REVIEW: The Day the Earth Stood Still [2008]

“Only on the precipice do we evolve”

Ah, remakes. Why does Hollywood insist on updating/copying/being inspired by past works, especially when the original was good? The past few years have even seen re-imaginings of John Carpenter films; the guy is still alive and making movies, so why are we redoing his past work from only two decades ago? When it comes to the sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, I guess one can at least comprehend the want to infuse some 21st century graphics and effects; it was made in 1951 after all. But what it all comes down to is whether or not today’s filmmakers can remake something with relevance. The new The Day the Earth Stood Still attempts to distance itself from the original, only keeping the character names and a very general backbone to the plot—its script is based on the first film’s screenplay. While that could have freed the movie into becoming something new and different, the Hollywood machine decided to throw creativity out the window, making a bland, flashy popcorn flick, desperately trying to be pithy, yet only reinforcing how much better the original really is.

You know things have gone wrong when writer David Scarpa decides to be clever, making the giant robot get named by the government as an asinine acronym. Why can’t Klaatu just say that its name is Gort? Why does the military have to call it G.O.R.T.? It’s unnecessary and shows the sort of tongue-in-cheek callbacks that for some reason seem more important then telling an intriguing story. The most recognizable part of the first film is even completely cut out. How can you watch The Day the Earth Stood Still without the utterance of “Klaatu barada nikto”? It’s just plain sacrilege. Rather than a tale about humanity’s destruction of themselves and their world, we get a thinly veiled commentary on how America is the cowboy of Earth, calling itself leader and making decisions without the input of other world powers. This is no longer a cautionary story about people’s negativity and proclivity for violence; it has warped into the USA’s hubris and bullheadedness on topics such as survival. The country has aligned itself with a destroy all enemies before they can destroy us agenda, not realizing that by using force unprovoked will only therefore provoke the invading party, who will always be more powerful than us.

As for the story itself, don’t expect a shot for shot remake here, there is a lot different. For one, Jennifer Connelly plays Helen Benson as an astrobiologist, integral to the government’s interaction with the aliens as opposed to some random woman at the lodging house Klaatu visits in the original. But again, that all makes sense being 2008 now, in a post-9/11 world. Gone are the days an alien can land in Central Park and be met by local police. Instead we need to have the government tracking the visitor during its descent, preparing for an attack, only allowing certain scientists access at the eleventh hour, the public only when impact occurs. So, Helen meets Klaatu while he is being incarcerated, leaving an indelible impression as she becomes the reason he is allowed to escape the facility and attempt to meet with the universe’s undercover agent Mr. Wu, (played by the always wonderful James Hong). We then experience a collecting of lifeforms, a Noah’s Ark effect as Kathy Bates’ Secretary of State so obviously points out, as Klaatu prepares to let humanity die in order to save the planet—a very rare commodity being that it can sustain complex life.

On a purely special effects basis, there are definite reasons to watch this film. G.O.R.T.’s body’s disintegration into microscopic, multiplying, cutting insects is quite cool to behold. The rapid cracking of glass or dissolving of human tissue is well-orchestrated, not to mention the absolute destruction of Giants Stadium. Talk about a multi-million dollar effect that lasts about five seconds—worth every penny. I even enjoyed the sphere work of thunderclouds and fluid smoke/fog. And Klaatu’s healing power was a bit more advanced then needing Gort from the original to animate him again. Now, as long as he has a power source, the alien can jumpstart the vitals of a recently killed policeman, dead as a result of his now savior.

There are also a lot of good actors involved, all of who seem wasted. Besides Connelly, only Keanu Reeves’ Klaatu is given ample screentime. It’s a role that he is built for—devoid of emotion—anyone who isn’t a fan for that reason should enjoy his wooden delivery finally working perfectly. I joke, though, as I’m a fan of his, it’s just an easy comment to make, and I’m sure many do. As for the rest of the cast, I really liked John Cleese as a subdued Nobel Prize winning scientist. Without bombast, yet still with some humor, he appears to single-handedly plant the bug into Klaatu’s head that Earth may be worth saving. And being that this very important role in the first film only gets about five minutes of facetime here, that’s quite the feat. As for Jaden Smith, who shined in Pursuit of Happyness, I can’t say the same. Maybe it is the script’s fault for being so ham-fisted, but I just got annoyed with him. Always complaining, always rebelling, always being selfish, the part was written to progress the plot and it unfortunately shows.

That is the main problem here; it is all so obvious and contrived that you lose all sense of wonder and intrigue. You know that the boy’s father’s death as a military man will come into play, you know that him calling his stepmother Helen so emphatically will have a reversal before the film’s end, and you know that somehow everything will be ok. My biggest gripe, however, is with the ending. Stop reading now if you don’t want anything spoiled, although you should know how it ends by now anyways, but … Klaatu just leaves? He is about to destroy humanity and because a son finally calls his mother “mom”, even though right after that the US government attempts to blow him up, he decides to give them a second chance? Without even meeting world leaders to explain what they need to do? I guess extra-terrestrials give us way too much credit, because if that was I, there’s no way we’d survive the night. If anything, the US will just start saying they scared him off and were victorious against the intruders. I don’t see an entire nation acquiring enough humility to save itself in that short of time.

The Day the Earth Stood Still 4/10 | ★ ½

[1] Klaatu’s (Keanu Reeves) mission on Earth is tied to the spheres that have also arrived on the planet. Photo credit: WETA
[2] Jennifer Connelly stars as Dr. Helen Benson, a noted scientist who tries to unravel the mystery surrounding the arrival of an alien being. Photo credit: Doane Gregory


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.