(Release Date: December 12, 2008)
In 2008, Twentieth Century Fox, who released the 1951 classic, has remade The Day the Earth Stood Still, not to be a surprisingly transcendent B Movie, but as a bona-fide Hollywood Blockbuster, complete with big stars, flavors of the month, product placement and maybe even just a smattering of Computer Generated Imagery.
The result is an updated film that is most certainly more of a spectacle than the original. It's bigger, louder, more destructive, much flashier and is, in a whole lot of places, quite visually stunning. That said, it's not the cerebral, thought-provoking essay that the original was. Most of the "Message" here is swallowed up by the special effects and the "marketability" of this well-advertised December release. That said, the 2008 remake isn't a bad film by any means. True, it's a bit of a let down, considering what it could have been, but compared to most whoreywood remakes, I doubt I'd go so far as to kick this one out of bed for eating celluloid.
Like most new remakes and new entries into existing Sagas The Day the Earth Stood Still is hardly content to simply tell a self-contained story. Screenwriter David Scarpa (who based his script more on Edmund H. North's 1951 screenplay than Bates' work) feels the need to go back into the past to set the stage and fill in the blanks for us. Let's be thankful, though, that he merely gives us a glimpse at a DNA Sample being taken from some traveler who looks a great deal like actor Keanu Reeves and doesn't go into any great detail about how Klaatu grew up on a desert world as a slave working on Moisture Vaporators and pod-racing against strange monsters for the amusement of vile gangsters until some knights of a strange, mysterious order discover his aptitude with a strange energy field that binds all life together. That might have taken up a bit too much screen time, methinks.
The film proper kicks off in the present as Princeton Professor Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly, still lovely) is rousted from her home, Patriot Act-style, separated from her obnoxious stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith) and brought to a secret meeting of brilliant minds (somehow led by Jon Hamm's Michael Granier) to collectively fail at tackling the problem of an interplanetary projectile set to impact with New York City in less than the run-time of this film. Also, quite possibly, in less than the time it would take you to read the previous run-on sentence aloud without taking a breath.
Instead of impacting with New York and turning this into an awkward, too-soon remake of Cloverfield, this anomalous gaseous sphere (somewhat) gently lands in Central Park (possibly squishing some Mime) and out pops ol' Klaatu himself (as played by Reeves). Naturally the U.S. Military guns him down before he can even say "WHOA!"
And that's when we're met by GORT the awesome! As in the original he's about as happy as Grumpy Smurf that his buddy's been given the painful half of the guns-n'-ammo community property settlement, so he starts zapping the aggressors with his way-cool death ray eye beams. That is, until everyone's favorite Alien (except E.T.) mumbles the iconic phrase "Klaatu Barada Nikto!" Yep, "Whoa!" didn't make it in, but "Klaatu Barada Nikto!" did. Look at the bright side, haters!
This somewhat (but happily not drastically) redesigned Gort is not the Tin Woodsman of the original film, but sort of a biological genetic construct. In fact, the whole of the technology that Klaatu and Gort's Encyclopedia Galactica seems to list is organic and natural in nature. That includes Klaatu's space suit, which soon melts away, allowing for Army doctors to pop out that insulting bullet.
It's not long before scientists and government officials alike are saying "Whoa!" to the fact that Keanu Reeves was stuck inside that gelatinous mass. With the President and Vice-President in hiding, it falls to the Secretary of Defense Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates) to deny Klaatu's request for an audience with the United Nations in favor of more invasive tests. Just a wee bit longer and we see Klaatu use his powers to walk out of the place, now in a really cool black suit. See, in this version, he's not taken to Walter Reed Hospital, so he's not neglected enough to just walk out on his own. Superpower time. Of course, it probably didn't hurt his escape that the Intelligence and Military communities are represented here by goofballs like Kyle Chandler and Robert Knepper, respectively. I had to wonder if he really needed extra-terrestrial abilities to get past those two clowns!
From that point on, Klaatu, much as he does in the original film, spends quite a lot of time with Helen Benson and her kid. The big difference here is that Klaatu's mission is much less ambiguous this time out. Instead of providing a warning and chance to change for humanity, he soon sets events in motion to exterminate the entire human race to halt their environmental pillaging and give the Earth a chance to heal. Yeah, Klaatu's still a tree-hugger, but this time he's got almost as much patience as a pro-wrestler at a red light who forgot to take his Welbutrin. I mean, seriously, if he's all cheesed off about environmental waste, why doesn't he just punish the Republicans? Why everybody, man? I recycle!
All the while, the action and suspense ante is upped while the cerebral qualities are muted in favor of surprises, twists and bombastic effects sequences. While it's not fair to say that there is "no" character development here, most of the evolution of each player in this chess game seems tailor made for the bends in the script, rather than the script itself fuelling character growth. Jacob hates Klaatu until it's more convenient that he doesn't. The Government doesn't give a crap what Klaatu has to say until they figure they've got nothing left to lose. Klaatu changes his plans to something else that, quite obviously, could and should have been "Plan A" all along.
This doesn't even touch on Gort, whose role here is both expanded and somewhat mixed up to the point of almost being screwed up! "GORT" is now a name coined as a military acronym for "Genetically Organized Robotic Technology" as he's experimented on and studied by the Army. Instead of being a silent menace who, we're told, "could destroy the Earth", he becomes a Kinetic Force that sets about doing just that... but not in any really recognizable way.
Yes, this 2008 film is firmly set in this decade with all the tricks and traps thereof. We're updated to a more environmental theme, rather than a cold-war Nuclear Paranoia plot and we're practically dosed with the mass-opiate of CGI Special Effects (which, often, can be beautiful here). True, witnessing the special effects here leads to the word "Spectacular", but it's hard not to note that most of this much more destructive nature of Gort and the Aliens at large is unnecessary. Further, it seems somewhat counter to their original intentions. How could it be done better? Well, see the original and sharpen your mind.
Whereas the original film's director Robert Earl Wise struggled with the balance between smart social commentary and pulp sci-fi salability, 2008's director Scott Derrickson seems to work hard on letting the message shine through (at the very least better than it did in The Day After Tomorrow), but is bogged down by the need to make this one a blockbuster with more effects than mind. The emotion that is felt here often comes off as obligatory, but at least has a basis in the film's story and isn't simply tacked on in a contrived way. Is the message still there? Perhaps, but a louder message echoes from 20th Century Fox's marketing department.
That, plus I could've used some more Gort... in his more recognizable form... because Gort Rules!
In short, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a remake that does follow the original in most ways (Tyler Bates' score even echoes that of Bernard Hermann's original in some areas), but is pushed a few steps too far into spectacle and fantasy at the risk of its potentially deeper message. Fans of the original might find a lot to appreciate here (should they open their minds). In truth, this film might be more accessible to those who already have some of the back-story that the first film took the time to elaborate upon. Most, however, will probably feel like I do... it's not that bad, but it's not the original either. Three Stars out of Five for The Day the Earth Stood Still! Gort still rules, Klaatu's still cool but special effects or not, big names or not, mass marketing or not, it's hard to miss the fact that the Earth has stood still on better days. I'll still see you in the next reel if you can stand it, Earthlings!
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