Saturday, 13 December 2008

The Day The Earth Stood Still

Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly & Jaden Smith

A somewhat average remake of the 1950s Sci-Fi classic which succeeds most in scenes which don’t employ the use of CGI effects.

The original The Day The Earth Stood Still, released in 1951, is widely regarded as a Sci-Fi classic. Capturing the atmosphere of an era in a world post-WWII and in the midst of a Cold War, the film used the background of world conflict and general distrust amongst nations to tell a cautionary tale of how the Human Race could bring about its own destruction if it were to continue to pursue its, then, course of action. Told in the form of a Sci-Fi film it entertained and educated audiences in equal measure. It is now 2008; the world is still engaged in multiple conflicts alongside an additional environmental threat. So here comes a remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still.

Where this remake succeeds most is where it follows some of the themes and events of the original film. Early scenes where the newly arrived alien Klaatu (Reeves) is questioned by the military and then escapes to see how the Human Race lives are strong. While not sticking precisely to events of the original film, Klaatu’s experiences of the Earth and its people are faithful to the tone of the original film. Dismayed by the warlike and destructive nature of the Human Race, Klaatu questions whether they should be allowed to continue existing, only to find that Humans are capable of more than destruction. The remake also manages to maintain the tone relating to the world’s political climate where decisions involving other nations are hindered while military decisions are often rushed and uninformed (a statement perhaps of the US military response post-9/11). The messages given in the film about war and its consequences and also about the effects we are having on the environment (another cause that has gained popularity in recent years after decades of concerns) are not particularly subtle but are still handled in a decent manner and certainly make for relevant present day concerns for a remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still being set in the present day.

The Day The Earth Stood Still impresses less though when it tries to embrace the technologies of today’s cinema. Making this remake a big-budget affair with modern special effects sometimes distracts the tone of the film from what could be a thought provoking Sci-Fi Drama. Replacing the flying saucer of the original film with a glowing, gaseous looking sphere in the remake is a move that succeeds in providing an effective feeling of other-worldliness in a modern Sci-Fi film where a flying saucer today would feel dated; however other special effect driven decisions are less successful. In particular is the remake’s version of the robot GORT. Here the robot is a giant and, while fearsome, bears too much resemblance to the Cylons of TVs current Battlestar Galactica series and when GORT unleashes its power on the Human Race it does so in the form of a swarm of metallic insects feeding on the manmade environments and its people. Once this event occurs, story takes a backseat to spectacle however the spectacle proves to be less interesting than the build up to it would suggest and the ultimate resolution to the problem that Klaatu describes occurs fairly quickly and predictably.

The Day The Earth Stood Still does benefit from some great casting. Keanu Reeves, often criticized for having a limited ability to convince emotionally in his performances, finds his somewhat detached persona working well for him in his portrayal of Klaatu, an alien in a Human body who has little experience with the ways and emotions of Humans. Jennifer Connelly delivers a good performance as, scientist, Helen Bensen who is raising a child alone and wants to show that Humans are capable of good. She is convincing as an intelligent woman capable in her field and also in displaying the emotional vulnerability of someone left to raise a child alone. There is strong support from Kathy Bates as the somewhat uncooperative Secretary of Defense and John Cleese in a small appearance as a professor. The only problem amongst the casting comes in the role on Bensen’s stepson Jacob who, while supposed to be demonstrating a child struggling over the loss of his father, often comes across as annoying instead of sympathetic.

Overall, The Day The Earth Stood Still is a decent remake and a decent message film. Bolstered by some good casting decisions it manages to tell a decent story, however, a weak conclusion, an over-reliance on big budget effects sequences in the final act and the resistance to truly delve too deeply into the issues it tries to raise means that ultimately this remake is a missed opportunity that disappoints more than it satisfies.

Rating: 3/5