The Day The Earth Stood Still

The Day The Earth Stood Still


Reviewed by: Tony Sullivan

A group of scientists is called together to help investigate a close encounter of the third kind that manifests itself in New York’s Central Park. The first occupant steps out and is promptly shot for his pains. The second occupant is a malevolent mechanism that briefly menaces before being shut down by the wounded alien. With the powers-that-be determined to thwart an alien invasion, one scientist, Dr Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), undertakes to help the vulnerable alien (Keanu Reeves) escape and assist him in achieving his real purpose.

When Robert Wise made the original version of this film in 1951, America was reaching the crescendo of the red menace evil and, along with a good number of other countries, was embroiled in the Korean War which was threatening to turn into a nuclear conflict. Along comes genial spaceman Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and his attack dog robot, Gort, with a threat to spank these uppity and aggressive humans if they don’t shape up.

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Fast forward to 2008 and we find a world with many parallels to that of the Fifties although the situations are less black (or perhaps, red) and white these days. Whereas Rennie’s alien was here to waggle a reproving finger at us, Keanu has a different agenda altogether, even if the end result might be the same. The strength of the new film is in that subtle change of mission. I might dare to suggest that the credited screenwriter, David Scarpa, might actually have improved the broad storyline for today. Unfortunately everything else disappoints.

Keanu plays his alien as a blank automaton who makes Schwarzenegger’s Terminator seem warm and cuddly by comparison. This might work but for the fact that we are supposed to buy an emotional bond between Klaatu, Dr Benson and her stepson. There are a multitude of reasons why children in movies can be annoying. The boy, as played by Jaden Smith, falls into the category occupied by Anna Paquin in The Piano – the character is there to mess things up and be annoying.

Connelly is her bright and beautiful self, as per usual, although the plot doesn’t seem to support her initial involvement in the action. John Cleese, yes, John Cleese gets a delightful, if abbreviated, turn as a sympathetic academic. Kathy Bates gets stuck with the thankless role of Government stooge with the shoot-first-autopsy-second sensibility that Richard Jaeckal did so much better in Starman.

Another irritant is the point at which one spots the gratuitous product placement which seems particularly crass in a movie that has high-minded ideals for humanity – save the planet, buy Citizen Quartz watches and eat at McDonalds!

One area where a new film should be able to better its predecessor is in the area of special effects and the spaceships are suitably well designed and presented. The star of the original film was a huge humanoid robot named Gort, who lumbered around zapping things with his laser beam vision. The upgraded G.O.R.T. (Genetically Organized Robotic Technology, named by the military this time round) is a bigger manifestation that has a new trick up its metallic sleeve, which is visually impressive but at the expense of the creepiness possessed by the original.

The 1951 version backed up the sinister robot with one of Bernard Herrmann’s best music scores, eerily employing the Theremin (an early predecessor of the synthesizer, invented in 1919). Remake composer Tyler Bates follows the same recipe – and produces a good score, but not a memorable one.

I’m pleased the concept at least might reach a younger generation of film goers who have been primed to ‘shoot-the-alien’, but for the rest of us a remake is a risky undertaking, especially when dealing with a genre classic, and although there are redeeming features, much is flubbed.

Reviewed on: 14 Dec 2008
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The Day The Earth Stood Still packshot
Klaatu barada nikto, anyone? Remake of the seminal 50s sci-fi thriller.
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Read more The Day The Earth Stood Still reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray *1/2

Director: Scott Derrickson

Writer: David Scarpa, based on the screenplay by Edmund H North, based on the short story by Harry Bates

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Jaden Smith, Kathy Bates, John Cleese, Jon Hamm, Kyle Chandler, Robert Knepper, Aaron Douglas, Lorena Gale, Roger R Cross, Alisen Down

Year: 2008

Runtime: 92 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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