18 March 2009

Movie Review: The Day the Earth stood still


The Day The Earth Stood Still
2008, 103mins, PG-13
Director: Scott Derrickson
Writer (s): David Scarpa, Edmund H. North (1951 screenplay)
Cast include: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Jaden Smith, Kathy Bates, John Cleese, Robert Knepper, Jon Hamm
Release Date: 12th December 2008

The Day The Earth Stood Still is as most will know a remake of a cult Sci-Fi movie of the same name, a picture that many hail as a classic and which in its time with an anti-war message actually maintained some sort of social importance. This reboot is what would happen if Al Gore was allowed to spin out a blockbuster, the film should be commended for taking the story and message in a different fashion but it’s eco-friendly morals have been shoved down cinema throats far to often in recent years. It’s time humans stopped telling each other to clean the earth and actually started into it, at least in that scenario my popcorn cinema wouldn’t be polluted with heavy handed and stale environmental moralizing.

One evening out of the blue government officials come rapping at the door of Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) claiming that she is required for a matter of National security. On arrival at a military base Helen is joined by numerous other scientists and is told that a large object is on a collision course with New York and looks set to wipe the City of the map. After hysteria and panic the giant object does make contact with earth, but instead of being an asteroid it’s a glowing and floating ball of energy roughly the size of a small sky scraper. Out of the ball emerges Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) who is immediately taken into government security and warns that humans are destroying earth, and if they don’t heed his warning in order to save the planet his race will have to destroy mankind. The government takes it as threat of an impending invasion and in a moment of weakness Klaatu escapes aided by Helen, who desperately tries to convince the alien that in their time of doom humanity will change. Klaatu remains unsure and so Helen and her son Jacob (Jaden Smith) attempt to demonstrate that humanity can change for the better, all the while with the government prepping for attack and hunting the trio as they travel.

The Day The Earth Stood Still is in truth a terribly tedious film, what was great in 1951 doesn’t means it’s great now especially updated into this unoriginal and unexciting blockbuster. Director Scott Derrickson clearly means well and I have faith that he and his creative team envisioned their remake as more than a cash grab, but sadly in attempting to add further thought to the eco-debate they’ve overlooked creation of an entertaining film, a fatal flaw for a big Box-Office hopeful.

As Klaatu Reeves aims for mysterious but ends up boring, his Zen style of acting has worked in certain parts (The Matrix, Constantine) and in theory should work here, but sadly the actor has confused stiffness with intriguing and bland dialogue delivery as ominous. The role of Klaatu is absolutely central to the scripts success and so via Reeves uninspired performance the film is destined for failure from starting point. Connelly is much better as Helen the film’s most engaging character and the only saving grace of the trio of main performers. Connelly herself has also been guilty of handing in bland performances in the past but here she brings her top games and elevates the work of everyone around her. Even Reeve’s when playing beside Connelly looks reasonably animated. Jaden Smith ruins much of the good will he injected into me after his lovely performance in 2006’s The Pursuit Of Happyness, the last two years seemingly not kind to the Fresh Prince’s son as he’s transformed from sweet and sympathetic to obnoxious and irritating. Finally John Cleese turns up in a laughable cameo as a Noble Prize winning scientist and Kathy Bates gives a convicted turn as the secretary of Defense.

The movies message is blatant and hard to miss, screenwriter David Scarpa has forced as much of his eco-friendly drivel into the plot and dialogue as he possibly could. I fully appreciate the environmental problem we are living and do appreciate that the filmmakers have come up with a new theme, sadly they apply it with little modesty or skill and in truth we’ve heard it a thousand times before on the News and in better features. There is also a fair bit of religious allegory thrown in that shouldn’t go over to many people’s heads, it’s obvious and basic and once more pretty stale. The film also offers a handful of emotional subplots and ideas some of which are borderline interesting, but sadly none are developed to a satisfying scale.

Visually Derrickson has composed some nice shots but his action sequences aren’t much cop, they’re too fast and virtually never attempt to do anything outside of the genre’s comfort zone. Those involving GORT a giant robot sent with Klaatu for defensive reasons are probably the best, but even then they only manage to rack up the excitement to the minimum levels you expect from a feature of this nature. Again as with this year’s Eagle Eye blowing stuff up isn’t enough, you need to find fresh and fun ways to do it and add genuine tension aswell. The CGI is patchy some of it looks great but other uses are obvious digital counterparts. For a film of this size and scope audiences have at least come to expect more from special effects than The Day The Earth Stood Still provides.

I can’t imagine that the film won’t cook up decent business but at the same time it’s a good deal less appealing than recent Sci-Fi hits like I Am Legend, the picture just doesn’t offer enough excitement and its key themes have been suggested far too many times before for that to act as an audience hook. The Day The Earth Stood Still means well, but sadly it takes more than that to churn out a competent and acceptable piece of high profile filmmaking.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2008


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