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
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
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
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
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
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
© 2006-2008 The Diva