Day the Earth Stood Still, The (2008)
Reviewed by Nomad
Starring Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jaden Smith
Directed by Scott Derrickson
The Day The Earth Stood Still is a cautionary tale to the nth degree. While in past films, our haphazard treatment of the planet we call home has led to nature attacking us with storms, earthquakes, floods and ice, Day presents a more direct threat. We’ve been watched for years as we evolved from a primitive, warlike race into a primitive, warlike race with better toys. In the original film of the same name, the message from a visiting alien was firm and simple. Change or die at our hands. In this re-imagining, the message is shortened to DIE. We are here to save the Earth ... from you.
Keanu Reeves plays a stone faced Klaatu, unaccustomed to his human body and dismayed by the erratic and destructive nature of human kind, straight-man-ing his way through this film with no sign of emotion whatsoever. This leaves the bulk of the feeling to be conveyed by Jennifer Connelly as Helen Benson, a scientist who sees the government making all the wrong moves and aids Klaatu in evading them. Unfortunately, Connelly is not allowed to smile in this film (big change for her) so her looks are confined to concerned and ... emphatically concerned. Sooo ... for emotion we fall back to Connelly’s onscreen son played by Jaden Smith, who seems to be the only character allowed to emote! Connelly is given a moment or two but it seems she’s been reserved to play opposite Reeves, who is barely acting at all, or rather acting like he’s not acting at all. It gets confusing. This leaves little Jaden to steal the show, proving he’s got the chops for bigger and better things. As it stands, his character is incredibly unsympathetic as he calls his mother by her first name, ignores her every request and insists Klaatu would be better off as a smear on the pavement. Nice kid.
We’ve got an emotionless alien, a dour faced female lead and an angry cute kid. Not much is left in the likability category! It’s not that their acting was executed badly in this film. I’m certain they were doing exactly what director Scott Derrickson asked of them. The problem with this is the plot. With unclear lines as to who is the enemy -- the U.S. government who shoots first and asks questions later at Gitmo or the alien “visitor” who has essentially come as the universe’s appointed executioner for the human race -- the best we can hope for is a strong human story to make up our mind for us or at least create empathy for both sides. Neither is achieved here. In the original, we had a very likable Klaatu who suppressed his annoyance with human beings in favor of learning why they do what they do ... or feel they need to do. He spends time among humans to get a look from the other side and this information is invaluable in his decision to spare the puny humans. This alternate view is all but cut from the film as Reeves is left to learn of the human experience through Benson mostly struggling to love a son who seems to have no use for her. Not a very pretty picture.
The government spends the majority of the film trying to destroy the invader’s glowing orb and dismantle the eight-story G.O.R.T. robot (who by the way does little to nothing in the film). Klaatu spends the bulk of his time fleeing the government while his machines begin their destruction of the earthlings via a cloud of robots that eat anything in their path like a swarm of techno locusts. You are left sitting in your seat wondering why the hell they keep remaking movies that are perfect to begin with.
This brings me to an essential question. Why does Hollywood love clouds destroying things so much??? Do they get a discount on that computer program? Do they think we’d quickly grow bored of a giant robot shooting eye lasers and swatting jet fighters from the sky??!! Instead, the climax of this film sees the robo-cloud from the trailer eating its way across N.J. Always New Jersey ... the world’s kick ball. More than one yawn escaped my body as I fought slipping off into dream land, called there by the monotone voice of Klaatu, who would be perfect on those subliminal self-help CD’s. Never was a movie with explosions so quiet. Also missing from this film is any sense of tension. Without the larger human element displayed in the original, there is no one to stare toward the sky in equal parts awe and horror, no children to grip their parents in fear and no mothers running through the city hoping to get to their children before the world ends.
Cinematically, Day offers nothing jaw dropping or highly original. We’ve seen an orb shaped alien thing in Sphere (still a painful memory), a human alien doing amazing things in Starman (oddly, slightly less painful) and countless cloudy destroyers as seen in Fantastic Four 2, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Mummy and even The Never Ending Story (which had edgier scenes than this film.) The effects are just fine, but it is a case of nothing new under the sun and no new way of presenting it. In fact, this is the theme of the film. The acting is fine, but what they are being told to convey is pretty flat. We know all of these actors can bring more to the table. Even Reeves, who gets lambasted more often than not, can at the very least be fun to watch. No such luck here.
With a one-note story to play out, nothing will save you from catching some Z’s unless you’ve got one of those theaters where they cut the heat and freeze you into paying attention. I’m sure it will come as no shock when I recommend you hit this link and buy the original film, recently re-released. It has a better story, more likable characters, remains intelligent throughout and is vastly superior to this new school, rung out, bleached version ... which is funny to say when compared to a black and white film. Fox has sucked all the color out of The Day The Earth Stood Still. IRONY!!
2 1/2 out of 5
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