Friday, December 12, 2008

The Day The Earth Stood Still - Movie Review

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (**) - Starring Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jaden Smith, John Cleese, Jon Hamm, Kyle Chandler and Robert Knepper.
Directed by Scott Derrickson.

This sci-fi remake updates the 1951 original for today's times, which means its message couldn't have been any less subtle if the robot Gort was played by Al Gore. It keeps the Cold War paranoia vibe, which made me wonder if in the filmmaker's heads, Dick Cheney was somehow president.

I'd like to think our society wouldn't be as arrogant and shoot-first as it's portrayed here, but to be faithful, Klaatu has to get shot when he gets off his ship, and the plot needs to unfold from there.

An alien ship lands in Central Park. When a being steps off, he's greeted by a handful of scientists and a hundred machine-gun-toting soldiers. One of the itchy-fingered soldiers accidentally fires, and Klaatu needs surgery, stat! He's a being of light but he morphs fairly quickly into Keanu Reeves. I think it's a great idea to have Keanu play an alien. I think he'd be a good terminator too. Any of those roles where he seems disjointed and doesn't talk much, he can do. Look how well he broods in Much Ado About Nothing.

Jennifer Connelly, who really needs to find a non-downer role, is a microbiologist named Helen who must fight to save mankind when the Secretary of Defense (Kathy Bates) decides that the aliens must be dealt with like al-Qaeda. Klaatu, Helen, and Helen's annoying stepson (Jaden Smith, who was better in The Pursuit of Happyness) go on the run, away from the government but to get back to Klaatu's ship. As they run, Helen tries to convince Klaatu to call off the planned annihilation of the human race.

I was looking most forward to seeing Jon Hamm and John Cleese in this movie, but Hamm's role is so underwritten it could have been played by anyone, and Cleese only has one scene. His scene made me lean forward in my chair and look forward to his character's integration into the movie, as a thoughtful professor who tries to reason with Klaatu why the humans deserve another chance, but then he's gone.

I wasn't expecting much going in, so I didn't think it was that bad. The logic of the destructive force in the final act wavers (the outrunning-an-explosion type of logic-wavering), and while we mercifully don't get a final speech spelling out today's lesson, it still ends on a cold and empty note. So, all technology is bad? Klaatu, can't we compromise?

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