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Cool Special FX Can't Save The Day the Earth Stood Still

  • Christa Banister Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2008 12 Dec
  • COMMENTS
Cool Special FX Can't Save <i>The Day the Earth Stood Still</i>

DVD Release Date:  April 7, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  December 12, 2008
Rating:  PG-13 (for some sci-fi disaster images and violence)
Genre:  Science Fiction, Remake
Run Time:  103 min.
Director:  Scott Derrickson
Actors:  Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jaden Smith, John Cleese, Jon Hamm, Kyle Chandler

While some movies have benefited immensely from a modern-day makeover (see You’ve Got Mail, Ocean’s 11, the latest string of Batman and Bond movies), filmmakers still would be wise to leave a few of the originals alone—especially if it happens to be a revered science-fiction classic like 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still.

In what feels more like an excuse to get really crazy with the special effects (and some are truly spectacular) rather than providing a rich present-day context for its predecessor’s cautionary message for mankind, The Day the Earth Stood Still lacks everything a compelling morality tale needs: emotional resonance, coherent storytelling and a lead actor capable of a few more facial expressions.

But Keanu Reeves’ lackluster acting aside, even someone like Robert Downey Jr. in the key role of Klaatu wouldn’t have saved this movie. Serving as little more than an infomercial for “saving the planet” (the actual real estate, mind you, not the people’s souls which need saving far more), The Day the Earth Stood Still starts off with Dr. Helen Benson (an underused Jennifer Connelly) making dinner for her stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith).

Her normal domestic duties are eventually interrupted when she gets a call saying she’s going to be whisked away on a national security matter. Turns out that an unknown object is speedily making its way toward Manhattan, something her colleague Michael (Jon Hamm from TV’s Mad Men) believes will have cataclysmic impact in about an hour’s time.

Prepping for the worst, the Army gathers all the experts together in a helicopter, which ends up being a pretty dumb move since they’re situated right above ground zero’s projected coordinates. But that tactical error ends up working itself out when the mysterious space vehicle lands smack dab in the middle of Central Park.

But right as Helen moves in for a closer look at the strange, silver-skinned creature that emerges from the orb, it’s immediately shot by a handler and eventually reborn into human form as Klaatu, the “Savior” figure of the story.

Taken aback when the Secretary of Defense (Kathy Bates) refers to Earth as “our planet,” Klaatu has come not only as an agent of peace, but the representative of a federation of civilians who aren’t exactly thrilled with how humans have been mistreating the “precious” Earth.

Eventually, Klaatu’s transformation from creature to human has its problems, though (namely his method of escape which is so loud it pierces the eardrums). So that’s when he decides to call on Helen for help. Why she’s so inclined to step in and save him from sedation isn’t really ever explained. But before too long, she’s actually befriending him and introducing Klaatu to Professor Barnhardt (John Cleese), who just happened to win the Nobel Peace Prize for biological altruism.

Although Klaatu thinks Barnhardt’s work is admirable, the introduction still isn’t enough to convince Klaatu that humans have enough significance in the universe to not be wiped out for good, however. So unless Klaatu discovers enough compelling evidence that humans live with a purpose worth preserving, he’s planning to reboot.

While there are a few interesting parallels one could make between this story and the biblical account of Abraham lobbying to God on behalf of Sodom (Genesis 18:16-33), there simply isn’t that crucial spiritual center.

And like so many movies of this ilk, Klaatu’s quick change of heart doesn’t have the necessary story development to warrant it. After seeing one tragic situation after the next, he’s suddenly transformed by hearing a little classical music and seeing Jacob’s change of heart about killing him (once he actually realizes that Klaatu isn’t so bad, of course)? I mean, that’s all it took for him to realize that earthlings aren’t so bad? Really?  

Such a hokey ending, not to mention the plodding pace and the undercooked story, simply doesn’t do the original film justice. After all, cool special effects don’t often make up for the lack of a great story and character development. Well, unless it’s Die Hard, and even John McClane (Bruce Willis) has more going for him than anyone here.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  None.
  • Language/Profanity:  Aside from a couple of instances where God’s name is exclaimed, there’s just one profanity uttered.
  • Sex/Nudity:  At one point, Jacob mistakes the relationship between Helen and Klaatu as a physical one, but there’s no sex/nudity beyond that quick cohabitation reference.
  • Violence:  As expected in a sci-fi flick, there’s a fair amount of violence and scary moments, beginning with the spaceship landing in the middle of Manhattan’s Central Park, sending a slew of pedestrians into a panic for their lives. Later on, people die in a variety of ways whether it’s by hi-tech bugs, a plane crash, explosions, disease and missiles.



Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.