Review #714 of 365
Movie Review of The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) [PG-13] 103 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $12.00
Where Viewed: United Artists Colorado Center 9 & IMAX, Denver, CO
When Seen: 12 December 2008 @ 12:01 am
DVD Release Date: Unscheduled (please check back)
After the Credits: Nothing
Unsung Member of the Crew: Molecular Animations -- Drew Berry
Directed by: Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose )
Screenplay by: David Scarba (The Last Castle) • Edmund H. North (1951 screenplay) (Meteor)
Based on the Novella The Day the Earth Stood Still by Harry Bates
Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Keanu Reeves (Street Kings) • Jennifer Connelly (Reservation Road) • Kathy Bates (P.S., I Love You) • Jaden Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness) • John Cleese (Igor) • Jon Hamm ("Mad Men") • Kyle Chandler ("Friday Night Lights")
To begin, and the ending won't be given away except in the spoiler, the film starts off with references to alien visitors in the past a miraculous glowing orb in the mountains of India. Then it quickly turns to the arrival of a fast moving asteroid heading straight toward Manhattan and a ridiculous collection of scientists and other people essential for handling the consequences of an asteroid collision. Among these is Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), an astro biologist with a step-son named Jacob (Jaden Smith). She's all emotional as only Jennifer Connelly can be, about leaving her son who's nothing but horrid to her with a neighbor as she's whisked off to some secret government lair. After much consideration, the intelligence of the group places themselves on a helicopter outside Manhattan awaiting the impact. But the impact never happens. The asteroid turns out to be a gigantic glowing sphere—a remarkable special effect achievement in and of itself and a far cry from the silver saucer of the original film. They land, gear up, and approach the sphere.
The best things about the film are the special effects, the plan for earth, Gort, and the performance by Keanu Reeves.
Ok, so after that, the film involves figuring out how he plans to save the earth, and then watching him execute his plan all the while the terrible little boy, Jacob, does everything thing he can to prove that we humans don't deserve a second chance. And that, my feeling is, represents the first fundamental difference between the two films, and one of this version's fatal flaws. In the original, Bobby Benson (Billy Gray), Helen's son, is the character that gives Klaatu hope for humans by treating him so kindly and spending quality time with him—to the point of raising the suspicion of Helen's (Patricia Neal) boyfriend as to what might be Klaatu's motives with her son. But this is 2008, and apparently little kids are jaded warmongers just like their governments. This kid literally goes out of his way to do everything he can to get Klaatu killed—something he says he wishes for on more than one occasion. Why the xenophobia in an 11 year old? He's supposedly bitter because he dad was killed in the war in Iraq abandoning him with this scientist of a step mom. The character is terrible and totally unrealistic. Moreover, he has an instantaneous change of heart ¾ of the way through the film that's a baffling as the character is incongruous. It's not nice to criticize a child actor, but it's very doubtful this kid would get roles were it not for his famous parents Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith. Suffice it to say, he could benefit from 10 years of acting classes. He's got the hair of Shirley Temple and the gumption of Jodie Foster, but 0% of their acting instincts. In contrast, compare his work in this to similarly aged Macaulay Culkin and Haley Joel-Osment. To be fair, both of the latter two had far deeper résumés than young Jaden Smith by the time they did their first major motion pictures. But, again, his character and his performance make the first major difference and weakness of the film especially when compared to the original—ironic, but true.
The second major difference between the two films is that in the original, Klaatu uses his time among humans with the Bensons to get to know humans better. In the remake, directed by Scott Derrickson, Klaatu uses his time mostly to engage his plans. The plans, actually, make up for a larger portion of this film than the original that focused on the plans only at the very end. This causes a disconnection that's hard to rectify later, but they try it anyway. The connection / relationship between Helen and Klaatu in the original seems to evolve more organically out of his relationship with Bobby, whereas here it's like she's been pining away for an alien all her life and will do anything for the one that has suddenly and inexplicably dropped into her lap. In the original, Klaatu meets up with Professor Barnhardt (John Cleese) based on his ability to solve an equation that's been bother him for months. The same occurs in the remake except that in the original, Barnhardt then arranges for Klaatu to meet with the world's scientific leaders (the politicians are fighting the cold war and won't attend); while in the remake, no such thing occurs. Guess why? I'll give you a hint. He's addicted to tv and video games, has adorable mop-top hair, and wants Klaatu dead. That's right, Jacob calls the 1-800 number on the tv and reveals their location. Bad idea for him, it ends up getting his step mom captured.
Kathy Bates is particularly wasted in her role as the Secretary of Defense. Had I written it, I would have simply made her the President. But that's not all I would have done. I would have stuck more clearly to the original text but added in the excellent concepts they developed for what's going to happen to the earth. I would have made her anxious to develop a relationship with Klaatu, but had her warmongering cabinet secretaries find her incompetent and have her sedated and taken to a remote location. I would have then enjoined her and Dr. Benson work together to convince Klaatu, along with a much more curious little boy (like the original), to stop the plan. Meanwhile, I would have ended the film with a speech similar to the original that would have served to put the icing on the cake.
The best things about the film are the special effects, the plan for earth, Gort, and the performance by, believe it or not haters, Keanu Reeves. This is the kind of role he can play in his sleep he does it so well. He has absolutely no trouble playing an alien in an alien body. He's nearly emotionless most of the time, yet you can see he wants to show them, but hasn't learned yet how. Jennifer Connelly's not so bad herself. The character's got some issues, but that's not her fault. There's interesting chemistry between the two, but a more coherent middle section of the plot might have allowed for this to develop a bit more completely. Finally, the ending is nearly as anti-climatic as Cloverfield.
… unfinished, poorly developed in spots, and diverted too much from the original without adding in its place.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) disappoints based on its potential and promise. It's unfinished, poorly developed in spots, and diverted too much from the original without adding in its place. As a tool to convey a message, it certainly could have been more effective with a stronger, more pointed ending.
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Other Projects Featuring The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
Keanu Reeves • Jennifer Connelly • Kathy Bates
Jaden Smith • John Cleese • Jon Hamm
David Scarba • Edmund H. North (1951 screenplay)