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The Day The Earth Stood Still
Reviewed by Navin Vembar, © 2008

Format: Movie
By:   Scott Derrickson
Genre:   Science fiction
Review Date:   December 15, 2008
RevSF Rating:   3/10 (What Is This?)

"There will be a price," says Klaatu (Keanu Reeves), about the decisions humans must make to save the world. If the price includes having to see Day the Earth Stood Still, I would suggest that we take a few moments to consider whether it is worth it.

The remake of the 1951 movie of the same name (which I have not seen) is a mess of cliches, trite “observations” about human nature and portentous ridiculousness that is meant to pass as drama.

Jennifer Connelly plays Helen Benson, nominally an astrobiologist. In actuality, she is a generic movie scientist, a role defined by ability to look through a microscope and wear a white coat. She’s called, along with a few other random people whom we never hear from again, to examine a giant gray translucent globe that lands in Central Park after threatening to crash into Manhattan.

Their examination consists of walking very slowly, sometimes in slow-motion, towards it through a gray fog in gray radiation suits while saying scientist-y things until a gray bullet is shot at the gray alien that emerges from, oddly enough, gray light, after which a giant gray robot appears and shuts down all of the machines in the area.

At this point in the movie, I began to sense a theme. I’ll let you discover it for yourselves.

Out of the gray alien, which turns out to be a cocoon, comes Klaatu, a wooden, robotic human facsimile. His entrance gives Keanu the opportunity to once again emerge from a fluid-filled cocoon (a la The Matrix) and then fail to act in any discernable way.

Of course, the American government takes him into custody, interrogating him about the possibility of an imminent attack.

His newly-formed familiarity with the English language allows him to fool Secretary of Defense Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates) with the carefully phrased, “I’m here to save the Earth.” To which any half-brained audience member should yell, “Ask him about the humans on the Earth, you moron.”

Which leads us to the half-baked environmental parable that this movie becomes. We humans are on the verge of destroying the Earth and the planet must be saved, so aliens that Klaatu represents decided to wipe us out. Dr. Benson helps Klaatu escape because she feels she can communicate with him.

They road-trip to other orbs that landed along with Klaatu’s, and along the way we see super-powers that he can exert: the ability to bring someone back to life who he just killed for no real reason, the ability to fix phones, the ability to speak slowly and with no affect.

It should be noted that not a single one of these powers plays a part in the actual plot of the movie after the 30-minute mark.

The filmmakers capture a failure of imagination on celluloid; I can imagine that their outline consisted of descriptions of elaborate (and gray) CG scenes connected by arrows labeled, “Get to here as charmlessly as possible. And if you can throw in as many tropes about aliens learning about the human capability of love/ art/ forgiveness, please do.”

Not a single character is likable, not even John Cleese wasting his time playing a Nobel Prize-winning scientist. No one reacts naturally to anything that’s going on, nothing is explained in a way that provides us a sense of suspense or urgency.

We are repeatedly told that the world will end, that GORT, the giant robot, will destroy all humans.

But because everything is so “dramatic,” all we see is horribly un-nuanced discussions about the environmental impact we humans have on the world.

Seriously, I’m green as grass over here, and I couldn’t keep myself from throwing up my arms in disgust at a rate of about once every five minutes as the movie reached its non-climactic climax.

Children of Men took the concept of a world-wide, Armageddon-level tragedy and humanized it; The Day the Earth Stood Still takes the same skeleton of an idea and makes it alien.

RevSF staff writer Navin Vembar should let me go.

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