(2008) dir. Scott Derrickson
In re-making a classic film, which is happening more and more all the time these days, from an artistic standpoint, you start out partially screwed. You’re down a notch from originality and you’re down a notch because it’s rare that original films really have a need to be remade. So, you start out below water with expectations, and you have to find a way to do something to justify yourself.
Now, that’s the opinion of someone familiar with the original, classic Robert Wise-directed 1951 science fiction film, The Day the Earth Stood Still. I’m sure that while picthing it, they’re realizing that there are a lot of people out there who’d never seen nor heard of the original, in these myopic times. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I think it’s heresy or anything so extreme as some hard-core film cultists might. I just think it’s grossly unoriginal and uninspired.
But to re-think The Day the Earth Stood Still, a 1950’s Cold War film about a far more advanced alien force that comes to destroy humanity to save more life (because humans are violent and increasing their technological power to destroy without knowing what they are doing), for the modern times is to re-think what humans are fucking up the most these days.
For the 21st Century, it’s no longer untapped scientific development of weaponry, but it’s the way that we’re mucking up the inhabitability of the planet on which we live. And while that is most undoubtably true, it gets more and more tedious getting told that in science fiction films over and over again.
This time, our alien/Christ-figure is Keanu Reeves (whose real name isn’t all that far from his character Klaatu, if you think about it). Reeves, with his stony, unearthly acting and his sci-fi Christ figure street cred from The Matrix film series, seems as apt a choice as you’d have. It’s like turning Arnold Schwarzenegger into a robot. It sort of fits his performance.
But of course, our heroine is no longer a mere widowed mother in a boarding house, epitomizing American ideals of the 1950’s, but she’s a super-scientist. And the world isn’t 1950’s America, rather it’s already a polyglot culture. The team of scientists are a global village, including a Muslim. And Jennifer Connelly has an adopted son who is African American. See, it’s no longer about race or nationality. It’s about us and the Earth.
And about special effects and IMAX-worthy special effects. I noted when watching the original recently that it was a very humanistic film, and despite having Gort the 8′ robot and the flying saucer, the film focused on human interactions, to display the qualities and possibilities of humanity to Klaatu, to give him pause to save us from destruction. But now Gort is like 800′ tall and lots of stuff gets, well, not “blowed up” but devoured by robotic flies. Visual spectacle.
The film fails to really communicate the emotion or the justification of the species by comparison. I mean, when Klaatu finally relents and sees the milk of human kindness between a woman and her adopted son, it’s not sincere really. I wasn’t convinced. It’s a good thing I’m not Klaatu.
Additonally, director Scott Derrickson makes this all Biblical-ish. Klaatu is collecting species prior to Earth’s devastation a la Noah and his ark. We have doom in a swarm of flies (not locusts, but flies). And Klaatu even walks on water at one point. All this religious innuendo seems more handy than specifically imbued with a message. Is it “God” that comes to destroy us so to save the rest of the world? Isn’t it only us that can save ourselves? Should we all go out and buy a Prius after watching this movie?
The film is disappointing, assuming that you had given it enough hope to still have something to have been disappointed with. And it’s kinda bad, too. But it’s not as out and out awful as other films. It feels sort of dumb by comparison. This whole approach to alien communication (do they really think landing in Central Park is going to get them a meeting at the United Nations? Don’t they know us well enough to know how people will act? And why can’t they offer us help rather than destruction?) All in all, it could be done a lot better.