Directed by Scott Derrickson
December 12, 2008
Aliens come to Earth because they are planning to wipe out the human race to give Earth’s environment another chance because they are peaceful in this extremely loose remake of the 1951 classic.
What should you do when you decide to remake a thoughtful and hopeful film from any era? In this case make it a big science-fiction spectacle that is depressing and dark with an unclear message. I guess I am saying this film does not even try.
One thing is that Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) at several points either implies or states that the aliens that he represents are peaceful and they do not seek to harm humanity, but their goal is to wipe out the human race to give Earth another chance because there are so few habitable planets in the galaxy and they do not want humans to destroy one of them. On top of that the actions of G.O.R.T. (here an acronym for Genetically Organized Robotic Technology rather than the thing’s name), and at times Klaatu indicate a distinct ambivalence if outright disregard for human life. On top of that their kneejerk reactions tend to be on the destructive side rather than aimed at just stopping. Peaceful? Hardly.
In this film the backstory involving Helen (Jennifer Connelly) and Jacob (Jaden Smith) feels unnecessarily convoluted. In the original the child’s father died while in the military prior to the events of the film and the kid (in the original named Bobby) was clearly the son of Helen. Not so much so here. Jacob’s mom died when he was very young and his dad who was an engineer died while overseas building things in the military so now having no other relatives on the planet Jacob was left in the care of Helen who has a tense relationship with Jacob. That is way too much backstory for one character in a two-hour movie. I am not sure why Jacob just could not be Jennifer Connelly’s son and the dad be black. It is simple into the point. It is not like there were not interracial children onscreen elsewhere at this point. This is not the 30s people.
Previously Klaatu was, well, I guess you could call him a physically superior human. He was just healthier and in better overall shape than other humans. Here Klaatu is some kind of genetic super being with God like powers apparently sent by his alien masters to make contact with just one other alien in order to decide to wipe out the entire planet. They have God like powers and advanced technology that dwarfs current technology but need to send people to hangout for a few decades to make a decision?
Everything rests on an alien agent going by the name of Mr. Wu (James Hong) and a single verbal report given in a restaurant by him to Klaatu. For an advanced species this seems like a flimsy basis to make a consequential decision on. They are making a decision on whether or not to commit genocide based on one person who has “gone native” as they used to say. Even though his words condemn us to extinction he decides to stay and be wiped out with us. Does that sound like a reliable source for reporting?
Do these aliens not have communication devices? They need to send somebody to chitchat with what looks to be their sole agent on the planet. This was after it was stated that Klaatu had come to earth to communicate with the leaders of the world to make his decision. That particular plot thread got more or less entirely dumped right after the obligatory appearance by Professor Karl Barnhardt (John Cleese) to create a tangential connection to the original.
Right there this remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still went from Klaatu trying to enlighten humanity to Klaatu deciding whether or not to wipe out humanity. In the original Klaatu came to issue a dire warning and be on his way and give humanity time to change. Whether we heeded or not was up to us. Here it was “Change now or I’m killing you!” This was all built around the idea of humanity only being able to change while on the brink.
The original was a story about nuclear weapons and war. I think this film is going for an environmental message and maybe antiwar, but it is not really clear. The message is vague and unfocused. There were Biblical allusions in the original, but they were far more subtle there than here. Here Klaatu is practically God which brings the question of why does he work for anybody? Previously Klaatu was akin to an agent of God.
In the original Helen was just a secretary. Not unexpected in the films of the era. Here she is a world-class scientist and in the center of the action. I do not mind necessarily an upgraded position, but she got an upgrade and prominence of the story which probably led to the rather unfocused narrative. They had to tell her story as well as whatever message they may have been trying to get across with these peaceful yet destructive aliens.
The Day the Earth Stood Still certainly looks good. It has some impressive special effects. The only flaw is the one that should have been the best CGI which is GORT. GORT looks like some graphic from an early Xbox game. The shading and texture are all wrong with the environment. It looks it was photo shopped into the movie. I understand it is supposed to be a collection of tiny machines but it looks more like an afterthought inserted into the movie.
The resolution. Ugh! The idea is to convince Klaatu that humanity is not all that bad and deserves a chance to fix itself because they are on the precipice. Humanity is faced with ultimate destruction and that’s gonna make us change so the good aliens will not destroy us. And Klaatu’s decision to halt the destruction caused by the GORT cloud is based on his feelings for Jacob. That might have worked if there was a genuine relationship built between the two, but Jacob is antagonistic for the bulk of the film. He even calls the army and rats out Klaatu! That is until Jacob gets lost in the woods near Barnhardt’s house and then he and Klaatu are magically friends. It is no deeper of a change than one moment they are not and the next they are.
The action takes place in Manhattan near the United Nations, at least in the beginning, and I am not bothered by that. That actually makes more sense than landing in Washington like in the original, but the issue is that rather than try to make it to the United Nations to at least present his case he moves further away from it because apparently Professor Barnhardt is the type of leader that he should talk to and not the people actually in charge of governance or those that could speak to those in charge. Barnhardt is not world renowned here. He is just somebody that Helen has worked with.
In the end this remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still only shares the name and a few brief scenes in common with the original film. It has no clear message to convey and is not intended to be a thoughtful film. It is aimed at an audience that likes spectacle. I think in the end you can skip it!
2 thoughts on “The Day the Earth Stood Still: An Ultimately Empty Version of a Classic Film”
With the talent involved, and the scale of the production, you’d think this would be much better than it was. A pretty lame turkey, I recall seeing this at the cinema and walking out aghast. My late father in law always loved the original, and I played him this new version some years back and he couldn’t believe how much worse it was. You can always rely on Hollywood surprising you on finding new ways to frak things up.
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It is clear the creative minds here had no real appreciation for the original. They saw some cool concepts that they wanted to use in another film and decided to slap a known name on it in case they screwed up-which they did.