THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (2008)
Starring Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, John Cleese, Jaden Smith, Aaron Douglas, Jon Hamm, Alisen Down, Mousa Kraish, J.C. MacKenzie, Kyle Chandler, Robert Knepper and James Hong.
Screenplay by David Scarpa.
Directed by Scott Derrickson.
Distributed by 20th Century Fox. 110 minutes. Rated PG-13.
The classic 1951 sci-fi film which this loosely-constructed remake shares a name with has not aged perfectly, but it is still a thought-provoking and intelligent (if slightly slow moving) piece of social commentary.
Strangely, the only one of these traits that the new film seems to pick up on is the slow moving part.
Yes, the film does try to teach a very perfunctory environmental message, but it seems to be an afterthought. It is not nearly as well-thought out or presented as the original’s debate on the dangers of nuclear proliferation. Which is a shame, because arguably the world’s ecology in 2008 is every bit as threatening as nuclear war was in the early 50s, so it is a waste for the movie to be so half-assed in their presentation of that case.
It’s almost like screenwriter David Scarpa felt like he needed some reason for a giant sphere carrying a humanoid alien and his giant guard robot to Earth, but realized the A-bomb hysteria of 1951 would not fly anymore. Hey, why not global warming?
Which in itself is okay, I suppose – there is no law that a science fiction film has to have a serious message. However, if you are remaking a movie which existed mostly to make its political message in a fictional context, you have to know people will probably expect something along those lines again.
If you are going to jettison the moral of your story, fair enough. Do it. Don’t pussyfoot around and pretend you are making a point when you can’t be bothered to, really.
Therefore, if you take The Day the Earth Stood Still and remove the political context, what do you have left?
Jennifer Connelly plays Dr. Helen Benson, a Princeton biology professor who is widowed and taking care of Jacob, the young son of her late husband – played by Jaden Smith, Will’s son who previously co-starred in The Pursuit of Happyness with his dad. Dr. Benson’s life revolves completely around caring for her step-son, though why she loves and dotes on him so much is a bit of a mystery – the kid is a complete brat.
One night she is recruited (more like abducted) along with several other scientists by the Federal government to help them track a mysterious shape hurtling towards Earth. At first they think it is an asteroid, but it turns out to be a spaceship which lands in Central Park in New York.
Inside the ship is Klaatu (Keanu Reeves), a humanoid alien and his giant robot Gort. He wants to be taken to our leaders. Instead a trigger-happy human shoots him. The government holds him in a underground lab looking to experiment on him.
Now I’m not one of those people who rags on Keanu Reeves all the time, but here he does play things too close to the vest. I recognize that he is playing an alien, but his expressionless work here just plays into the hands of all the Reeves-detractors.
Of course he eventually escapes and he has to complete his mission – decide whether they have to decimate life on Earth to save the planet from its inhabitants, who are destroying it with pollution.
The case in favor of human beings – despite all negative evidence Klaatu has gotten from most Earthlings since he has landed – has to be pled by Dr. Benson, a Nobel-laureate friend of hers (John Cleese, in a rare serious role) and the bratty kid.
This leads to a few of those impressive looking scenes where moviemakers digitally decimate national landmarks – in this case they include Central Park and Yankee Stadium. This would probably be more impressive if there wasn’t a variation on that scene in just about every sci-fi film since aliens blew up the White House in Independence Day over a decade ago.
However, the key problem with The Day the Earth Stood Still is a very simple and basic one. It is way too humorless to be a fun, campy sci-fi flick. At the same time it’s way too dumb to be taken at all seriously.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 4, 2009.