Interview with Scott Derrickson: The Day the Earth Stood Still

One of the classics of science fiction is The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). In this film the alien Klaatu comes to earthwith the warning that humanity must decide to live in peace or face global annihilation brought about through a race of robots such as Gort, Klaatu’s intergalactic traveling companion. This classic has been reimagined for a contemporary audience through director Scott Derrickson, who has worked previously on films such as The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005). Scott made some time for TheoFantastique during the promotion of the film in Europe to respond to a few interview questions.

TheoFantastique: Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on The Day the Earth Stood Still. I am a fan of your work, and of science fiction and the broader genres of the fantastic, and I hope your film does well given its potential as I have posted on previously.

Scott Derrickson: Thanks much, I appreciate that.

TheoFantastique: Scott, please accept my thanks for making time in a busy promotional schedule to talk about your new film and related questions that touch on your cinematic efforts.

Scott Derrickson: I’m happy to do it.

TheoFantastique: I’d like to begin on a personal note with asking how you came to be personally drawn to horror and science fiction films given your previous work on The Exorcism of Emily Rose and your latest film.

Scott Derrickson: I love sci-fiand horror for many reasons.  First of all, I think they are the most imaginativeve of all film genres.  The possibilities in those stories push the envelope of the viewers own imagination farther than other genres.  I also love the emotional reactions they usually elicit from me as a viewer.  With horror, it’s fear of course, fear and anxiety.  I love to experience the intensity of those feelings in a safe environment — it results in a kind of cleansing experience.  With sci-fi, I think of the emotional component as wonderment — sci-fi inspires a sense of awe in you when it’s well done.  And very few human feelings make you feel more alive than awe and wonderment.
TheoFantastique: What drew you to The Day the Earth Stood Still, and did you have any concerns or fears about “remaking” a classic science fiction film, if indeed you consider your new film a remake?
Scott Derrickson: The idea of doing the remake started with 20th Century Fox — they had a script they had developed and they sent it to me. Before I read it, I was very skeptical because I love the original so much, but after reading it I realized that an update of the film really made a  lot of sense.  The original was very rooted in social issues of its time — the cold war, the fear of the atomic bomb, the struggle to establish the UN, etc…, and I loved the idea of updating the film to deal with current social issues. I also realized that as great as the original film is, it’s not a film that many modern moviegoers have seen, and I loved the idea of telling such a great story to a new audience.
TheoFantastique: To what extent does your film engage the current post-9/11 context for contemporary audiences?
Scott Derrickson: When the spaceship lands in the beginning of the film, the imagery is deliberately evoking the brown clouds from 9/11 — it’s an acknowledgement that this is a post-9/11 film. The film, like the original, is introspective about America — it admits, like most Americans and most people around the world now admit, that we’ve made some mistakes since 9/11. We’ve made a mess of this war in Iraq, we’ve made a mess of our economy, we’ve made a mess of our environment. But the film is not at all cynical – it also reflects the optimism of this moment in history and sees that humanity often rises to the occasion when facing real peril. This film is first and foremost an entertaining popcorn movie, but these social issues are there as well, and I like films that can entertaining as well as provide interesting ideas — as long as the film isn’t preachy or telling the audience how to think. This movie doesn’t really have a message, but rather it simply reflects our current post 9/11 world.
TheoFantastique: What do you hope viewers take away from this film beyond its entertainment value?
Scott Derrickson: An appreciation for the idea that human mistakes and the adversity they create often result in significant human evolution and growth.
TheoFantastique: Scholars and film critics continue to debate the interpretation of Klaatu in the original film. He is killed and is later resuscitated by his robot Gort. Because of this some see Klaatu as a Christ-figure who dies and is resurrected (with an argument for this found here), while others have questioned the legitimacy of this interpretation and have urged caution in the uncritical identification of such figures. Was the Christ-figure in your mind as you created Klaatu for your film?
Scott Derrickson: He’s very obviously a Christ-figure in the original, and in mine as well.
TheoFantastique: How does science fiction and horror provide vehicles for you not only to entertain and tell good stories as a filmmaker, but also to address issues of importance that connect with the culture?
Scott Derrickson: Because they are so extreme in their storytelling and cinematic qualities, horror and sci-fi allow ideas and social commentary in a way other genres don’t.  The ideas, whether they are cultural or philosophical, balance out the extremities of the storytelling.
TheoFantastique: What are the future projects on your list that viewers can look forward to? I have heard that you will be directing Devil’s Knot (2010) a film that tells the story of the “West Memphis Three,” the three young men who were, in my view, wrongly convicted as teens for the murder of two boys in Arkansas in an example of satanic panic. Is this true, and if so why did this story attract you?
Scott Derrickson: That story is just so heartbreaking, and says a lot about the dangers of allowing religious opinion into the judicial process.  I’m currently working on an adaptation of Milton’s Paradise Lost.
TheoFantastique: Scott, thanks again for this. I wish you the best with your continued film promotion and for its success in theaters as it opens this coming Friday, December 12th in the United states. I look forward to seeing it.

Scott Derrickson: My pleasure.

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