THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (2008)
Cinema Knife Fight: THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (2008)
by L.L. Soares (with Michael Arruda in spirit)
(THE SCENE: large ogre-like creatures in battle armor and muscular cyborgs roar into an alleyway, as L.L. SOARES pulls out a nuclear warhead and fires at them, setting off a huge mushroom cloud over their heads. MICHAEL ARRUDA looks up).
MA: Not good.
LS: I’m gonna go see PUNISHER WAR ZONE again. What are you going to do now?
MA: Get tested for radiation poisoning maybe. This is definitely not good.
MA: You meat-head, you just detonated a nuclear warhead. You’ve attracted the attention of the world, and then some! Look! (points to sky).
(An immense spaceship hovers above them, filling the entire sky above their heads.)
LS: (shouts up at it) Bring it on, alien boy!
(A sign pops up reading “To Be Continued Tomorrow with the review of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.“)
DIRECTOR (offscreen): CUT!
LS: Huh? (looks around and sees that MA has disappeared). What’s going on here? I thought we were going to do the follow-up review.
DIRECTOR: No can do. Arruda was caught in the middle of an ice storm and has no power. Even his local movie theater doesn’t have any power. You’re going to have to do this one solo.
(Men take away the props and fake scenery, revealing the alleyway, the monsters, and the mushroom cloud are all fake. In their place is a small soundstage with a lone black chair. LS changes into a suit and sits down).
LS: Ahem. Okay, where were we? Oh yeah, I’m supposed to review the new version of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.
(A guy who looks an awful lot like Milton Berle pops out with a giant powder puff and yells “MAKE-UP!” and slams LS in the face with it, leaving him dazed and covered in powder. He takes a moment to catch his breath).
The new remake of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL reminds me of a song. You know, you hear this simple, kind of raw song on the radio, and it really hits a nerve. You love that song. Every time you hear it, it makes you smile. And then someone comes along and does a cover of it, and they take the simple song and add a string section and horns and a complete orchestra, and suddenly you can barely recognize it, and all the soul has been sucked out of it, and it sounds an awful lot like Muzak.
Well, that’s the deal with the latest Keanu Reeves movie. You can tell they threw a lot of money at it. They took this simple, low-budget little sci-fi movie from the 1950′s and made it big and bold, with lots of CGI, and all this money did not add one ounce of anything worthwhile to the movie.
American Movie Classics (AMC – remember when they used to show movies uncut and uninterrupted? Now they have tons of commercials and stupid game shows in between the segments – just show the damn movies!!) happened to show the original film with Michael Rennie the night before (it had been a lot of years since I last saw it), and so it was fresh in my mind when I went to go see the remake.
It just made sitting through the new version all that more painful.
First of all, let’s talk about the cast. You’ve got Keanu Reeves, who is wooden and emotionless here. He always does that well. That’s why he was so good as Neo in those MATRIX movies. He’s great when he doesn’t have to act and he can make it look like he’s doing it on purpose. Well, here he gets to play Klaatu, a man from outer space, so once again he’ll get away with bad acting. Everyone is going to say he was terrific in this role. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized his performance was actually all wrong, and pretty damn awful. I’ll get back to that in a moment.
Jennifer Connolly plays the scientist who befriends Klaatu and helps him get away from the government types who want to keep him a prisoner. She’s a good actress, but she’s totally wasted here as Keanu’s sidekick. Half the movie she’s his chauffer, driving him to a McDonald’s and out into the woods so he can be all mysterious. Poor girl. But whenever she’s onscreen those eyes of hers hypnotized me into thinking THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL wasn’t a total waste of time. Then she’d be off-screen and I’d come back to my senses.
Then you have Will and Jada Smith’s little darling Jaden as Jennifer Connolly’s stepson. Why is this kid in so many movies lately? He’s exactly the kind of pouty, annoying kid who thinks he’s turning on the charm, when all he’s doing is making whatever movie he’s in really sappy. And someone give this kid a haircut, before he turns into Cousin Itt from the Addams Family! Now Haley Joel Osment was a kid who could act. Why did Haley Joel have to grow up? Now we’ve got cutesy brats like Jaden Smith.
