The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)Synopsis: Epic action and mind-blowing effects rock the planet in this thrilling reinvention of the sci-fi classic, The Day The Earth Stood Still. Keanu Reeves portrays Klaatu, an otherworldly being whose arrival on Earth triggers an unstoppable series of events that threaten all of mankind. In a desperate attempt to save humanity, governments and scientists race to unravel the mystery behind the visitor’s appearance. When a woman (Jennifer Connelly) and her young stepson find themselves embroiled in the alien’s plan, they become the world’s only hope to stave off apocalyptic annihilation.

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The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) 6.0

eyelights: Jennifer Connelly. the scale of the picture. the environmental message.
eyesores: Keanu Reeves. the departures from the original. G.O.R.T. the environmental message.

Honestly, I never really had the intention of watching this remake of ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still‘. I loved the original, and I couldn’t fathom that you could update it without losing what made it special: the setting, the political climate, the dated special effects, not having Keanu Reeves in it.

Look, I don’t want to pour hatred on Reeves endlessly, but any movie with him in the lead is usually something I steer clear of. Even when he’s in a secondary role (ex: ‘Much Ado About Nothing’) he’s completely spoiled films for me. There are exception, for sure (‘The Matrix’ comes to mind), but it’s a rare occurrence.

So when I heard that he was taking the lead in this remake, and that he was playing the part of Klaatu, I died a little bit inside.

Klaatu is the lead character in the original film; there are very few scenes without him in it. The notion that I would have to watch Keanu (read: “canoe” – the most wooden actor of his generation!) for the whole duration was depressing to say the least. Especially since the original had a certain subtle charisma that Keanu likely couldn’t possibly reproduce.

But then I went ahead and watched the original lately and, since I’ve been making a point of watching remakes and various edits of films I’m blurbing about, I figured that it would only be natural to do the same in this case – despite any aversion that might be stirring in the pit of my stomach. One has to suffer for one’s art, right? (Pffft… “art”!)

On the positive front, the film also boasts Jennifer Connelly as co-lead. In a massive departure from the original, Connelly plays a scientist who is brought in to observe the arrival of Klaatu from outer space. She ends up getting as much screen time as Reeves, which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned – and not just because it waters down Reeves’ presence (or lack thereof).

The issue is that film also diverts way off course from the original film:

-Granted, it had to update the cause of Klaatu’s visit: The Cold War is over and, although nuclear weapons are still a concern, they are at the forefront of very few minds these days. So they decided to pick the environment as the biggest cause of concern: In this version of ‘TDTESS’, Klaatu has been sent to eradicate humanity from the planet in order to give all other earthbound lifeforms a fighting chance!

While I commend a large-scale Hollywood motion picture for tackling the issue, it feels like an unconvincing argument to me: Would aliens from the other end of the galaxy give a hoot about life on our planet? If so, why? What has compelled them to intrude on human affairs? Who regulates these types of interferences? And do they do this regularly?

None of this is explained, which leaves us with the impression that they only picked the environment because it is the “cause du jour”, that it is totally interchangeable with whatever other cause would have been popular at the time. Gosh, I can only imagine what the film would have been like if the day’s most talked about issue had been on a much smaller, less significant, scale – such as the Snowsuit Fund, or Toy Mountain.

-Klaatu is no longer a peaceable man. While the original came as a man of peace, attempting to reach out to humanity, this new Klaatu is here to destroy humanity. And, although he regrets the harm that he causes, he doesn’t hesitate, for instance, to telekinetically crush a police officer with a car – instead of telekinetically removing the officer’s gun. Duh. I suspect that this choice was made so that they could give Kleatu (sic) some action scenes.

The problem is that, in so doing, they contrived more violence than was actually necessary. Furthermore, they insulted the audience’s intelligence by showing how all-powerful Klaatu is in one moment, but how he resorts to petty violence in another. Either he is a poorly written (likely!), or the character is an unstable numbskull who doesn’t deserve to be sent on this mission – he obviously can’t be trusted to do a consistent, professional job.

This is most unfortunate, because the original character was Spock-like: composed, but also curious about humanity. He worked in conjunction with a few of them to get his message across and was considerate of the risks involved with the use of his powers. In short, he was logical and responsible – qualities that Kleatu could only ever dream of having. And, as the central figure of the piece, his overall demeanour changes the tone of the film considerably.

-As mentioned above, Kleatu is not here to consult with humanity, as the original did. This is a huge departure in that it transforms the picture from a Twilight Zone-like suspense piece into an ‘Independence Day’-lite disaster film. Personally, I preferred the collaborative approach of the first film more than the “them vs. us” style of the new one – it is not just a more productive way of taking care of issues, but it offers hope instead of a simple struggle for survival.

