The Day The Earth Stood Still

Respectable, if pointless remake.

Released in 2008, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 19 Dec 2008 by Scott Morris
The Day The Earth Stood Still image

Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K, New York Central Park branch when a massive alien craft lands. What is its purpose? Well, that's for the recently disgorged Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) to decide, entrusted as he is with the power of life and death over the entire human race. Seems our intergalactic neighbours have noticed out hilariously inept mismanagement of our planet and decided that the Earth might be better off without us.

Given that it's left to Klaatu to make the final decision of whether to pull the trigger, it's probably not a great first introduction to shoot him, but what the hey. Transferred to a hospital by the military, he's introduced to the temporarily drafted zeno-micro-biologist-general-sciencey-type Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly). What follows reduces to the government, headed here by Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates) attempting to work out what threat Klaatu's appearance constitutes and how to deal with it while Benson helps Klaatu escape from the military's grasp and try to convince him that there's enough good in the human experience to save us from obliteration.

This doesn't go altogether to plan, and attempts to drill into the massive robot bodyguard Gort that Klaatu's left with his ship seems to accelerate the process of us getting our collective faces staved in so hard there will be no trace of us left on the planet. Will Helen and her inordinately emo stepson Jacob be able to save us by selling us as good guys to the nice alien man?

The Day The Earth Stood Still image

This, of course, should sound rather familiar, being as it is a reasonably faithful plot transplant from the 1951 sci-fi classic. Now, the reason for so many remakes these days is a source of eternal bebotherment to me. Surely, the only real reason to remake a film is if you think you can do a better job of it? Why, therefore, must people keep remaking already well regarded films? Either you end up making exactly the same film again, such as in cases like The Manchurian Candidate, in and of itself a perfectly acceptable film, but one with no real reason to exist, or something about it is changed, or the point is missed, or the execution of it is botched and it's completely ruined, which is the case for... well, about ninety eight percent of remakes.

There is perhaps at least a case for updating films such as this, at least in terms of providing more convincing effects. While hardly Plan 9 From Outer Space, and also hardly a film reliant of effects work anyway, there's no question that the scope of the threat to earth, and even perhaps the effects on the world rather than just New York could be explored more adequately by a bigger budget outing. For the most part, Los Neuvos Earth Stand Still delivers on that promise with some fairly impressive effects work, albeit the best of which you'll have seen in the trailers often enough that it might seem overly familiar by now.

Reeves' Klaatu is also rather effective. Far more monotonic and less charismatic in the new version, as a result of the script, not the actor, he actually feels far more like an alien presence than in the earlier affair. It's perhaps slightly to his detriment that the script has also played the Arthur C. Clarke 'sufficiently advanced technology' card and turned him into a magician, with powers that at times seem more befitting to a God than an alien. Still, it's hardly setting itself up as a bastion of hard science, so going after it too hard on that point seems silly.

The Day The Earth Stood Still image

While it does rather devolve into a chase flick by the end of things, it's kept pacy and kinetic enough to remain enjoyable enough as that. There's only one truly irritating thing I found in this film, and it's the good doctor's stepson, who whinges, and moans so consistently throughout that you'd be forgiven for thinking he was Dakota Fanning. If I were Klaatu I'd probably have had us exterminated on the basis of that brat alone. Indeed, I'm not exactly sure what convinced Klaatu to call off his planet killing dogs in the end of things, apart from perhaps the need to have a more dramatic ending rather than a dry lecture of being told to shape up or ship out, as seen in this film's forefather.

It's perhaps the better for it, hard as it is to imagine in a film with this much of a CG budget, as this film's message of 'stop killing the planet. And each other', is more subtle but no less prevalent than the original. There have, however, been enough lectures about saving the planet in cinema of late, and another one is hardly necessary. As it stands, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a perfectly enjoyable film. Better than the orignal? No. But it's neither botched or ruined, and that's about as good as I can expect.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.

Scott Derrickson
Cast list:
Keanu Reeves (Klaatu)
Jennifer Connelly (Helen Benson)
Kathy Bates (Regina Jackson)
Jaden Smith (Jacob Benson)
John Cleese (Professor Barnhardt)