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- Movie: The Day the Earth Stood Still
- Rating: PG-13
- Starring: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jaden Smith, John Cleese, Jon Hamm, James Hong,
- Written By: David Scarpa (based on 1951 original by Edmund H. North)
- Directed By: Scott Derrickson
- Distributor: 20th Century Fox
MOVIE REVIEW- The Day the Earth Stood Still
The re-interpreting of a science fiction classic
By Josh Gordon
December 11, 2008
Keanu Reeves stars in 20th Century Fox's THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL(2008).
© Mania.com/Josh Gordon
Remaking a Classic
What surprised me most in the preceeding months before Scott Derrickson’s remake of the 1951’s classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still” hit the screens is how few people have seen the original. Director Robert Wise’s (The Sound of Music, The Haunting) original forever changed science fiction. The way we currently view many sci-fi givens - the spaceships, the robots, alien beings, alien technology and even the music were crafted in cement by this unusually literate and intelligent film. While bringing up the remake in conversation, most people I’ve spoken to - even fans of the genre have not experienced this genuinely thrilling motion picture.
One of the reasons the original is so powerful is that as the cold war got under way in the 1950s, most sci-fi films of the era were stood as a metaphor for the threat of communism. DTESS, uniquely and fearlessly, looked at the threat of mankind itself. It’s one of the first serious films to address our ability to destroy ourselves.
Same Story, Different Day
Aside from a predictable ecological bent, the story remains essentially the same; Humankind’s destructive nature becomes so much of a threat that an intergalactic emissary by the name of Klaatu (a surprisingly effective Keanu Reeves in the remake, Michael Rennie in the original) comes to earth with a grave message: Your destructive ways are now endangering more than your own species, change or we will destroy you.
While entertaining, and at times fantastic, the remake loses too much of its initial steam to become completely successful. Midway though the movie the plot gets bogged down in a mother/son story between scientist Dr. Helen Benson (the gorgeous but sadly Hollywood thin Jennifer Connelly) and her step-son Jacob (a competent Jaden Smith) which serves as a parallel for the larger story of the film. While the attempt to deliver character and story depth is admirable, it’s inefficiently executed and feels overly repetitious.
In a twist from the original, Jaden Smith’s character initially doesn’t like or trust Klaatu and thinks he should be killed. I really enjoyed watching the typical cliché, that children are always more astute and aware than their grown up counterparts, get ignored but it’s a breath of fresh air that grows a little stale as the film moves forward.
Keanu is a Klaatu for the New Millennium
Keanu Reeves turns in a surprisingly dark, interesting and successful performance as Klaatu, a role so supremely owned by Michael Rennie that it alone makes a remake seem absurd. Reeves overcomes the shadow of the original performance to create the impression of a being truly getting used to being in someone else’s skin and imbues Klaatu himself with a darker, colder, less emotional center than Rennie’s more human-like interpretation.
An Abrupt Change of Heart
In the original you get the sense that Klaatu is slowly and over time taking in the good he sees in human nature which ultimately informs his final decision while our new Klaatu seems to have unwaveringly made up his mind inside a McDonalds (in what is ironically one of the films best scenes), to destroy us until a late in the film sequence between Connelly and Smith at the gravesite of their deceased husband and father, respectively. This feels too abrupt to be organic and would have been better cooked to the slow boil that the original dishes out.
The Return of Gort!
One of the most iconic images of the original film is that of Klaatu’s bodyguard, the robot Gort. The initial appearance of Gort in the newer version will be a pure delight to any fan of the original. The remake’s Gort is just awesome and is purely a modern, but literal interpretation of the original that succeeds wonderfully.
But that delight is greatly muted when Gort’s final appearance in the film is in the form of tiny bug-like nano robots that sweep across New Jersey like a swarm of miniature locusts and thus Gort is reduced to a common computerized special effect without any emotional wallop. I would have liked to have seen Gort himself laying waste to cities instead of the nebulous cloud we’re eventually given. This was probably, purely on a fan-based level, my biggest disappointment
End Spoiler Alert
Particularly effective was what appeared to be a signaling of the end of the Bush era and the movie is surprisingly topical on that front. Images of a collapsing world economy are potent given that our own world economy troubles have occurred only in the last month or so. And sadly, the remake also hits home that in almost 60 years, the message is still relevant.
Ultimately Derrickson’s The Day the Earth Stood Still is an entertaining popcorn flick with noble Intentions and you can surely say that many films do much worse than that.
Like the recent remake “I Am Legend” TDTESS starts out so good that a conclusion of “entertaining” is, at final glance, a disappointment.
While I don’t think this film ends as poorly as I Am Legend (which was a disaster), it doesn’t live up to its opening promise as a message movie in the form of great entertainment, which is one of the reasons the original remains as good as it does to this day.