THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (2008) ** movie review by COOP

Posted on December 17th, 2008
Posted on December 17th, 2008

Bear with me here…

During WWII, the Nazis had Stalingrad under siege. The Russians shot their own retreating soldiers and deported the families of those soldiers in an attempt to threaten their troops into fighting harder. Instead, morale plummeted and they became desperate. In a flash of brilliance, the Russian propaganda mongers invented a sniper (super) hero, Vassili Zaitzev, to give their people hope. Russian troops wanted to be like Zaitzev so much, they fought harder and turned back the Nazis despite impossible odds (see the fantastic film “Enemy at the Gates” for that inspirational story).

2008 is no Stalingrad, but we are currently in a recession/global crisis and could use a little hero inspiration. Given our timely situation, what would we say to a jerk alien named “Klaatu” who comes down from outer space and declares us (Americans/humans) hopeless and not fit to exist on this planet? Not exactly the hero we deserve is he? More like an arrogant foreigner trying stick his nose into our business.

The 1951 sci-fi classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” is one of the greatest classics in cinema history, and is a cautionary tale against war and nuclear holocaust. The inevitable remake would require the highest caliber filmmakers giving their all to do the original justice. A flawless cast, fantastic special effects and relevant cultural timing are a must for its success. This remake has none of those things.

Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), probably the most attractive astro-biologist in the world, gets kidnapped by Homeland Security and transported to central park where a spaceship is about to touchdown. The alien pilot (Keanu Reeves) emerges and is immediately shot by a frightened soldier. After the scientists care for the alien Klaatu’s wounds, he gives the humans a dire warning. Fearing him, the government imprisons Klaatu and attempts to destroy the robotic killing machine, G.O.R.T., guarding his ship. Sensing a hidden benevolence in Klaatu, Helen helps him escape and, along with her stepson (Jaden Smith), learns of Klaatu’s true intentions toward the planet.

The plot of the remake isn’t much different from the original, but the differences reside completely in the delivery and the devices used to propel the plot forward. For instance, Klaatu appears human but this time, he’s an energy impulse riding in the body of a clone. He can manipulate anything electrical, even other human bodies. Also, G.O.R.T. has far more powerful weapons than his trademark eye laser. All of these are neat updates, but the only important revamp of the plot is an environmental one which further belabors the preachy elements of the original story. To top it off, the filmmakers inappropriately tie a McDonalds product placement into the story, giving the audience an uncomfortable moment of laughter.

Keanu Reeves performs as if the director told him, “Okay, you know how stiff and wooden you usually act? Magnify that times ten!” I keep waiting for this guy to fall out of favor with audiences, but his star continues to rise. Don’t get me wrong, he was great in “Speed” and “The Matrix” films, but he’s still far too limited for the majority of roles he gets.

As for Jennifer Connelly, I believe the opposite. Sure she gets a few A-list roles, but she usually plays a female lead in awe of a powerfully destructive male (like in “Hulk,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “Dark City,” “Labyrinth,” etc.). The majority of her scenes usually have her staring with her jaw hanging open at some catastrophe, and “Day” is no exception. I’ve always appreciated her but unlike Keanu, she has range and potential. I’d prefer to see her take some chances.

The most distracting performance comes from Will Smith’s son, Jaden, as Helen’s precocious stepson who ends up educating Klaatu in the merits of humanity. I have no problems with the kid as an actor, but his character is a brat. If there’s one thing filmmakers could’ve left out of the remake is the smart-mouth grade school kid who can’t decide whether to run from the alien screaming or hug him like E.T. It annoyed me a bit in the original, but absolutely insulted me in this new version. Expect the young actor to further irk nostalgic audiences when he stars in the remake of “The Karate Kid.”

This remake fell upon ill timing. It would require a level of serious and dark sci-fi filmmaking not present in this decade. Also, I don’t believe the current global situation qualifies us as fair game to preachy intergalactic bullies. We’ve got our own problems at the moment and we’re dealing with them the best we can, so this type of sci-fi seems irrelevant at this juncture. Recent celluloid heroes like “Iron Man” and “The Dark Knight” appeal to us because they give us satisfaction and hope in times of uncertainty. Smug, holier-than-thou characters like Klaatu do not. I’m officially requesting a moratorium on heavy-handed sci-fi until our level of apathy officially reaches an all-time low. It’s the same reason anti-war films are failing miserably at the box office. Americans can’t stomach anymore cultural guilt at present. Until we’re over that, I’m going to prefer Iron Man and Vassili Zaitzev.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

First the trailer for the original…

Now the remake…

Now the trailer for “Enemy at the Gates,” (a heroic movie I’d much rather be watching right now)…

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