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Day the Earth Stood Still

The 2008 sci-fi remake directed by Scott Derrickson.

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(The Day the Earth Stood Still) My Stomach Turned

  • Feb 27, 2011
Where to begin? As one of the most vocal critics of the concept of 'remakes', I felt that it was only fair to the new version of TDTESS, and to everyone else who's put up with my incessant reminders to watch the original, to actually watch the remake itself. My opinions hold no water if I take the stance of refusing to watch the remake on the grounds that it is such an affront to the original, to serious fans of science fiction film and etc., etc.

I almost did fall into that trap: the reviews by mainstream and offstream critics have been so universally bad that they came close to giving me the excuse I needed to avoid seeing it. I'd have thrown in commentary on the cost of going to the theater these days and would have almost been justified in skipping it, but - that's just not really fair.

So I went to see it. (Someone's holiday gift is going to be shy by about twenty bucks as a result, but thems the breaks...)

I tried to watch TDTESSr with fresh and open eyes. (BTW - the 'r' stands for 're-do, re-make, re-boot, re-imagined.)

I realize that given my history with the original (seen at least 25 times, many of them with critiquing in mind) it would be impossible for me to really see it fresh, and equally impossible for readers to believe that I could do so, so we'll all just have to accept the fact that while I made an honest go of giving it a chance, it's not possible for me to be completely unbiased. Give me credit for the try and we can move on.

Another part of my brain (it was a VERY schizophrenic viewing) kept the original firmly in mind and held it up as a template while the small-r version was rolling.

Yet another part of my brain watched it as a film, ticking off check marks for score, script, lighting, cinematography, set design, graphics, continuity, direction, acting and all of the other various elements that go into any film and mastery of most that are found in the great films.

The remaining part of my brain not being used to keep the heart and other autonomic functions going (as well as the part that keeps saying things like - get something to eat, take a nap, you'll be needing to go to the bathroom in a minute) was split between monitoring gut and emotional reactions to the entire experience and wondering when the damn thing was going to end.

Potential Spoilers from this point on.

So I sat there in the dark with a notebook and a pen, and I watched.

The major thing that struck me on the comparison side of things was the difference in pacing. The original has long (and necessary) moments of contemplation, slow set scenes in which the viewer is encouraged to actually think about what they've just heard or seen - like the scene at the Lincoln Memorial. "Those are great words" Klaatu says, and the audience is given the time to read them and think about their meaning.

The redo - no time is given over to thinking at all. The audience is expected to experience without thinking, numbed by the supposedly awesome visual effects unfolding before it.

This is strange considering that the original ran for some 92 minutes, while the remake clocks in at 110 minutes.

But the remake suffers from the film industry's current penchant for frenetic cutting; if you could time travel and dropped this version into a 1951 movie theater, I suspect that most of the audience would have to leave due to motion sickness. It takes a lifetime of growing up with MTV videos and disjointed, 1/10th of a second cuts to be able to watch and barely comprehend what's up on the screen to be able to handle 'modern film'. (blech)

The redo's premise is also ridiculous for numerous reasons: a collective of alien societies possessing the capabilities of faster than light travel, bio-engineering, nano-technology and all of the other advances that are implied by the film would be entirely capable of handling the human race and its follies in a non-destructive, non-belligerent, unthreatening manner.

They've studied us for decades if not longer and yet they somehow missed Meteor - the only explanation for not knowing that their arrival in our system would cause widespread panic and cause our military to launch nuclear missiles into space. (I guess Scarpa hasn't been watching Discovery either; I swear I've seen their show on meteor impacts at least twelve times, and every time they explain that using nuclear missiles would just make the problem worse...)

With the technologies they posses, there was no need at all to send Klaatu to Earth. They'd already made the decision to collect all of the Earth's species and scrub us off the face of the planet (otherwise, why the presences of all the other spheres?)

The couple of examples above do not go nearly far enough to detail how absolutely terrible the script itself was. Forget comparisons to the original: on its own, the script is so fraught with unexplained moments, dialogue out of left field, unjustified leaps of faith and just plain bad writing that it would have gotten no more than a 'D' in my film writing class (and the guy who taught it was responsible for Grizzly...)

The script was awful.

A few examples of how bereft of logic here: right after we learn that Klaatu has no veins, the military doctors try to revive him with a defribulator. Hello! If he has no veins, he needs no heart, and if he has no heart, zapping him with fifty thousand volts is probably just going to make him angry.

Dr. Benson get's carted off in the middle of the night by Federal agents offering no explanation. She is repeatedly forced to do things with no explanation. She never stands up for herself - but she is always breaking the rules (hiding a cell phone, stealing drugs, helping Klaatu escape). This is an unrealized, motive-less character. An astro-microbiologist who nevertheless can visit a pharmacy and select and administer truth serum - to an alien being who HAS NO VEINS. In this day and age a world-famous astro-biologist does not go meekly into the night with suspiciously identified government agents. She closes the door in their faces and calls her attorney on the cell phone.

This is a woman who has been informed that the world is going to end - and she can't even tell it straight to her stepson. And yet, later on, she's all touchy-feely with him and demanding that HE trust HER. Yah.

Cathy Bate's Secretary of Defense was yet another formless droid, asked at one moment to be tough as nails, and at another moment asked to let Dr. Benson run free. She discovers - in one of the most unrealistic moments in the film = that the spheres are 'arks'. When turning Benson (who is in Federal custody) loose to go and try to reason with Klaatu - an act that Bates commits unwillingly and reluctantly (this tough as nails official who orders nuclear missiles to be used like they were tissues suddenly lets Benson free on trust!?) wishes Benson 'good luck'. Benson, who's been dragged willy-nilly all over the place by this woman and her cohorts actually thanks her! The line should have been "after all of your BS, about the only thing we've got going for us is luck you stupid cow!"

The kid - like all of the other characters - is not believable - asking out-of-his-league adult questions one moment, acting like a willful, disobedient child the next.

Reeves - like some others have said elsewhere - should have played Gort.

Continuity was terrible; the nanobots at the end are expanding exponentially and yet Klaatu and Benson have time to take a leisurely drive into Central Park from New Jersey. The 'bots are eating everything man-made, yet they don't destroy the tunnel that Benson and Klaatu hide in. Nanos invade the kid and Benson's bodies - but not the terrain around them.

Logic was out the window entirely: a large object is about to impact Manhattan and yet the military has helicopters in the air over the city. When the object lands and the military goes in to secure - the valuable scientists they've gathered from all over the country are in the vanguard. When Klaatu appears and is ushered off, everyone acts as if they're going to quarantine him, but their efforts at doing so resemble a medieval city's attempts to keep the Black Death out.

There's more: When Benson arrives at the super secret military facility, everyone is told - no cell phones, so she hides and later uses hers. So, like, the super-secret military facility doesn't monitor out-going transmissions?

I've already mentioned the heart-starting scene. Immediately following that is the statement that 'Klaatu had to be born on Earth in order to survive'. blblblblblb-huh?

We learn that Klaatu reads minds and can control them from a distance - but this power must be limited or fickle, because he never uses it to make the Secretary of Defense take him to the UN to deliver his message. But he can use it to make an interrogator reveal all kinds of secret information. Maybe reading Cathy Bates' mind is just too icky.

Klaatu - having read the minds of the government goons around him knows full well that they are going to interrogate him using whatever means necessary - and yet he cooperates with them, at least for a while. He could have made them fall over while holding their heads (the standard movie cliche for mind-control) at any time - but chooses to wait, for absolutely no apparent reason whatsoever.

Later, Klaatu collapses - an after effect of having been shot. He's picked up by the NY Transit cops who call Dr. Benson to come get him. This, immediately following a scene in which Bates says 'use everything we have to find him - drones, hiway cameras, police, military, everything'. There was more than enough time for the transit cops to have gotten the bulletin - even using 1951's technology. But for some unexplained reason they never recognize him. If I were a transit cop, I'd be pretty miffed at how badly our reputation had been sullied by this film.

Later there's a bit of dialogue from Benson "they didn't come here to hurt us". Oh no? what about all the destruction and death that we've been witnessing intermittently throughout the movie, the direct result of the all-knowing alien's arrival.

Towards the end, Reeves walks on water - in a swamp in New Jersey. So much for the Christian parable metaphor of the film.

Klaatu pretty violently kills a cop and then brings him back to life (I only wanted to stop him). Uh, Mr. Klaatu, sir? You could have used your mind control tricks for that...

Again towards the end, Benson and the kid have their moment by the grave of the kid's father. The kid says to Benson 'You miss him too?', in a scene and delivery that makes it apparent that, despite being Dr. Benson's stepson, the two have never spoken about anything during the year they've spent together - nor during the time before Benson and the dad got married.

I got the impression that the relationship between stepmon and stepkid was supposed to be some kind of subplot that mirrored the theme of the entire film - something like, only when you learn to trust and love can you save your relationship (species/planet/whatever) - but this never worked, which is no surprise, considering that the entire film lacked any real discernible plot.

Perhaps the most idiotic moment of the entire thing comes when Klaatu meets up with Dr. Barnhardt (a character that we are given absolutely no background on at all, other than Benson's statement that 'he is a leader'). It takes a night long discussion between one of the most intelligent people on Earth and a cipher of a highly advanced alien for Klaatu to receive an explanation of how humanity works: "it is only when we are on the precipice that we can change". If I'd been Klaatu, I'd have said 'but there's no guarantee that you'll make the right decision when you're looking over the cliff - in fact, your history (with which I am intimately familiar because we've been studying you for so long) seems to indicate that there's a better than 50/50 chance that you'll make the wrong decision. Gort - zap this idiot'.

The pacing was poor, the musical score didn't jive with the set scenes (menacing music, no menace up on the screen) and we are never, ever given enough back story for any of the characters to be able to understand why they make the decisions and take the actions that they do.

