The Day the Earth Stood Still
December 17, 2008 by Zack
You would think a big budget spectacle like this remake of the 1951 classic would be more fitting to be released in the summer time, when popcorn sci-fi cinema permeates the movie theatres; but I suppose that because this one’s supposed to be “thought-provoking”, it was more suitable at the “thought-provoking” time of year, the winter. I guess we have more time to think now that we can’t go outside and do anything, than we do in the summertime. Unfortunately for this movie, there’s not much thought that’s really being provoked. It’s more like it’s being threatened to stay away.
In the original “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, there is almost a Serling-esque feel to the way the story unravels, and obviously the way it ends, with the choice being left to us whether we want to save ourselves or be destroyed. It’s the misconception of humans that we think that anyone who says “You’re going to be destroyed” by a foreign presence means THEY are the ones who are going to destroy us. It was a very interesting plot–and for its time, it was convincingly executed, special effects wise.
In this modern day remake, we have the gaudy special effects, and the big budget, big screen feel. And this movie fails on every level that the original succeeds on. Well now, that RARELY happens in remakes, huh? What is it about that? Is it just the natural dilution of a remake? Is it just inherent that the remake MUST be devoid of what made the original so good? I didn’t feel that way with the 1978 “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, or “The Thing”, or “Father of the Bridge”, or even Zombie’s “Halloween” (don’t give me that look!). A remake should be an opportunity to take the original and either see it from a different angle, or improve on what may have made the original…dated. I suppose in the case of “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, the special effects. And they didn’t even really do THAT good a job on this remake, either.
The story resembles the original in a way; but it makes a few fatal changes that completely miss the point of the original. Where it gets the story right is in one of the best scenes in the film with John Cleese, playing a Nobel prize winning scientist, Professor Barnhardt, in which he has an engaging dialog with Klaatu about the fact that “it’s only on the precipice of disaster that we change”. That is very true, and it’s something that, had this remake expanded upon, would have made it a slam dunk. Unfortunately the movie gets so caught up in military action, stuff blowing up, and a very melodramatic and tired story between Helen (played as eloquently as possible by Jennifer Connelly) and her stepson Jacob (played by Jaden Smith, son of Will Smith, who seemed more confused by his own presence than anything else) and their struggles to get along. Since Jacob seems to blame her for his dad’s death, whom she’d only married a year or so prior to, this becomes a principle conflict throughout the film. Like in the original, Jacob’s father died in a war. But unlike the original, this movie fails to bring home the point about war and destruction.
If you have seen the original, there are many mentions about wars and the destruction humanity imposes on itself. In this version, it seems like this is more just about Americans, which is questionable since this was a plot that was supposed to be about “mankind”, not just American “mankind”. There are a few shots of “footage” from other countries that are going nuts over the “Alien Invasion”–but it looks like…there’s America, then there’s third world countries. I think Klaatu would be disturbed by the filmmakers of this movie, that we are so conceited.
There’s also more of an environmental angle to this film which doesn’t seem to work. Are we destroying our earth by killing each other in wars, or are we destroying our earth because we’re polluting it? In the first case, what difference does it make whether YOU kill us or WE kill us. In the latter, WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE WHETHER YOU KILL US OR WE KILL US?! It would have nothing to do with us, you would just eradicate us!
Because the movie didn’t work in the big picture, a lot of other things fall apart. What do we know about the father of Jacob, for one thing? What kind of dad was he? What kind of husband was he? If it’s so important, and vital in getting Jacob to trust Helen, shouldn’t we know more about their relationship too? No, instead the movie would rather show military operations and Secretary of Defense shenanigans (Kathy Bates who is the overpowering SOD that again shows our arrogance and whatnot). And some of the movie looked like it was borrowing from “Transformers”.
Another thing that got to me was the product placement. Now I know Hollywood does this often, but man ALIVE this is outrageous. Guess where Klaatu has to meet another “visitor” that’s been living on earth for decades?
No, really, guess.
I’ll give you a hint.
Oh, and you will definitely know they use LG cell phones; Windows Vista apparently utilizes Star Trek technology; and there is a thirty second sequence that is one big silent car commercial.
It’s just disappointing that this movie did NOT need to be remade, and again, it is frustrating that they missed it by doing exactly what drove Klaatu’s journey in the first place: it’s more about greed and profit than anything else. Now, do I think the original WASN’T made for money? No, but they at least trusted the writers enough to come up with something that would be marketable AND still retained intelligence.
It’s pretty sad when the BEST thing about this movie was Keanu Reeve’s performance. Unfortunately for him, who also worked on screenplay rewrites, the end result was less than stellar.