There are a lot of better actors in smaller roles, like Jon Hamm (from TV’s MAD MEN – which, just so happens is also on AMC – so the channel isn’t all bad now) as one of Connolly’s fellow scientists, and Robert Knepper (T-Bag from PRISON BREAK) as a general. Even the terrific John Cleese has a small role where he’s pretty much wasted as the brainiac scientist who was played by Sam Jaffee in the original movie (they even keep the professor’s blackboard with its formula, so Klaatu can fix it, like the original – which just made me pine for the original all the more).
Then we come to Gort, the robot. He’s one of the main attractions of the original movie. And sure, in that one he was a seven foot guy in a rubber suit painted silver, but he was still pretty cool. Here, he’s much bigger and made with CGI effects, and wouldn’t you know it, he looks even more fake now, and I prefer the old rubber suit. And what’s with Gort turning into magic dust later in the movie – whose idea was that? Giant swarms of metal bugs (actually nano-robots) hovering over the city, instead of a cool cyclopean robot. Who thought that was more dramatic? It reminded me of the wind chasing everyone in M. Night Shyamalan’s THE HAPPENING. Was he a consultant on this movie?
The most obvious difference was that the original movie was small and charming and, at less than 90 minutes, it went by really fast, and it made a good point about human aggression and the Cold War tensions of the time. The new movie is longer and most of it is kind of boring. I didn’t find any of its updated story points exciting, except maybe for Keanu’s gooey exo-skeleton early on. And I’ve got to admit, the ecological message of the new movie kind of pissed me off. Why does every movie have to be about saving the earth now? Why do I have to pay $10.75 to get a sermon on going “green”? In the original movie, it was all about an end to war and aggression – change your ways or you’ll be exterminated. In the new one it’s all about Mama Earth. What, did human aggression and wars cease to be a problem anymore? No one gave me that memo. I guess we’ve finally achieved world peace! Hurray!
I hate paying top dollar to be preached to. It really rubs me the wrong way.
And instead of a flying saucer we get a big old sphere that looks like a miniature earth, glowing and swirling, and that was underwhelming as well. I actually found myself missing that dopey old flying saucer.
The original movie was small and didn’t have any big name stars. There was Michael Rennie as Klaatu, an underrated character actor who finally got a lead role, and he was good at it. And Patricia Neal as the lady who befriends him (in the old version she’s the secretary to a scientist, though, not a scientist herself, so at least some of the updating is good).
And what about the storyline where Klaatu escapes to live among us humans for awhile and study our ways? In the new one, Keanu is too busy having Jennifer Connolly drive him all over the place to care about human beings. And, in the biggest letdown of all – we don’t even get a decent depiction of the title. In the original movie, the earth standing still meant something. It was an example of Klaatu’s power, to make the people of earth listen to him. In the new movie it’s more of a side effect – an afterthought toward the end, as if the director made the whole movie and then realized nothing stood still and he had better plug it in, or else the title wouldn’t make any sense.
Oh, and earlier I mentioned Keanu’s performance as being awful. Here’s why. In the original movie, Michael Rennie played Klaatu as a normal man, not as some robotic alien. His people have been watching us for centuries, so they know how we act, and they know how to blend in. That was the whole point of the original film, that Klaatu was able to infiltrate common everyday life so that he could see humans close-up at their best and their worst.
So the way Keanu plays him is actually all wrong. So much for praising yet another robotic performance by him.
I really despised this movie. I hated its updated look, and its lame acting and its waste of Gort and the fact that I kept looking at my watch every 15 minutes (I’ve got a watch that lights up when you push a button, and I only use the light when I’m sitting in a movie that’s dragging its feet).
I sat there in the packed theater (Do audiences really have such bad taste? I guess they do, this movie was number one at the box office!) and wished I could have gone to see PUNISHER WAR ZONE again (but it was already gone from the theater), or that I’d walked past this particular theater in the multi-plex and gone to see SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE instead. Anything but this boring, overblown Keanu Reeves movie that kept threatening to put me to sleep.
Save your money. This one isn’t worth it.
(FADE TO BLACK)
(Originally published on Fear Zone on December 17, 2008)
© Copyright 2008 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares