Keanu-Barada-Necktie: New Day The Earth Stood Still movie delivers

*** Spoiler Alert: This review will contain spoilers. The non-Spoiler summary is: Good film, an honest adaptation of the 1951 film to the reality of 2008. Worth your movie dollar. ***

*** edited – stupid mistakes and awkward wording fixed – addendum added ***

A friend once discussed with me the concept of a remake. While the trend for many years was to milk a popular franchise and remake classics in a hope to milk their good name for profits – the better strategy, my friend opined, was to remake clunkers with promise. the idea is that the classics are already loved and your film will always be compared to them. Clunkers with promise however leave you free to be more expressive and if you outshine them your film will be forever remembered. I’ve always felt that The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of those movies. The original is a cult classic but it does not hold up to modern standards at all. There are plenty of classics that came from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s that are still enjoyable to watch today. However, TDTEST 1951 is not one of them. The only thing that really stood the test of time was the look and menace of GORT. However, looking back, even that Iconic robot looks a bit silly as if he is wearing diapers. Still, he is clearly one of the most identifiable robots in film.

The original is an amazing window into the mindset of 1951 with a science fiction theme. It was meant to be a statement on the not-so Cold War (in 1951 the world was trying to figure out the crisis in Korea – which oddly today we are still trying to figure out.) In 1951 women had their place, kids were good and innocent and well adjusted, commies were all bad and America was the place to go if you wanted to speak to the world, or so they thought. The United Nations was established just 6 years prior but even in 1951 there was not universal representation of Mankind there. The Iconic UN HQ building in New York had just been completed, probably during the filming of the movie and was not iconic yet!

Interestingly enough, while the UN wasn’t relevant to speak to mankind in 1951, here in 2008 it has again become irrelevant – so much of our diplomacy has been outside the bounds of the UN. The UN is, in my opinion, actually pretty much the cause of many of the problems we have in the world today stemming from bad decisions and, in the last 10 years, corruption.

In 2008 Klaatu comes to Earth seeking to speak before it’s representatives. His ship lands in Central Park, Manhattan. He is seeking the UN. The movie doesn’t make it clear if he intended to walk or catch a cab, but pretty much no one in the audience is surprised to find out he got shot in the park at night! Yeah, we all frickin’ heart NYC.

A major point of departure between the two films are the characterizations of the two other lead roles – Helen Benson is now DR. Helen Benson (exo-microbiology) and her husband’s son Jacob (nee Bobby). This pair are mixed race which in 2008 isn’t worth commenting on excepts for the fact that in 1951 it would have been an amazing concept that would have struck at the national divide on race back then. 57 years later we don’t think anything of it. Another departure is that while the female character isn’t strong and full of bravado, she is smart and respected for that, she is compassionate and she takes risks in spite of her fear.

Another departure is that of the reason Klaatu and Gort come calling. In the 1951 version, Klaatu is like your favorite science teacher who sees your grades are slipping and has come to try and help you get those grades up so you don’t have to retake the class over the summer. The 2008 version is more like the Head Master who is sick and tired of your antics and already has the paper written up for your expulsion. This change in attitude gives the new Klaatu a very menacing feel and gives added urgency in resolving the problem. In 1951 Klaatu comes bearing gifts and an urgent need to speak some sense into our minds. In 2008 he brings no gifts saying, wisely, our troubles won’t be solved by technology. In 1951 Klaatu was worried about nuclear war. We seem to have that one under control. So in 2008 Klaatu is concerned about our environment. Now – this is probably the most political point made in the movie. Global Warming cause primarily by Man is a belief held by many. I’m skeptical of this for many reasons but there is no doubt that the things we are doing (burning fossil fuels for energy) do add to global warming. What is not clear is the science saying we are heading for global disaster nor is the science clear on exactly how to reverse the trend of a warming planet. The “cap and trade” system for carbon credits was crafted, in part, by Kenneth Lay of Enron fame and the whole concept was devised by Maurice Strong who has stated he is a socialist by ideology and a capitalist by methodology… So as far as I am concerned the whole Global Warming thing may be an issue but there are people out there looking to make a buck off of it. The point of bringing up my own beliefs that many of you won’t share is that I have mixed feelings about the statement the movie is making. We do have pollution and we do land use methods that are destructive. However I am not convinced that we are in crisis – so for me the message of the movie was a bit muted. However the suspension of disbelief can begin here. I’ll just assume the Space UN knows more about the fragility of ecosystems. In the movie Klaatu states that planets capable of sustaining complex life are few and far between – which probably is true! This does make a great case for why we should be concerned about the environment from the standpoint of our galaxy – it gives the Earth much greater importance. So that is what got me through what Klaatu was saying – we can’t destroy the ecosphere and hope to inhabit other worlds. Our ecosphere is rare enough to be valuable to the entire Galaxy.

