So there I am on a long plane flight home, in need of something to watch. Hailing as I do from the Global Dashboard stable, the preferred option was clear: a disaster movie. And lo, what should be playing on BA routes this month but the 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still.
My expectations were along the lines of I am Legend or The Day After Tomorrow. You know how it goes: massive catastrophe, civilisation collapses, a veritable smorgasbord of SFX, a couple of doughty folk live to fight another day, and (as the credits roll) the prospect of a gradual rebuild.
As it turned out, this was not the case. In a nutshell: Keanu Reeves is an alien. He has been sent here by a confederation of highly evolved alien civilisations to “save the earth” – by wiping us out, given that we’re cheerfully running our own mass extinction event. Pretty scientist Jennifer Conolly, initially part of the US government scratch team of scientists (“We need you to come with us right away, ma’am. It’s a matter of national security”) comes to befriend the alien, and must persuade him of humanity’s case; and so it goes for the next hour or two.
Where it gets fun, though, is when she takes Keanu to see her mentor, a Nobel Prize-winning uber-scientist – played, somewhat improbably, by John Cleese – whereupon the following dialogue ensues:
Boffin: Well, there must be alternatives. You must have some technology you have that could solve the problem.
Alien: The problem is not technology. The problem is you. You lack the will to change.
Boffin: Then help us change.
Alien: I cannot change your nature. You treat the world as you treat each other.
Boffin: But every civilisation reaches a crisis point eventually.
Alien: Most of them don’t make it.
Boffin: Yours did. How?
Alien: Our sun was dying. We had to evolve in order to survive.
Boffin: So it was only when your world was threatened with destruction that you became what you are now.
Boffin: Well, that’s where we are. You say we’re on the brink of destruction, and you’re right. But it’s only on the brink that people find the will to change; only on the precipice that we evolve. This is our moment – don’t take it from us. We are close to an answer.
That’s right, readers: I spent ten minutes doing pause and rewind on British Airways’ crappy touch screen entertainment system, juggling a laptop and an economy class meal, and I did it all for you. Why, you ask? Because when was the last time you saw a movie that expounds the necessity of crisis for global-level non-zero-sum co-operation – and uses Basil Fawlty to do so?