I recently spotted a piece about an upcoming new movie – a remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still, starring Keanu Reeves – and naturally enough it got me to thinking about the original. (The movie, not Keanu.) Even though I like many of the newer films and do appreciate their astonishing special effects, a part of me knows that the experience of watching the newer stuff will never approach the sheer terror I sometimes felt when watching movies as a boy.
I can still remember how it felt to crouch in my seat, squirming and peeking through my fingers at the movie screen, watching that film or any of the others that made a strong impression on me in those days. It sometimes seemed as if there was a new one coming out every week, and I saw as many of them as I could.
When Worlds Collide was a favorite, as was This Island Earth, and War Of The Worlds. In fact, one my scariest cinematic memories is a scene from that one. The hero and heroine are digging through some rubble and a creepy, pulsating alien hand slowly comes into view behind her and clutches her shoulder. I think I probably yelled louder than she did.
Of course, some of it was scary and silly at the same time. In This Island Earth, a cheesy-looking alien with a giant head is constantly menacing the heroine, played by the intriguingly-named actress Faith Domergue. (My friends and I incorrectly pronounced her name Dommer-goo.) Even as a boy, I knew that the alien was just a guy in a monster suit, but it was still fun — and scary.
What I didn’t realize then but do now is how often the music sets the mood in science fiction films. Of course, that’s true of any type of movie, but there’s always been something special about many of the eerie sounds that were associated with sci-fi. I might not have been consciously aware of it when I was a boy, but when the theme song from The Day The Earth Stood Still came out of the theater’s speakers, it helped put us into the right frame of mind to be terrified.
But it’s not just kids that are affected. I was an adult when I first watched the opening moments of the new Star Trek – Next Generation TV series. I hadn’t particularly been a huge fan of the original, but decided to try the debut episode of the updated version. It started with a moving and visceral view of deep space, accompanied by some soft, but eerie and unusual musical sounds that gradually built and led into the strong voice of Patrick Stewart. Even before the actual theme song itself started I was hooked.
Through the years a lot of sci-fi films and TV shows have paid special attention to the music — Close Encounters, the Star Wars saga, and many others. I just hope the makers of Keanu’s new movie remember to spend some time on the music. I plan to give the movie a try, and sometimes special effects just aren’t enough.