By Adam Frazier
Director Robert Wiseâ€™s 1951 film, ”The Day the Earth Stood Still”, is one of my all-time favorite science fiction films. The film’s explicit message of peace, combined with its grim outlook regarding human civilization, struck a chord with audiences of the Cold War era.
Keep in mind Wiseâ€™s film hit screens only six years after Little Boy and Fat Man were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The unleashing of such a terrible, destructive force was enough to make the human race collectively consider their future on this planet.
In the original film, a flying saucer lands in Washington, D.C. A humanoid vistor named Klaatu emerges and declares he has come on a mission of goodwill. Itâ€™s the classic â€œWe come in peaceâ€ scene where we as humans are placed in awe that another civilization exists, and above all â€“ they want to be friends. This follows with a â€œTake me to your leaderâ€ moment as Klaatu wishes to speak to all the leaders of Earthâ€™s countries in order to deliver an ultimatum of sorts.
The film hinged on themes of fear, paranoia and the destructive nature of the human race. We had developed atomic power, which would eventually be applied to outer space vessels. If we were to extend our cruel and caustic nature, Klaatu and an alliance of galactic civilizations would be there to put us in our place.
The film is still wholeheartedly relevant, so one has to wonder why a Hollywood remake is necessary, but isnâ€™t that the question with 90% of all remakes? While the 1951 picture has rather antiquated special effects â€“ flying saucers on fishing wire â€“ the heart and soul of the film stands strong.
Director Scott Derrickson (”The Exorcism of Emily Rose”) and writer David Scarpaâ€™s re-envisioning features Keanu Reeves as Klaatu and Jennifer Connelly as Helen, a scientist at Princeton University who decides to help him in his cause. The original film was a product of its era, and the same can be said for the 2008 version.
Klaatu, protected by an organic spacesuit of sorts, comes to Earth in a spherical vessel and is accompanied by a bio-nanotechnological entity known as Gort. Gort was Klaatuâ€™s robotic bodyguard in the original film, and he fulfills the same purpose here â€“ although looking slightly cooler in the process. Helen has been selected, along with a group of other scientific specialists, to engage the otherworldly visitor.
As Klaatu emerges and Helen approaches to touch his hand, the visitor is shot by a fear-stricken soldier. After seeing an act of aggression taken out on Klaatu, Gort showcases his fearsome powers by disabling all weapons equipment in the area.
Klaatu is taken to a military facility where scientists and doctors remove his organic spacesuit and surgically excise the bullet from his humanoid flesh and muscle system. Keanu Reeves is certainly inspired casting as Klaatu. Even when giving his most human of performances, Reeves still manages to come off as a complete and total alien.
Klaatuâ€™s mission to Earth is still intrinsically tied to the human raceâ€™s destructive tendencies, but the message is pointed rather at our attitude toward the planet itself. Klaatu states it simply, â€œIf the Earth dies, you die. If you die, the Earth lives.â€
The first half of the film is rather enjoyable and stays close to the originalâ€™s heart. Klaatu is a peaceful visitor trying to acclimate himself with his human form and the unfamiliar world around him. Helen helps him escape the facility and later reunites with him, bringing her stepson (Jaden Smith) along for the ride.
Hereâ€™s the problem: at some point Klaatu stops acting as a peaceful messenger and becomes just as aggressive as the humans he is there to warn. Being an alien, he has a few special powers up his sleeve, including a nifty sonic brain scrambler deal that temporarily paralyzes people.
For some reason, he decides to stop using that and gets a little more creative with the way in which he escapes the military and police officers. In one scene, Klaatu crushes a cop by telekinetically sandwiching him in-between two cars. After breaking the poor guyâ€™s legs and mangling him, Klaatu then heals him â€“ as if that makes up for his completely pointless, overly aggressive stunt.
Follow that up with our alien visitor crashing a couple of helicopters into each other, providing a big explosion for action-starved eyes to engulf. The film establishes a set of rules and logic in the first act that it breaks time and time again in the latter half.
Didnâ€™t I just listen to this guy preach about the destructive nature of humans and yet here he goes blowing up stuff like a pyrotechnics technician for KISS? Why wouldnâ€™t Klaatu use his powers to disable the vehicleâ€™s weapons system? Youâ€™ll have to ask Derrickson and Scarpa about that I guess.
Realizing that humans cannot change their nature, Klaatu decides they must be eradicated so the planet can survive, and Gort is the means to which civilization will end. The colossal being transforms into a cloud comprised of billions of microscopic life forms capable of devouring anything and everything in its path.
As Gort destroys New York City in typical apocalyptic science fiction style, Klaatu realizes he has made a mistake after seeing a tender moment between Helen and her stepson. I was never quite convinced that we as a civilization could change. All I saw was Jaden Smith trying his hardest to be the angry, angst-ridden stepson to Jennifer Connelly. Some how, by watching these two kiss and make up, the whole human race was worth saving. Hmph.
”The Day the Earth Stood Still” as a remake, had a lot of potential. There is a story and a message worth retelling and reemphasizing. Unfortunately, Derricksonâ€™s take on it was rather underwhelming. There were several moments I enjoyed, which might actually make the film more disappointing – for the squandered prospect of what it could have been.
Accompanying the reasonably good transfer are : deleted scenes (they flesh out the story a bit more, but quite frankly, who really wants to see more!?), several featurettes (including one where they attempt to answer the question : ‘Why remake such a classic film!?’), and a commentary by the screenwriter – that’s not so much dull, as it is a waste-of-time; the guy doesn’t have anything interesting to say.