Before watching ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ , I though that on a scale of 1-10, it was going to be a 5. That would match up with the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, wouldn’t it? Thankfully, I was wrong. It just goes to show that having low expectations is always a good strategy - if anything, you’re just pleasantly surprised.
‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ is a film that manages to create tension without the use of constant explosions or all encompassing disaster scenes - two things that we always expect when watching alien invasion films. Unlike ‘Independence Day’ you don’t really understand why the aliens have come to visit earth until the latter half of the film. However, that does not prevent the dread from building throughout the film.
The beginning scene of the film is the first step toward creating this tension. It takes place in 1928 in the snowy mountains of India. A blizzard rages as a bearded and bundled Keanu Reeves attempts to shield himself inside After hearing a noise, he goes to investigate. Above his camp he finds a glowing sphere. With his pick axe, he cracks the sphere’s exterior. He then loses consciousness and wakes up to find that the sphere is gone, but he is left with a scar on his hand. It is only when Keanu Reeves (sorry, Klaatu) appears again that you understand the incredible weight the first scene holds for the rest of the film.
He appears again to the audience from a sphere that lands in Central Park, although he is encased in an organic material (described by one of the scientists as something similar to“whale blubber”). Once the outer skin sloughs off ,a fetal version of Keanu is uncovered . However, the deadness in his eyes and his matter of fact tone (plus the fact that he has already encountered the glowing sphere in the mountains) lets the audience know that he is no ordinary human. He is a force to be reckoned with. When the Secretary of Defense (played by Kathy Bates) asks him “Why have you come to our planet?”, his chilling reply of “Your planet?“ gives the audience a clue that his intentions are anything but pure.
Jennifer Connelly plays Helen Benson, a Princeton University professor who specializes in microbiology (especially those microorganisms that inhabit the cosmos). She and Klaatu’s paths collide when she is one of the attending scientists, beckoned by the U.S. Government, called to figure out what this celestial body in Central Park could be. Her connection with Klaatu is undeniable. She becomes his “earthly” guide and protector as she seeks to understand his presence on earth. Connelly, as per usual gives a stellar performance ( I didn’t mean the pun). Not only do you care about Helen’s somewhat strained relationship with her stepson (played by Jaden Smith), but you also support her wholeheartedly in her quest to stop Earth’s imminent destruction.
Once Klaatu explains that the aliens have come to protect planet Earth and to stop the human race from destroying it any further, Benson makes it her quest to convince him that the human race deserves a second chance. Meanwhile, Gort, a.k.a Genetically Organized Robotic Technology, a.k.a the big robot dude from the commercials, emerges from the sphere that Keanu’s character came in. The tension comes to a head when the military captures Gort and in an attempt to destroy it. Only then do you learn just how the aliens are going to destroy the earth. Gort is actually made up ofself-replicating insects that reproduce when they devour inorganic material. This is where the special effects of the movie really shine. We watch soldiers disintegrate, highways dematerialize, and entire buildings become dust. The tension that was building from the very first moment of the film reaches its peak during one all encompassing scene of destruction.
Although I have never seen the original, I truly enjoyed its remake. Keanu Reeves’ depiction of Klaatu was believable, and there was nothing hokey or overly sentimental about the ending. Furthermore, unlike ‘The Happening’, the message in this film was not at all heavy-handed. There was nothing preachy about why the aliens had come to earth, and its explanation came not from silly news reports but from Klaatu’s mouth: earth is one of the only planets capable of supporting complex life. That in and of itself is worth protecting.
Let me preface this little diatribe here with a disclaimer. A warning shall we say. When it comes to the original “Day the Earth Stood Still”, I am one of the biggest self described fan boys there is. It is a movie I’ve watched probably hundreds of times over; I love it dearly. With that in mind, I went into the remake with clearly biased, but I felt my bias was justified in the end. This can also be classified as ‘nerd rage’. I’m guilty of that too!
