The Day the Earth Stood Still
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
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
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.