GORT remains the same, for the most part. He is much bigger in this film and a bit more modern looking. I saw a fan picture comparing him to Talos, the giant man of Bronze who protected Europa via Crete. The new GORT kicks ass. He isn’t the slow moving GORT of 1951 that would take centuries to exterminate mankind. No, this one is much, much deadlier. The scenes with GORT are pretty kick ass. They had fun with him and so the audience gets to enjoy him too. I won’t ruin the fun but watch the film and you’ll know what I mean.

The final departure is the way in which Klaatu goes out. In the 1951 film he gets gunned downed like a punk and has to have his new girl friend stop the crazy robot. In 2008 he has to be persuaded the Earth needs saving because the decision to destroy it has already been made. When he makes that decision it requires his own self sacrifice. In 2008 the day the Earth stood still wasn’t a demonstration of his power to frighten us into change; it marked the moment we were spared with a chance to make things right.

Critics of the new film label it “preachy”. Did they SEE the first film? How can a film about someone coming to punish mankind not sound preachy? Get past it – it is part of the formula here and not some flaw you could correct. Seriously, a wishy washy Klaatu would have been a HUGE mistake.

Critics have pointed out that Keanu’s acting is emotionless. That isn’t exactly true – first off he is an alien. Second – Keanu is exactly the weepy hunk that breaks down looking at sunsets. That said his mission is one of dire consequences so his two main emotions are seriousness and anger. It is compassion that moves him in the end. This last scene would be perhaps a bit more powerful if he as an actor would have shown a more human side to Klaatu. I am not really a good critic of acting – but Keanu’s character is different than the characters from his other films. For many reasons people either love or hate that about him. He clearly has enough fans to get his films made.

The Day the Earth Stood Still made $31 million this weekend. Not a runaway block buster but not a bad showing either. It was in 1st place by more than 2:1. I’m not sure what will replace it for top spot next week but Will Smith will be debuting so I’d give that odds on as being the favorite next week. Bruce Campbell, in a daring move, has gone up against Mr. Smith with his film “My Name is Bruce” which I would very much like to see!

*** Addendum ***
Ok some things that bothered me in the film but aren’t important. The military uses sidewinders on GORT. What? Sidewinders have been upgraded for ages. In fact the first prototypes were launched in 1951. No, you read that right – at the time the first movie came out! Why not drop SDMs on that robot? How about a hellfire (what a predator class UCAV typically carries anyhow?) Sidewinders are air-to-air missiles. Anyway – clearly no one with any military experience was consulted in the writing of the script.

One blogger commented that John Cleese is the only credible actor in the whole movie and he dilivers his lines as if he is trying to “to awake some extremely well hidden acting potential in [Reeves].” Hilarious. Again I am not one to comment on good or bad acting. I can tell you what I don’t like. I didn’t really care one way or the other about Reeves acting in this film. I thought he was well cast.

The same blogger also says he loves the original. Really? I mean the kid is beyond corny and goofy – today it would be comedy to portray a kid like that. Patricia Neel was hired because she had a great set of tits and could scream well. Michael Rennie gives an equally corny and fake feeling job of acting. The newsman wearing the hat on TV… I don’t even know where to begin with that one. The whole, “we enslaved ourselves to a robot race and they are pretty much going to kick your ass if you don’t act all peaceful” is as good an invitation as Mankind needs to build the biggest fricking A-bombs possible, put them on space ships and go a conquering other planets! Seriously – the older film is fun to watch but mainly because it is so unitentionally funny and not because it is great film making. Ahhhh…. and now I’ve ranted again. Sigh. I am known for my long out of my mind rants and this is one of them. Best to stop now.

Go see the movie and decide for yourself.

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