The Day the Earth Stood Still
, , , , , ,
110 min.
Release Date
day the earth stood still 2008

Even the lowered expectations inherent to the remake of a classic couldn’t predict the awfulness of The Day the Earth Stood Still, which revamps the 1951 picture without an iota of the original’s charm or impact. Talentless no-name Scott Derrickson was hired to direct the inept script by David Scarpa in what amounts to nothing more than Twentieth Century Fox’s attempt to blow money in anticipation of a hefty return. Chances are their movie will make some dough opening weekend, though not as much as they’re hoping after bad word-of-mouth spreads on this dud. For those of you with an appreciation for film history, you’ll remember Robert Wise’s original picture as an Atomic Era great where an alien representing a federation of planets supporting intelligent life arrives on Earth to serve humanity an ultimatum: Put down your nukes, or else. The new version, rethought for a modern setting wrought not only by big powerful weaponry but a more deadly force known as environmental decline, doles out no ultimatum, just a harsh threat and the ensuing consequence in the form of…

But wait, first let me tell you about the boring characters and their boring stories: Helen (Jennifer Connelly) is a widowed astrobiologist with an adopted son Jacob (Jaden Smith), who gives her an attitude on just about everything. He misses his dead father and, just to be a little brat, reminds her that she’s not his mother. All at once, she’s urgently called off to a top secret locale along with dozens of other scientists to evaluate an object streaming toward Earth at a velocity of “three-times-ten-to-the-seventh-power” (I scribbled the rate in my notes because the film thought it necessary to mention this useless bit of information several times). Anyway, the object, a blurry spherical ball of energy, heads straight for Manhattan and lands safely in central park. Police and military convene, and while everyone else panics, Helen approaches to touch the life form that emerges from within. Suddenly someone freaks and shoots the being, which turns out to be Keanu Reeves playing the emotionless alien Klaatu. Not much of a stretch for the rather static actor. Klaatu tells stubborn-minded Secretary of Defense (Kathy Bates) that he wants to speak to all the world leaders about something important. She’d rather pump him full of drugs and dissect him, even if he insists he’s “a friend to the Earth.”

To protect Klaatu, Helen helps him escape, and then, instead of asking “take me to your leader” like most movie aliens would, he asks to go to McDonalds. No, I’m not kidding. They stop, enjoy a McCafe, and then the movie continues again. Clearly the fast-food chain dispensed some serious green to earn this movie-stopping product placement—one of the most forced, commercialized moments in cinema history. There are also numerous, distracting mentions of Helen’s Honda and close-ups of her iPhone. At least the movie is upfront about selling-out.

In a plot resembling every alien invasion movie where flying saucers hover above the major cities of the world, everywhere else is visited by glowing space orbs too. The message is that humans alone are destroying the environment, and if we abruptly disappeared, then the planet would slowly restore itself to normalcy, so we must all work together to fix the problem. In the original, Klaatu halted all electronic devices on Earth for 30-minutes to illustrate, on nonviolent terms, his superior power. This would in turn scare the human race into behaving. But Derrickson’s film is more pessimistic and believes humans too inflexible and complacent to be scared to change. And so, Klaatu’s robot Gort—which originally was an eight-foot walking tin can with laser beams shooting from his eyes, now refurbished into a twenty-foot tin can that dissolves into clouds of hungry metallic insects—will slowly purify the planet.

Perhaps the 1950s brand of cautionary science fiction is hopeless for our era, an age twisted by cynicism and altogether lacking innocence. Take the little boy role, filled in the original by charming young actor Billy Gray and his boyhood purity. Jaden Smith, son of Will, can’t act first of all, but his character is also a little jerk and impossible to empathize with. We have a hard time defending the human race in this version, as every-other character is disagreeable or close-minded. So why shouldn’t Klaatu allow the Gort-swarm to do its business? After all, it would end this stupid movie faster. Scarpa’s script doesn’t give an answer to that question, thus the movie’s resolution makes little sense dramatically.

While such environmental commentary is welcomed from science fiction, I would recommend this year’s WALL•E for a more apt and entertaining parable of human irresponsibility toward ecological conditions. The Day the Earth Stood Still is nothing short of an equation to make money. No one involved in the production seems to have wanted to make a good movie; they just wanted to pick up their paycheck and go home. The computerized special effects are B-grade at best, the acting is rigid, and the uninvolving plot has none of the meaning it could have. Vacant of the original’s significance or symbolism, this dud reminds us why remakes should be reserved for those films that didn’t work originally, not classics that still work when revisited on DVD.

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