum. Brawn and brains, flyboy and nerd, working together to take out the baddies. It all comes down to one flash of insight on behalf of a drunk Goldblum after being chastised by his father. Cliché eureka! moments like Goldblum’s realization that he can give the mothership a “cold” are great until you realize one thing: if Goldblum hadn’t been as smart as he was, the movie would have ended much differently. No one in the film was even close to figuring out how to defeat the aliens. Will Smith was in a distant second place and he had only discovered that they are vulnerable to face punches. The hillbilly who flew his jet fighter into the alien destruct-o-beam doesn’t count, because he needed a force-field-free spaceship for his trick to work. If Jeff Goldblum hadn’t been a super-genius, humanity would have been annihilated.
Every apocalyptic film seems to trade on the idea that there will be some lone super-genius to figure out the problem. In The Day The Earth Stood Still (both versions) Professor Barnhardt manages to convince Klaatu to give humanity a second look. Cleese’s version of the character had a particularly moving “this is our moment” speech. Though it’s eventually the love between a mother and child that triggers Klaatu’s mercy, Barnhardt is the one who opens Klaatu to the possibility. Over and over we see the lone super-genius helping to save the world.
Shouldn’t we want, oh, I don’t know, at least more than one super-genius per global catastrophe? I’d like to think so. And where might we get some more geniuses? you may ask. We make them.
Opening today is the remake of the 1951 science-fiction classic, The Day The Earth Stood Still, starring Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly and directed by Scott Derrickson (who Science Not Fiction interviewed earlier this week). In the original movie, Klaatu came to inform the Earth that the galactic community was Not Happy about the stockpile of nuclear weapons humanity was building up. This time around, it’s the erosion of planetary biodiversity that has our alien neighbors ticked off. It’s actually not an unreasonable motivation — many astrobiologists suspect that bacterial life may be somewhat common in our galaxy; even in our own solar system there are several possible habitats, including Mars and Jupiter’s moon Europa. But they have speculated that more advanced lifeforms are exceedingly rare: consider that for 85 per cent of the 4 billion years life has existed on Earth, no multicellular creatures arose. So the rapid extinction of many species here would be a significant blow to the biodiversity of the entire galaxy, not just the Earth’s.
Starring Keanu Reaves and Jennifer Connelly and opening this Friday is The Day The Earth Stood Still, a remake of the iconic 1951 science fiction movie of the same name. The plot centers around the visit to Earth of an alien, Klaatu, and his robot protector, Gort. Check back on Friday for Science Not Fiction’s review of the movie: today we have an interview with director Scott Derrickson about how he tackled remaking a classic and the role of science in science fiction.