When the word first came about that they would be remaking the 1951 classic, I was skeptic like most out there. At first, where was the need for a remake? The original film was created in the days of the Cold War and spoke directly to that situation, and it worked. With the current state of world affairs, the message is somewhat lost. So, they changed the message in the film to be more fitting with modern times; Klatuu was here to police us for the ecological damage being done to planet earth. While I still fail to see the need for a remake of this classic film, I can get on board with the basic premise in their changes. Ecological issues are on a pretty grand scale these days, much like the Cold War of the 1950’s. The problem arises when the issues are brought to hand and then glossed over with shiny special effects and forgotten about. In the original film the message of ‘violence’ and ‘war like tendencies’ were prevalent throughout the film. It was the essence of the film; they showcased our violence and aggressive nature throughout the movie in a myriad of ways and it was effective. Instead, we get flash and bang.
I understand that this was never intended as a frame by frame remake of the original film, and frankly a frame by frame remake wouldn’t work. The message would be somewhat lost and watered down and lose its effectiveness. However, without taking the basic elements of the film and its plot with them to the modern era, it becomes pointless to call it as such. Why not call it something like ‘Space Cop’ starring Keanu Reeves and let it be homage to “The Day the Earth Stood Still”? That would probably make the film more passable. You can also make the argument that they didn’t make the remake for people like me, rather it seems to have been made for people that didn’t revere the original movie. That’s fine too, but you have to be able to take this critique as well. Fact of the matter is, sharing the same name and characters; they have to go hand in hand.
Beyond the rants and raves of a disgruntled nerd, there were other issues beyond the basics of film study 101. First and foremost was the lead actor of the film, Keanu Reeves. In theory it makes sense that Keanu’s wooden acting skills would fit well for the stoic and robotic Klaatu of the original, but it doesn’t carry through to the big screen. Reeves manages to stomp about emotionless for an hour and a half and fails to evoke any sort of urgency to the plight of humanity or the earth. Other actors involved in the film fared much better at least; Reeves just came across as boring and lifeless. Jennifer Connelly fit well with the changed character of Helen Benson with her interactions with Robo-Reeves, however she did fall short when it came time to play step mom to Jaden Smith. There is a changed dynamic to the relationship of Helen Benson and her son from the original film. This change in itself is not a crime and could be passable, but they fail to make the interaction between the step mom and lost and lonely step son work. Smith comes across as petulant, whiney and bratty as opposed to an endearing child who misses his dead father.
The biggest question on most people’s minds I’m sure is: Gort. How did Gort translate to the modern film world? In appearance, I can happily say that the visage of the tin can robot was left mostly unchanged. The important parts were covered; he was large, metallic and had an impressive eye ball laser. The robot was made entirely of CGI which is a bit jarring when he makes his appearance but serves its purpose. However, I can say that watching the footage shown in the post release commercials do tend to show Gort as too cartoony; in his initial big screen appearance though he fits well in the context of what is going on around him. Where the annoying changes come however is in the name. Gort is no longer ‘Gort’. Gort is now a military acronym; G.O.R.T. or ‘Generic Organic Robotic Turd’. That may not be exact, but that’s what I walked away from the film with. And even more disturbing? Never once are the code phrases uttered to shut down Gort should he begin to carry out his objective. The original phrase was so striking that it worked its way in to popular culture in many different ways; the film makers however never saw any need to have Klaatu utter “Klaatu Berada Nikto”. And that’s just not right.
There are signs here that the film makers tried to stay true to the film, signs that they tried to explore some angles closer and in more detail. There is too much going on however that makes the movie a muddled snore fest outside of the scenes that they do in fact remake from the original. Things such as the ‘Arc’ theory, saving animal species from Earth, is a well thought out addition to the film. It explains the appearance of other spheres hidden on the planet and fits in with the new eco-friendly ethos of the movie. However, when they try and shoehorn action into a film that did just fine without a lot of it in the original version, it begins to feel like a cheap Hollywood cash in and loses any teeth that it might have. In fact, some would say that it shows the aggressive tendencies that the original film preached against!
The remake of “Day the Earth Stood Still” could have been an epic undertaking to reintroduce the modern world to classic science fiction but it fell flat as it left the gate. Instead, they’ve take the classic form of science fiction, a film that concentrates more on a coherent story with a distinct message morals, and made it just another sci-fi flick with a lot of flash and effects. Unfortunately, the point of the original movie was lost to the minds of the director and writers. What they're left with instead is a grand disappointment and a somewhat anger inducing film in the mind of a petty internet nerd such as myself.