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“Keee-noo, you the man!”  These words are forever branded in my memory by an enthusiastic Brooklyn moviegoer during his first viewing of The Matrix.  Despite the weaker sequels to that film and other misfired attempts at box office supremacy, Mr. Reeves bears an undeniable fan following due to that 1999 hallmark of special effects and goth fashion.  How interesting that the star of one of the most successful films in modern Sci-Fi should revisit a 1951 classic of that genre.  Or at least it should have been.

Directed by Robert Wise, the original The Day the Earth Stood Still couldn’t have placed itself at a better time; the Red Scare, the first stirrings of impending nuclear war, global paranoia and the straitlaced mores of the age.  What could have been more frightening to U.S. movie audiences than an alien dropping out of the sky armed with a deadly automaton telling the world to shape up and drop their nonsense otherwise others as yet unseen would do it for them?  America’s self-image of bearing absolute power was shaken.  Funny how over fifty years later, things haven’t changed all that much.  The world is still imperiled by both external forces and an unfortunate sense of hubris closer to home that seems to plague many of our leaders into not admitting wrongs and crises right before their eyes. 

In a creepy nod to the way people of governmental interest can just up and disappear into the night, there is a nicely tense opening sequence that finds Helen Benson (Jennifer Connolly), a scientist and single stepmom being absconded with in a caravan of black Escalades.  Her destination is a bunker somewhere in New Jersey, where she’s gathered with a coterie of fellow brainiacs to try and suss out the meaning of an airborne object – yes, unidentified – barreling into our atmosphere.  The UFO hurtles into US airspace and lands - guess where? – You got it, Manhattan!  The mysterious craft luckily arrives on the one evening when there are only a half dozen people in Central Park.  A helicopter bears the scientists to the scene and compelled by the pretty, ambiguously shaped glowing man coming toward her, Helen reaches out to make first contact but is beaten to it by some pushy bullets.  Turns out the pretty glowing guy now bleeding all over Helen’s biohazard suit has a really big friend who can shoot lasers out of his singular eye and is ready to go head up over the US military’s lacking hospitality.  Enter the true star and highlight of the show, GORT!  Uttering the immortal magic words, “Klaatu Barada Nikto,” (- listen close, kids, cos it’s the only time you’ll hear it), the glowy, bleedy guy dissuades the silver behemoth from annihilating the planet … just yet.

The humanoid creature that resembles a mutation of the Silver Surfer, Alien and a tuna is whisked away to Jersey in an effort to save his life.  Once a fishy layer of fat is scaled away, the wounded alien is revealed to be Missterrr Annderrrsonnn.  No, really, it’s Neo … I mean Keanu … I mean Klaatu.  Enter Secretary of Defense Regina Jackson (- a rather alien-looking Kathy Bates in a Sarah Palin updo) who believes that if you let one alien in the country illegally, there goes the neighbourhood, so she’s gonna pull some Guantanamo action to get some answers from the confused, disoriented spaceman.  Luckily, there were some special effects left over from The Matrix because Klaatu has got some nifty powers of his own and with some help by the way-in-over-her-head Helen, escapes the torture cham …, er, laboratory.  Being naturally curious, Helen feels compelled to find out what the dilly is with Klaatu and the great big, blasty bodyguard and Klaatu reveals that he is on a mission to save the earth.  The catch is, when he says “earth”, he doesn’t necessarily mean us.  He and other galactic observers have deemed that we - humanity - are the biggest peril to the planet’s survival and the only way to save the big blue marble is to get us off it.  Will Helen convince the alien that humans aren’t all that bad?  Will she be able to show Klaatu that we can change our ways (Ha!)?  Will Helen get to mack on the cute boy from outer space?

By no means does this remake hold a Zippo to the original for many reasons.  Perhaps the fact that we are so inured to Threat from Space movies that nanobot locusts (- one of many Biblical references) just don’t make enough of an impression.  Maybe Keanu’s utter detachment as the space traveler Klaatu simply reads as boredom and a lack of effort.  Same goes for some of the special effects and motifs in the script that really do resemble scraps from the Wachowski Brothers’ table, right down to besuited Secret Servicemen interrogating and chasing our boy like a bunch of Smiths.  I was excited to see John Cleese in role of the professor Helen hopes will find a common ground with Klaatu and gutted that his fine interpretation lasted all of four minutes.  Perhaps it’s the lack of a romance between the film’s two gorgeous stars.  While never overt in the original, there was a definite frisson between Michael Rennie’s Klaatu and Patricia Neal’s Helen.  Lovely Jennifer Connolly is more radiant than the spaceman and he’s pretty darn cute, himself, five o’clock shadow and all.  There ought to be something there, and pffft! Zilch.  I blame that deficit of intriguing action on the presence of a badly inserted cardboard cutout cute little kid.  Perfectly tolerable in the original film, here they’ve written Helen’s stepson, Jacob, as one of the most obnoxious movie brats ever recorded.  They’ve sublimated what could’ve been juicy hotness between Klaatu and Helen with everybody going out of their way to mollycoddle this kid, who, like Helen, is a year into mourning the loss of his soldier father.  We never know much about the father and never, ever care, but that doesn’t stop the writers from banking on the audience’s sympathy and making this angle the crux of the entire film.  Wrong!  You can’t have sympathy for a kid you constantly want to smack upside the head.  From the moment we meet him (- despite the presence of a Bleach Ichigo action figure on his dresser), Jacob’s a pouty, sulky ungrateful little terror who never seem to realise that Helen could have easily tossed his ringlet-headed butt in the nearest foster home and lived it up.  Jacob is such an irritating character played with such unfortunate limits by the young Jaden Smith, whose only expression seems to be twisting a stuck-out bottom lip, that you seriously want Gort to look his way.

Finally, there’s just not enough GORT!  What’s with this unnecessary name change from 1951?  Gort is now GORT, some military acronym for something.  He was born/hatched/built Gort and that’s how he will stay!  It is really neat when the giant robot is captured (!!) by US forces and his single Cyclopean LED eyeball follows the movements of his captors back and forth.  You’re just waiting for the big blast, but like everything in this film the payoff isn’t nearly as good as one would hope.  So much cooler to have let Gort himself go a little nuts as opposed of his minion of space termites.  Clearly, this new Gort = action, or he should have done.  Sadly, that action and the eco-friendly Save the Earth message (Hollywood will bore me of this important issue quicker than an army of Greenpeace solicitors) play second and third fiddles to the little boy’s unmoving sob story. 

While not by any stretch the worst thing I’ve seen this year; I actually had a few entertaining moments watching The Day the Earth Stood Still.  The film’s opening introduction to the outer space threat sets a great ominous tone and thumps along nicely until everything gets all touchy feely and turns into mush.  It’s a shame that the whole movie couldn’t have been as taut as the first twenty minutes.

Feh, move over, Keee-noo, I’m all about Gort now.  Maybe someone will be smart enough to offer the big guy a re-do of the re-do, blessedly free of disinterested leading men and bratty moppets.



~ The Lady Miz Diva

December, 9th, 2008





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