The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008 version)


Rating 2½

Directed by Scott Derrickson

Written by David Scarpa, based on the original 1951 screenplay by Edmund H North – inspired by the 1940 short story ‘Farewell to the Master’ by Harry Bates

Starring Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connolly, Kathy Bates, Jaden Smith, John Hamm and John Cleese

Several top scientists, including Princeton professor Dr Helen Benson (Jennifer Connolly), are rounded up by Government agencies in a very loud, unsubtle and defiantly less than secretive manner, and told a huge celestial object is about to impact with the Earth at incredible speed, enough to destroy the planet. The impact does not happen. Instead, a gigantic globe lands in Central Park in New York City. A humanoid figure (
Klaatu”, played by Keanu Reeves) emerges and is shot by a trigger-happy soldier. A colossal robot then appears and begins to destroy the gathered military and police personnel and their hardware, until the injured humanoid utters the command “klaatu barada nikto” and the robot shuts down. Klaatu is taken to a medical facility, where the bullet is removed. Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates), the United States Secretary of Defence, takes charge and decides he will be moved to a secure location to be interrogated. Torture is never mentioned, but we can assume it would be employed. However, Klaatu escapes and is aided by Helen, along with her young stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith). When Klaatu reveals the purpose of his visit to Earth it seems that the human race is doomed to destruction.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. This 2008 remake is not a patch on the classic 1951 original, a film that is preserved in the United States National Film Registry and listed as “historically, culturally and aesthetically significant.” The story remains largely the same, although Klaatu is concerned with climate change and global warming this time around, rather than the threat of global nuclear war. He is also a colder, more “alien” presence than the urbane character played so memorably by Michael Rennie in the original.

Keanu Reeves, who regularly comes in for more than his fair share of pointless criticism, is perfectly cast as Klaatu. Whatever we may choose to think about his acting abilities, he is a good choice for this kind of role. His expression is not so much blank as simply impenetrable. I do not consider myself to be fan of his work, per se, but equally I would not call myself a detractor. He is a memorable film actor (or star) for the simple fact that, for good or bad, there is no one else quite like him.

Jennifer Connolly is invariably worth watching; at least she is in the films I have seen. That is no different here, although there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of chemistry with Reeves. It is never clear, for example, why Helen chooses to help Klaatu. I would say she is miscast, in as much as her character is miscast. In the world of science and academia it would be extremely unlikely, rightly or wrongly, that someone of her age would be considered to be at the very top in her particular field of expertise. However, it does not take a great deal of thought to work out what influenced the characterisation.

Jacob, the young boy played by Jaden Smith, the son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, proves to be irritating and rather dislikeable. I suspect we are supposed to think he is “cute”, but he isn’t. He and Klaatu do not bond in the way that Bobby (the equivalent character) and Klaatu do in the original. Also, I found the scene in the military cemetery when Jacob shows Klaatu “another side” of human kind sickeningly cheesy and all a little too conveniently contrived. Quite frankly, Klaatu, seeing evidence that we continue to wage war against each other, resulting in mass death, would surely become more hardened in his resolve that we are beyond redemption.

John Cleese is a piece of stunt casting, in a role as wafer thin as a tissue, and he is not remotely believable.

The special effects are state-of-the-art, but for all that they not actually especially impressive, although that might just be the result of my increasingly hardened stance against CGI effects. Making something bigger and louder has a certain limited appeal, but it does not necessarily make it better, something it rarely seems to do. Gort, the robot, is a case in point. He was much scarier in the original.

The film never quite manages to get its message across with the clarity achieved by the original. In the end, though, it’s okay and passes the time reasonably painlessly. Reaction to it was generally negative and it has a 20% rotten rating at Rotten Tomatoes from 153 collected reviews. It had a production budget of $80 million and has so far grossed slightly over $164 million at the box office.

Review posted 29 December 2008


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