Week 50: The Day the Earth Stood Still

MPAA#: 44866
Showtime: 9:20
Ticket price: 10.99
Seat: lower right
Shotgun: none
Attendance: 7
Weather: warm, clear
Food: Dr. Pepper, M&Ms
Expectations: optimistic
Met?: no
Pre-show ads: Coke, Toyota, Telus
Trailers: The Wrestler, Terminator: Salvation, The Spirit, Star Trek, X-Men Origins: Wolverine


Keanu Reeves is Klaatu, emissary from a coalition of alien civilizations, with a simple message for the people of Earth: get your shit together or we will destroy you. I may be paraphrasing a little but that is essentially the story of The Day the Earth Stood Still, both this new version and the 1951 original, and to prove his point, Klaatu’s enforcer Gort disables the weaponry and power grid of the Earth’s major cities. Klaatu is also a thinly veiled reference to Jesus, posing a potential answer to the question of what we would do if such a figure did appear.

The original version of this film is considered to be a high water mark for Science Fiction cinema, a thought provoking and subvsersive change of pace from bug-eyed monsters and other postwar anxieties. Over fifty years later, of course, it is hard to sell this story as a novel idea, and it is a little depressing to consider that the planet is in worse shape now than at the beginning of the Cold War.

So for the creators of this new version, the problem is how to present the story in a way that is relevant to our world today; which is why Klaatu encounters a female xenobiologist (Jennifer Connelly) who is not as much of a damsel in distress as the original. This is a logical change that reflects the reality of our world today and does not negatively impact the movie. It is also the only change I can describe that way.

The other changes? A new subplot about Will Smith’s son Jaden, who is a fine little actor but essentially wasted here. Klaatu’s robot Gort is also given a lot more screen time, and there is more in the way of actual destruction of cities and so on; but the threat of destruction in the original carries a greater weight than CGI set pieces of a plague of nano-locusts eating Giants Stadium.

In fact, despite the effects from Peter Jackson’s Weta group- the new Gort is very impressive in his humanoid form- this film leaves the same hollow feel as the recent remake of I Am Legend. Its “all-star” cast including Kathy Bates, Kyle Chandler, and John Cleese give it the air of an Irwin Allen movie of the week or a mid-level “Twilight Zone” episode. I wouldn’t have been surprised if David Janssen had shown up.

There are also a number of strange lapses in logic in the script, such as why Jennifer Connelly is able to evade the US government despite the existence of satellite tracking, wiretaps, and infra-red cameras; or why there are people still on an automotive assembly line when the rest of the world is rioting in the streets.

If someone was developing a remake of Casablanca or The Third Man, hopefully they would respect the source material more than this; but for some reason, Hollywood seems to believe that if they trade on a recognizable title and dial up the special effects, the audience will automatically prefer a Science Fiction or Horror remake to those corny black and white originals. It’s ironic, since The Day The Earth Stood Still is supposed to give us faith in humanity’s better nature and capacity for change. If only the filmmakers practiced what they preach.

Crowd reaction at end of movie: none.
Credit cookie?: no.
For further consideration: you do not show a Gort in the first act without firing it by the third.
Weird credit: what are Sustainable Filming Services?
Opening next week: Seven Pounds, The Tale of Despereaux, The Wrestler, Yes Man, Nothing But the Truth
Hoping for: The Wrestler

About Scott M

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