Admittedly, the original Klaatu made threats, and these threats were the motivating factor for humanity coming to terms with their warring ways, but he gave them a “heads up” and then proceeding to consult with them. This version merely shows up once a decision has been finalized (by unknown powers, it must be restated) and proceeds to getting the job done, bringing his big dumb cgi robot along to wipe everything out.

Except that, if Kleatu was already clear on his mission of destruction, why did he even bother to mingle with humanity? Why didn’t he just stay aboard his craft (or stayed within the ball of light, or whatever it is) and just hit the “on” button to destroy humanity? What was the point? He didn’t even need to take up a human form, quite frankly, because all that did was slow down his progress. Why would he subject himself to all the pain and prodding that followed?

Again, he doesn’t seem like a very bright messenger of death in this iteration. As far as I’m concerned, even when he meets the Nobel-winning scientist (in a sequence lifted from the first film, but which had no point this time around, given that scientists played no part in its resolution), he showed his intellectual ineptitude by writing in scrawled gibberish – a third-grade penmanship that no super-intelligent ambassador from another planet, one who learned to speak by osmosis, would have. He would be precise, efficient.

Basically this film is filled with what the makers of ‘Rubber‘ would categorize as “no reason”:

-What is the reason for the intro sequence with Keanu Reeves, which takes place 80 years earlier? No reason.

-Why were all the scientists rounded up and taken to the site of the eventual cataclysm, thereby likely killing them – instead of keeping them at a safe distance so that they could make their analysis and report back? No reason.

-Why was Jennifer Connelly -and only her- allowed to walk ahead of all the soldiers and make contact with the alien lifeform? No reason.

-Why would Klaatu allow himself to be taken by the humans and subjected to various tests? No reason.

-If Klaatu can take someone’s else’s clothing without touching them, why can’t he just create clothing out of thin air? No reason.

-How is it that Klaatu got away without anyone noticing until he was well out of range? No reason.

-Why would Kleatu (sic) ask Jennifer Connelly to drive him around – and she would do so without question, even when they end up out in the backwoods? No reason.

-How did Jennifer’s stepson reach the authorities, exactly? Did he press the red “Contact the authorities” button on the phone? No reason.

-Why couldn’t Jennifer Connelly be the mom of an interracial boy instead of being the stepmother of a black boy? Is it some BS Hollywood notion of racial purity? No reason.

-How is it that the U.S. Army was able to capture G.O.R.T. (they couldn’t move him, but they suddenly had him in an underground facility)? No reason.

-Why does G.O.R.T. initially appear as a gigantic robot, if its intended purpose is to spread like a swarm of robotic bugs? No reason.

No reason. No reason. On and on, no reason. And for no reason at all.

Furthermore, there are a couple of final moments that simply don’t make any sense whatsoever:

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

-What is it that changed Klaatu’s mind exactly? After hearing first-hand information from another alien that humans were loveable, he carried on with his mission. But he got swayed by some barely heartfelt exchange between Jennifer and her stepson, something so tenuous that it should have had no bearing at all. Again, Kleatu is a moron.

-How did Klaatu stop G.O.R.T., exactly? After he suddenly and inexplicably changed his mind about annihilating the whole human race, he suddenly walked in the G.O.R.T.-swarm, turned into light (or something or other… who knows!) and halted doom right in its tracks. How?

…and, if he’s more powerful than G.O.R.T., then why did he need him as bodyguard in the first place? Le sigh.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

These are all matters that a decent writer should have been able to sort out. Unfortunately, Stuart Hazeldine, Ryne Douglas Pearson and David Scarpa, are not those writers. These guys have pretty much done nothing amongst the three of them. Seriously. ‘Knowing’ is one of their only other credits – and the others are all way off the radar!

Between Keanu Reeves’ inability to play an emotionless alien convincingly (which is really f-ing saying something, isn’t it?) and the incompetent script, the movie is only tolerable – juxtaposed with the original, it appears to stumble in every possible way one can imagine.

It’s not a wholly unwatchable mess, but it’s a very run-of-the-mill Hollywood concoction – it’s nothing at all noteworthy or memorable, and it’s an unbelievably paltry tribute to the science fiction classic. Heck, it doesn’t even make a passing reference to “Klaatu barada nikto”.

As far as I’m concerned, this ‘Day’ can take a walk.

Date of viewing: Dec 3, 2012

One response to “The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

  1. Pingback: War of the Worlds | thecriticaleye·

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