The Day The Earth Stood Still review

Ron hopes for the best as Hollywood remakes the Citizen Kane of sci-fi movies...

The Day The Earth Stood Still is a science fiction classic, so when it was announced that a remake was in the works, fans naturally began wailing and gnashing their teeth in anguish. And that was before they announced the cast included Keanu Reeves! While I’m generally in the anti-remakes camp, as are most Geeks at the site, I can acknowledge that remakes aren’t all bad. See The Fly and The Thing for two examples of how remakes can be a positive benefit by adding cool new special effects. The Day The Earth Stood Still is a great example, too.

A great example of why remakes by filmmakers who are completely devoid of good ideas should be banned from video stores.

Earth is in a crisis. It seems like every other big-budget action movie features Earth in some sort of crisis or another, but this one has to do with a speeding object heading straight towards Manhattan. That means it’s time to trot out the scientists, including a girl scientist named Helen Benson (a wasted Jennifer Connelly). Of course, since this is the government, by the time they dispatch 18 vehicles to pick up one person and take them to the airport, they’ve already screwed around so much that all they can do is fly scientists to the impending crash site.

Except there’s no crash. What’s thought to be a meteor turns out to be a gigantic, lame-looking CGI globe. The military rushes into position, thoughtfully surrounding the giant marble (rather than establishing a clean line of fire to avoid missing the globe and hitting people on the other side) so that when the alien steps out, someone’s able to shoot him before he can deliver his message of peace and love. The alien visitor, Klaatu (Keanu Reeves), is taken immediately into government custody.

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Meanwhile, other mysterious alien bowling balls appear throughout the planet, and it’s up to the Secretary of Defense Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates) and the United States to beat the information out of the alien: What is he here for? Is he peaceful or dangerous? When is Johnny Mnemonic 2 getting made? It’s a damn shame this movie skipped its chance to waterboard Keanu Reeves for awhile, because I would’ve paid double to see that.

Anyway, the alien escapes, and like a malevolent ET, he depends on Helen and Helen’s stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith) to get him. Well, I’m not really sure where they were trying to go to begin with, but the end result is more chases, an angry Gort, and a lot of loud, staggeringly bright things happening on screen. The way I describe it is more exciting than the actual movie.

Keanu Reeves has finally been cast in the role he was born to play. That role is Klaatu, or at least this movie’s version of Klaatu. I mean, who else could play a monosyllabic, emotionless, soulless automaton better than Keanu? Maybe a wax dummy, but it’d be a pretty close tie as the dummy might be too much intelligence in its glass eyes.

This movie’s one lone bright spot from an acting standpoint is that John Cleese is involved (he gets the only good interaction the movie’s humans have with Klaatu). Kathy Bates just looks bored. Jennifer Connelly simply spends the movie fretting nervously. Jaden Smith wasn’t terribly obnoxious as child actors go (he’s not even a full point on the Jonathan Lipnicki Scale of Child Actor Obnoxiousness), but someone desperately needs to give that kid a decent haircut because he looks like the lovechild of Macy Gray and Howdy Doody.

Maybe it’s just because they’re in the same movie with Keanu Reeves, but every single extra in this film seemed to be chewing the scenery like hungry termites. Reeves is about as expressive as one of those giant stone heads on Easter Island, I’ll grant you that, but someone should have told the background players (especially Robert Knepper) to tone it down. A lot. It was as big and showy as silent movie acting at some points, and it made it hard not to laugh at the already outlandish script.

The twitching and flailing just brought extra attention to how lame the script by David Scarpa was. This is only his second work on the big screen, the other being the underwhelming The Last Castle, and it shows. Kathy Bates and Jennifer Connelly have nothing to work with. Kathy gets a generic, clueless government bitch role, and Jennifer is reduced to a whining, begging waste. You’d think the movie could find something interesting about two powerful female roles, but you’d be wrong. If these two characters were my only exposure to humanity, I’d want to destroy the earth, too.

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Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) isn’t the sort of director I’d trust a big-budget movie to. In case you’ve missed the subtle jabs thus far, he hasn’t handled the task very well. The actors are struggling with the bad material, the CGI is awful, and the movie seems to be doing its best to blind the theater with INCREDIBLY BRIGHT LIGHTS at random intervals. His version of The Day The Earth Stood Still strips out everything good in the original and replaces it with a long, drawn-out chase across several states that, somehow, never actually feels in any way exciting or tense.

I wouldn’t even describe the film as workmanlike, because that implies that the film was crafted in some way, rather than hot-glued together out of bits and pieces. There’s no consistency of tone or performance, as the movie doesn’t know if it wants to be a science fiction piece, The Fugitive, or a natural disaster film. It manages to be none of these things.

A few days prior to the release of the movie, Den of Geek’s Martin and I had an email exchange where we discussed this film and what we thought it would be. I make it a point do my best to avoid spoilers wherever possible. That said, Martin felt that it was going to have some badly-handled allusion to terrorism, and I said that it was going to have some badly-handled environmentalism theme. As it turns out, we were both right. Rather than making some poignant statement about nuclear gamesmanship (or make any poignant statement about anything), TDTESS instead decides to smash us over the head with a cudgel that reads “Stop polluting the Earth” while also hitting us in the stomach with a pipe labeled “War is bad.”

Gee, thank you, movie. I really hadn’t learned that lesson from 30 years of Vietnam movies and WALL-E. There’s nothing quite like making an environmentalist film and filling it with constant driving by vehicles that get the worst gas mileage in car history. You really needed to chase an SUV with 8 Hummers to tell me that I’m a bad person for driving my 17-year-old Buick into work.

US correspondent Ron Hogan is not a fan of Keanu Reeves. He likes his actors to have more than one facial expression. Find more by Ron at his blog, Subtle Bluntness, and daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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1 out of 5