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Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still, 2008 - Movie Review - Lots of spoilers

Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Gort, Kathy Bates, Jennifer Connelly, Jaden Smith
Running Time: 103 minutes

This review by LoquaciousMuse (check out their blog here). I'm going to take my son to see it this weekend.

Saw The Day The Earth Stood Still last week. My thoughts still aren't fully formulated, but I wanted to get something down.

Let me begin by saying this isn't a bad movie. It's not horrible, not laughable, not the blight in the history of science fiction film that so many of us, especially fans of the original, were expecting. In fact, the first two thirds of it are actually pretty good. The film is enjoyable & interesting and comes frustratingly close to pulling off the impossible (properly modernizing a classic) but in the end, it just falls short.

***Minor Spoiler Alert***

What does this "remake" (I prefer reimagining in this case) have in common with the original? There is a woman, there is a boy, there is a (sort of) robot & there is an alien. Alien & Robot land on Earth. Robot reacts immediately to violence with retaliatory violence. Alien is taken away by government for questioning. Alien escapes. Alien represents the universe & has a message for the Earth...sort of. Woman & Boy end up knowing Alien better than any other human knows him. There is a Dr. Barnhardt that speaks with Alien. Alien leaves planet at end of film.

And that's it. May seem like a lot...but let me tell you...it isn't. There are some nice homages to the original that made me smile (you'll know them when you see 'em) but overall it was very much a different film that might have definitely would have made more sense had it been approached as a sequel rather than a remake. But if we get into the ridiculousness surrounding unecessary remake versus appropriate sequel we'll be here all day. Let me just point out that the original ends with Klaatu SAYING HE WILL COME BACK AND EFF US IF WE DON'T CLEAN UP OUR ACT (but in that charming classically trained British actor way) and oh hey, look at that, we're still blowing each other up. A sequel set in real time, 57 years later would have been amazing. Muh. Anyway.

There are a lot of big changes. Besides what we all could have predicted - get to know fleshed out Woman & Boy early on, Klaatu sort of has powers, bigger fx, a more destructive Gort - the film goes further than the obvious. The big changes are Klaatu's reason for being here, why he looks human, a certain huge decision he makes that only he can undo and the state of the Earth when he leaves.


(To elaborate, Woman isn't a secretary. She's a scientist. And she doesn't have a swell gentleman caller. She has a dead husband & a stepson who likes to give her a hard time, but really, he loves her. Hrmm. Klaatu controls electric currents. That way he can fuck shit up AND un-fuck shit up. Plus Gort can dissolve into rapidly multiplying silver bugs that destroy everything they touch. Klaatu came to Earth because humans are destroying it and if they can never change (which he deduces they can't), they must be wiped out. Process to wipe them out begins. He sees Woman & Boy hugging & crying and realizes humans aren't all bad and wants to save them. Unfortunately there is a cost. He stops the death of all people by...doing something involving his spaceship. All electricity stops as he leaves. Humans are left to start over again. We think. It's unclear.)


***Minor Spoiler Alert. Again.***

Overall, the new ideas introduced are pretty cool and the updates to the classic material works. Where the film fails is the last third or so. All of a sudden it starts going in a direction that just doesn't make sense. The big disappointment for me was WHY CANT HE STOP GORT BY SAYING KLAATU BARADA NIKTO (even though I could have SWORN I heard him say it at the beginning) ???? And why that one random rushed death? And why did it remain a death when the alien next to you can bring people back to life with his electrical current power? WHY NOT stick to the original structure? Was the ending not Hollywood enough? I thought the ending to the original was perfect. Relevant, harrowing, horrifying, and an important warning - it had so much of an impact because Klaatu's reason for being there isn't revealed until the very end. In this film, that is scratched for a big exercise in fx, followed immediately an ending so abrupt and anticlimactic, that the audience is left utterly unsatisfied and with A LOT of questions.

As for the performances - the casting was pretty right on. Half the time Jennifer Connolly was on screen I was just plain in awe of her. Terrific actress and mindbogglingly gorgeous. Are we sure she's real? Jayden Smith can cry on cue and is pretty cute, so I'll let that one slide. Jon Hamm is a perfect human being. John Cleese, though only in one scene, was an inspired choice for Barnhardt. And Keanu. At first I was unsettled by this choice in casting as Michael Rennie was so charming & delightful in his icy, unearthly ways. Keanu's Klaatu (band name anyone? maybe? no? okay.) is cold & kinda hostile, more or less the stark opposite of Rennie's take. But considering how this film differs from the original, it works. He speaks in non emotional, Vulcan-like tones (I've been watching a lot of Trek: TOS lately to educate myself), making sure to hit every word carefully. The easiest acting role of all time? Maybe. But easy looks good on Keanu.

This film ends up being mostly about the beauty of humanity and how we are worth it, despite all our flaws. And you know, it could have been so powerful. This film COULD have been beautiful and it frustrates me all the more because it came so close, only to give up two thirds of the way through...and here and there before the final third, but we won't get into that now.

All I can say is please go see it so we can talk about it, both what we liked and what made us crazy. Still having trouble figuring out how I feel about it all and would love to hear some opinions!

This is an update I added to my blog post on the subject.

Found an article on the changes made for the remake here. Pretty illuminating stuff actually. Here's the bit about Klaatu Barada Nikto

"One crucial element that made the 57-year jump from the 1951 version to the 2008 remake was the iconic line "Klatuu Barad Nikto" - the alien command that prevents the unstoppable robot Gort from unleashing destruction upon Earth. Actor Reeves stated that he was surprised not to find that line in the script when he first read it, but he and the director ensured that it made it into the final film (although it's during a loud scene where some viewers may miss it). To enhance the impact, several techniques were used, including having Reeves memorize and pronounce the words backwards, which were then reversed to put them in the right order. The final mix overlays this upon double-reverse upon a take of Reeves reading the line in the usual order. (UPDATE: Although the line is in the film, it is buried in the mix beneath a ton of sound effects: to a casual viewer it may be apparent that the alien Klaatu is speaking in his native language to Gort; only fans will recognize, just barely, the specific words.)"

So I did hear it mixed in at the beginning! Listen for yourself after Klaatu first gets off the ship & had to stop Gort. Though still doesn't explain why he can't say it later to stop Gort...

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Anonymous said...

Not bad film, gave me food for thought, although the ending was a bit flat, and, as Mark Kermode said on ‘Five Live’, did Keanu base his character on Mr Spoke?

P.S. Jennifer Connelly is hot!

Live for films said...

Cheers for that David - I'm hearing lots of similar tales that the film is, on the whole, pretty good but let down at the end. Didn't get to see it this weekend. May try one night this week.

Anonymous said...

Yeah it was okay.. the build up was good, but the money shot was poor! I also wanted to know what the planet was going to do afterwards to make amends!

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