And Gort. Ah, poor, benighted Gort. Instead of being a main character in the movie, Gort is thrown in only for the visual effect. His presence in the film looks as if someone at the movie studio said "Hey, I got a great idea, let's stick a giant robot in the film!" and everyone else sitting around said "hey, yeah" - and they did. Without consulting the script writer. Which is no surprise - I think they stopped talking to the script writer after seeing the first draft.

TDTESSr is not just a bad re-do of the 1951 original, it is a terrible, awful, ridiculous time-waster of a movie. If you watch it, by the end, you'll wish that there were nanobots that had eaten your eyeballs before you went to see it.

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More The Day the Earth Stood Still ... reviews
review by . December 13, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
As someone who has yet to see the original The Day The Earth Stood Still, I thought that the remake was a pretty decent movie.  It was suspenseful and I literally had chills going down my spine throughout most of it.  The special effects were impressive.      Jennifer Connelly played the character of Helen Benson beautifully, and the matching of Keanu Reeves to his character Klaatu was a match made in heaven.  If lifeless, emotionless alien was what he was going …
review by . February 25, 2011
This remake of a classic SF movie (which I can’t comment on since I’ve never seen it) completely blows. Fundamentalist aliens come to earth to play God and vanquish humanity for its sin against the earth with grey goo. I don’t have per se a problem with aliens trying to kill humanity because of their ideology (as a plot device), but the movie tries to sell it as if the aliens have the higher moral ground, which I found dubious to say the least. Any culture that accepts mass murder …
review by . November 17, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
The original 1951 version of The Day the Earth Stood Still is without question one of the greatest science fiction films of all time.  I'm not usually opposed to a remake of a film.  I believe in letting remakes stand on their own two feet without having to be compared to the original.  Yet for whatever reason even when viewing movies through this kind of lens remakes are almost never good.  Not because they don't measure up to the creations they're trying to recreate, but …
Quick Tip by . July 26, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
This is not the worst movie I have ever seen, but it was bad enough for me to remember that it was bad. For the kind of story that it is, the movie could have been a whole lot more compelling or chilling, but it wasn't. It was a flat movie with bad cgi and bad acting.
Quick Tip by . July 20, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Boring, boring, boring, I think I feel asleep twice during the film which never happens to me. Skip at all costs and save yourself 2+ hours.
Quick Tip by . July 19, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
I rarely leave a movie theater with a very empty feeling, but I did leave The Day the Earth Stood Still with that kind of feeling. It has a few amazing special effects but it's very rare that a film doesn't have some other redeeming quality. Here you're getting some good special effects (the majority of which don't come out until the very end of the film) but aside from that there isn't much to write home about with The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Quick Tip by . July 19, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
I love end of the world style films and this one was good one. Sure, it flopped but I liked it
Quick Tip by . July 09, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
not what i expected at all. i didnt even want to sit through the whole thing in the theater, it was slow, boring, and very predictiable.
review by . April 10, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
decimation scene
Remakes are a dime-a-dozen as I've said before. I do have to acknowledge that sometimes, a remake may be necessary to cater to a new generation. It has been some years ago since last I saw Robert Wise's 1951 original and I have to admit I didn't re-watch it before exposing myself to this 2008 remake helmed by Scott Derrickson. Many have considered the 1951 original film to be a true masterpiece, and belongs in the ranks of the most celebrated motion pictures ever made with "The Godfather", "Citizen …
review by . December 15, 2008
Ok. I love Keanu Reeves. I love Jennifer Connelly. I did not, however, love the remake of this movie. My boyfriend and I went to see it in the theater on Friday evening, and I expected The Day the Earth Stood Still to be full of action and suspense. Instead, I caught myself yawning and struggling to keep my eyes open! How sad.     In my opinion, they were trying to get just the basic plot of the story covered in the movie. They didn't take the time to really show how Klaatu was …
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The Day the Earth Stood Still is a 2008 American science fiction film, a remake of the 1951 film of the same name. Directed by Scott Derrickson and starring Keanu Reeves as Klaatu, the film updates the Cold War theme of nuclear warfare to the contemporary issue of humankind's environmental damage to the planet. It was released on a rollout schedule beginning December 12, 2008, screening in both conventional theaters and IMAX screens.

In 1928, a mountaineer (Keanu Reeves) encounters a glowing sphere while on an expedition in the snowy mountains of India. He then finds himself awakening after a sudden loss of consciousness, with the sphere now gone and a scar on his hand. In the present day, Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), a Princeton professor, and other scientists are hastily assembled by the government in order to formulate a survival plan when it is feared that a large unknown object with a speed of 3x107m/s is on a crash course to the Earth, due to impact Manhattan in just over an hour. Nothing can be done about it because a vital military satellite has been disabled. However, the object is a large spherical biological spaceship, which slows down and lands gently in Central Park. A being (taking on the appearance of the man from the opening scene of the film) named Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) emerges from the sphere while accompanied by a large robot. Klaatu, a representative of a group of alien races, has come to assess whether humanity can reverse the ...

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Director: Scott Derrickson
Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi
Release Date: April 7, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Screen Writer: David Scarpa, Edmund H. North
DVD Release Date: April 7, 2009
Runtime: 104 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox
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