I was lucky enough the other day to be sent the Blu-ray review disks for both versions of The Day the Earth Stood Still. I am a little nostalgic about this film, as it was one of the first ever science fiction movies that I ever came across. Yes, even before Star Wars, this blew me away at the time.
You can read my review of the original version here, because this is the modern incarnation of the movie.
Let’s start with the bad. The movie could be shorter. Too much time is spent setting up the character of Klaatu. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very intelligently done, but ten minutes could have been knocked off the start. Consequently, more could have been done to expand upon some of the latter parts of the plot. Some of the plot devices used are pretty ridiculous. I’m sorry, but if a civilisation is capable of creating a nano robot, travel across the stars and land giant space ships in central park, then a few high explosive bombs are unlikely to affect it.
Then we have Kathy Bates.
Kathy Bates is a superb actress in her own right – given the correct material. However, as an overly suspicious and anal (yes I used that word) secretary of defence she fails miserably. I’m sorry, but her characterisation grates on me from the beginning – being both unrealistic and overly reactive. It’s only as she settles in to the role somewhere near the three-quarter point of the movie that I actually felt relaxed watching her. Then, right where we really expect her character to shine, she goes and caves in just before the world is about to be saved.
I won’t go into just how creaky the script is. I’m sorry, but if you want to make the story tense and imaginative, you have to have dialogue to match.
Maybe I’m missing the point though? The original movie was a drama, helped along by believable characters and a thoughtful story. Although it had the obligatory ray-blasts and disintegration, it wasn’t about that. It was a story meant to make us think, as all good science fiction should. It paralleled the story of Christ himself, by providing a God-like character that can perform miraculous acts and yet be resurrected at the same time. Even the alias that Klaatu uses in the first film is a pointer towards this plot-point. The second film uses none of this.
In the new movie we have an alien, born on this planet – human in appearance, but not in ability. He is able to control electronic items, (and through them, mechanical items), at will, and he is also able to heal himself and others with the help of a miraculous salve – taken from the space suit that birthed him. The new Klaatu is colder, less human and more lobotomised than the original. Instead of warning us off nukes, he is here to judge us and determine whether we are capable of reversing the cataclysmic climatic changes and constant rape of the world’s resources. Early after his escape, he judges us on his brief experiences and those of a fellow being that has existed as one of us for decades. He rapidly forms the opinion that he needs to save the planet and not humanity.
He seems to care little for human life at first, only developing an attachment when he sees how humans interact with each other. His social mannerisms are clumsy, and sterile. He uses only the minimum amount of conversation to get across the point he needs to make. He is in fact more alien in this new movie than in the original. However, this is what gives this character more realism. Instead of having to play the part of a human, and learn about them from the inside he begins as an outsider, who is forced to live his limited life on the run from the authorities. He learns the hard way the lessons that human life has to teach us, and in the end he rescues the planet from his own devices – but at a terrible cost to us all.
The Transfer The new version of the movie is an excellent transfer. Blacks and dark scenes are flawless. The colours are moody and really set the scene. This has to be one of the best cinematic movie transfers I have ever seen, and if you have a decent large screen TV, you will really get the most out of it. If that wasn’t enough, the HD 5.1 channel surround mix blows you away. Every single sound is faithfully reproduced; from the sounds of insects flying through the trees to the massive bass when explosions rock the screen. This is a real home cinema treat.
Extras The extras in the new movie are equally as good, although there are a few pointless sections hanging around in the lower levels, (such as the thirty-second wonder where you design GORT). Some of the more interesting features include how the GORT robot was redesigned and the feature on how green the production tried to be would have been hilarious if it hadn’t been such a serious subject, (close ups on recycling bins being filled are really taking the Michael – especially when you get one item going in on a 20 second shot). The commentary was excellent and even more interesting than the movie. The deleted scenes were not, but only because there were few of them and they should really have been included in the movie anyway.
Conclusions Although the new version of the movie has arguably not been received as well by fans of the original, it is still a decent film. The green message does bring it up to date. Keanu Reeves plays the role he has been given well – especially considering the script limitations. Jennifer Connelly makes a good intelligent female lead, and plays the scientist and struggling step mum with aplomb. Jayden Smith, the young son of Will Smith, is a bratty but believable step son. The surprise of the movie comes in the form of John Cleese, a brilliant scientist whose single conversation with Klaatu sets the seeds for the planet’s survival.
Film:Transfer: Extras: The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008) is out now.