THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL- 2008
20th Century Fox
Rating: USA: PG-13
(FeoNote: The PG-13 rating is completely unnecessary. PG would have worked just fine for this movie and in language and imagery it barely earns that. It's practically G rated. JAWS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, even POLTERGIEST is stronger in violence and language. Shoot! Any given episode of Law & Order or CSI on TeeVee is stronger)
"I, for one, welcome our ant overlords."
– Kent Brockman (The Simpsons, Deep Space Homer, Episode 96)
"Well, they couldn't be any worse than this guy."
– Kelly Parks
THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (a 2008 remake of the 1951 classic sci-fi movie) was directed by Scott Derrickson (HELLRAISER: INFERNO) and written by David Scarpa, based on Edmund H. North's 1951 screenplay, which was in turn based on the 1940 short story "Farewell to the Master" by Harry Bates.
The movie starts in 1928 when a mountain climber (Keanu Reeves: DRACULA , THE MATRIX [all], THE WATCHER, THE GIFT) in India has an encounter with a glowing orb. Jump to modern day and astrobiologist Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly: DARK CITY, DARK WATER, HULK) telling her graduate students about extemophile bacteria found living in places like sulphuric acid and the intensely radioactive water surrounding a nuclear reactor.
She goes home to her step son Jacob (Jayden Smith), a relationship strained by the recent death of Jacob's father in Iraq. Moments later government agents show up and take Helen into custody.
She's not under arrest, though it's understandable why she'd think so. Instead Helen becomes part of a hastily assembled team meant to deal with an impending calamity. A large object has been spotted approaching the Earth at "3 x 107 meters per second". That's 30,000,000 meters per second which is 30,000 kilometers per second (roughly 18,750 miles per second). For reference, when the Space Shuttle is in orbit it's moving at about 7 kilometers per second.
Oh, and of course it's aimed at New York City, everyone's favorite target.
But doomsday is averted at the last second as the strange glowing orb screeches to a halt and lands in Central Park, casually injuring a variety of people who happened to be in the way. The military and the NYPD, along with Helen's science team, arrive and surround the huge orb just as Klaatu (Keanu Reeves, again) emerges.
And gets shot by an over eager soldier. The bullet easily penetrates Klaatu's advanced spacesuit and humanity is embarrassed by our aggressive reaction to this visitor whose only crimes were landing without permission in a major city and sending dozens of innocent bystanders to the hospital. When will people learn?
The giant robot Gort rushes to Klaatu's defense but Klaatu stops him from starting the genocide early (by the way, Klaatu never refers to the robot as Gort in this version – instead it's a government acronym for Genetically Organized Robotic Technology). Klaatu is taken to a secret facility where Helen takes a shine to him.
Klaatu recovers quickly and gets introduced to Secretary of Defense Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates: MISERY, DRAGONFLY, DIABOLIQUE, DOLORES CLAIBORNE) who tells him there's simply no way he can address the world leaders at the UN, nor can he leave the building until after the interrogation.
His escape is interesting, though you have to wonder why he'd be left alone in a room with one guy and why no one would be watching, and circumstance quickly leads him back to Helen and Jacob. Should Helen be helping him? He says he's here to "save the Earth" which Helen takes to mean "he's not here to hurt us". Is she being as stunningly naïve as she sounds?
Hells yeah, she is! I'm not giving anything away (the implication was very clear in the trailers) by telling you that Klaatu is here to commit an act of genocide greater than anything Hitler, Stalin or Mao ever dreamed. He's "just following orders" like so many monsters of our own kind have done in societies that give in to the totalitarian temptation.
That needs some explaining so rather than a SCIENCE MOMENT (the science was basically fine with the cliché nanotech grey goo and all), I'm going to need the rarely invoked
!!!POLITICAL SCIENCE MOMENT!!!:
Have you heard of the totalitarian temptation? It's a relevant question because it actually applies to both this remake and the original 1951 version. The temptation occurs when the frustration of trying to bring people around to your point of view makes you consider forcing them to do what’s right rather than talk them into it. Both films are as much political fantasy as anything else along the lines of, "Oh, if only great and powerful beings would come down from the sky and force these stupid people to do the right thing!"
The right thing from the filmmakers' point of view was peace at any price in 1951 and stopping the destruction of the environment in 2008. And both versions of Klaatu are willing to commit murder on a planetary scale to achieve their goals. This would be morally equivalent to the United States going to a tiny country like Ghana and telling them they had to live like we tell them to or else we'll nuke every city, village and gathering of huts they've got and leave their country a glittering lava field. What kind of culture would do that?
And now a regular
Let's talk about grey goo, a subject that will make more sense when you see the movie. Actually first, let's talk about nanotechnology and molecular manufacturing. Nanotech involves building machines smaller than a cell (a nanometer is one billionth of a meter – very, very small) and would allow manufacturing in the molecule-at-a-time fashion used by life itself. You could grow a house (or a tank battalion) from a vat of raw materials. You could also use these same machines to disassemble things and then use the disassembled parts to make more disassemblers. The result in a run away worst case scenario is a world reduced to grey goo.
The movie has one or two nice moments (mostly involving the kid – Jayden Smith is the best actor in the film) but the annoying moments far outweigh them. Aside from the endless product placement (for McDonalds, Microsoft Windows, LG phones and Citizen watches) there are lots of things that just don't make sense. In spite of having aliens living among us for decades (a nice cameo by the wonderful James Hong: BIG TROUBLE IN LITLE CHINA, BLADE RUNNER), for example, Klaatu learns a great many obvious things about humans in his first day on Earth that apparently wasn't in any of the intelligence reports.
And speaking of obvious, in Klaatu's meeting with Professor Barnhardt (John Cleese: THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, DIE ANOTHER DAY) the Professor asks some obvious questions, comes to an obvious conclusion and seems to leave Klaatu stunned with his insight. WTF?
What a piece of crap. I give the remake of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL a generous two on the shriek girl scale.
copyright 2008 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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