The Day the Earth Stood Still Review
I've had a healthy respect for the 1951 version of 'The Day the Earth Stood Still' since I first saw it in the 1960's, so I was fascinated to see what today's film makers thought they could do to improve on this very atmospheric, eerie classic.
After all, the original was shot in black and white, with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The effects were created with models, the laser blasts were 'matted' and GORT was a man in a silver painted rubber suit. Surely with the benefit of colour, CGI, widescreen and surround sound Hollywood's finest talents could produce something better than a movie produced over half a century ago.
Now, there's a building called Provand's Lordship, that was built in Glasgow in 1471 that stands proud to this day. By comparison, some Glasgow skyscrapers were built in the 1960's and demolished in the 1980's as by then they were unsafe for human habitation. Now, it rather raises the question as to what they knew about housebuilding 500 years ago that they don't know today.
I could apply a similar question on film making skills to 'The Day the Earth Stood Still'. Back in 1951, they seemed to know how to make a movie that was scary and threatening. You were sucked in by the story, were apprehensive for the safety and cared about the survival of the characters in the film. That's the key, caring - a human emotion!
Someone had the skill to produce a film about people we liked, identified with and wished to be alive at the end of the story. The actors had the experience and expertise to convey this feeling through the lens and onto the film negative being pumped through the camera.
So what do we have in the 2008 version of 'The Day the Earth Stood Still'?
None of the above, I'm afraid to say.
I'd been looking forward to this film for quite some time, so I sat down to watch it with some anticipation.
Renowned scientist Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) is wrenched from her home by CIA types and eventually finds herself face to face with an alien called Klaatu (Keanu Reeves), who has travelled across the universe to warn of an impending global crisis. When higher authorities treat the extraterrestrial as hostile and the Secretary of Defence (Kathy Bates) denies his request to address the world's leaders, she and her estranged stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith) quickly discover the deadly ramifications of Klaatu's claim that he is "a friend to the Earth". Now Helen must find a way to convince the entity who was sent to destroy the human race that mankind is worth saving - but is it too late?
Keanu Reeves, as Klaatu, delivers a performance almost totally devoid of human emotion and that, in this instance, is a strength. An Extra Terrestrial probably wouldn't exhibit such behaviour, particularly since the humans have been causing a major environmental problem that could threaten the whole universe and his job is merely one of pest control.
Kathy Bates gives a strong performance as the unacceptable face of the American Administration that tries to destroy what it fears. Unfortunately, none of the available weapons have any impact on Klaatu's huge protective robot, GORT (in this movie a military acronym), and portray the futility of the human race.
The likeable face of the human race is unconvincingly delivered through the persona of Nobel Prize winning scientist, Professor Barnhardt (John Cleese) who just doesn't put enough energy into his plea to even stop a traffic warden giving him a parking ticket. Maybe he should have shown Klaatu a 'Video Arts' training film instead.
Helen Benson's young stepson, Jacob, is a kid with an attitude based upon what he thinks his dead father would do in almost every given situation. Many times, I wished that he would go join his father as he merely added to the list of unloveable characters. So it falls to Helen to try to explain through her behaviour, just why the human race should survive. In this respect, Jennifer Connelly plays the only sympathetic character in the film.
But what of the modern day effects, upon which the suspension of disbelief must surely hang. Well, they were produced as CGI and they looked like CGI.
Gort was unconvincing as were the huge gaseous spheres that replaced the flying saucers in the original movie. What a terrible waste of money. There was no fear of the unknown for this audience as the animations (although high quality) just weren't threatening at all as they looked unreal. Note to the MTV generation: when I say 'unreal' that, sadly, is not a compliment.
I can sum up this remake of a classic sci-fi movie in an oft used expression:
“Just because we can, should we?”
I'd really like to be able to find something good to say about the Blu-ray release of the 2008 version of 'The Day the Earth Stood Still' and thankfully there is something!
It's the fact that a Blu-ray of the 1951 version starring Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal is included on Disc 3 of the set, complete with the haunting Theramin music track. It's made by a director, Robert Wise, who knew how to tell a story well and also how to evoke human emotion in an audience. The actors knew their craft and the effects, for all their simplicity, were good enough to be believable. Maybe the monochromatic images helped as well.
Watch it and see how a film should be made.
Buy it for that if nothing else.