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The Day the Earth Stood Still

Rachel Winterbottom wanted an Excellent Adventure but got a Bogus Journey

Written by . Published on December 16th 2008.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

The year is 1928 and a frozen-faced, bearded Keanu Reeves finds a glowing orb in a snowy landscape. He hits it with a pickaxe. Silly man.

Skip to present day and Jennifer Connelly is Helen Benson, the widowed step-mum and Princeton professor who finds herself in the kind of government situation that can only be explained ‘on route’ to a top secret destination. She’s taken away from her stepson, Jacob Benson (Will Smith’s tot, Jaden), and driven down a closed-off highway to find that she’s only one of many other confused scientist-type people (and one slightly lost engineer) who have been collected by the government. A sort of science equivalent of Justice League, only instead of Captain America there is Kathy Bates’ Regina Jackson, the United States Secretary of Defence. A bulldog in pearls, if you will.

The resourceful Benson (she hides a phone in her bra) is suddenly privy to all sorts of exciting information, namely a crash brief regarding the destruction of Manhattan in 78 minutes from an unidentified falling object. Expecting an island-shattering asteroid, they’re met with a Central Park-dinting spherical spaceship – none of the flying tea set malarkey from the original film – that rather anti-climatically totals the park bandstand and a small, unoccupied wood.

Out steps an alien life form, gently loping towards the armed troops who then, in a misjudged diplomatic gesture, shoot it. Unfortunately for them, the alien is soon followed by a giant metal robot, the acronym-happy G.O.R.T. (that’s Genetically Organised Robot Technology, fact fans). GORT 2008 isn’t as forgiving as its 1951 tinfoil counterpart, the latter merely disintegrated military weapons; the new guy is a nip-it-in-the-bud sort of fella, and the army are soon bleeding from their ears and running for their lives. It’s a bloody good job they have that giant triangular containment box they’ve been saving for such an occasion.

What’s an alien invasion movie without some sort of biopsy scene? And here it is in spades when the alien sloughs its skin and actually gives birth to itself on the surgery table. It’s marvellously graphic. Enter Keanu Reeves, still curiously frozen-faced, but now he’s Klaatu, an alien spearheading a universal last-ditch attempt to convince the human race of its wrong doings and turn them, in a twist of irony, green. Environmentally, that is. Ah, so this is a Film With A Message (F.W.A.M.), and it isn’t afraid to hammer it home in order to prove that it definitely isn’t a Film Without A Point (F.W.A.P.).

With the world facing imminent destruction, Connelly’s Benson is left with the same impossible task that numerous directors have been faced with over the years, trying to get Keanu to express some kind of emotion. Will she manage it in time?

Reeves seems to have been trying to prove himself as a serious actor ever since air-guitar-ing his way onto the screen in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (and subsequent Bogus Journey). And while he does seem to have found his ideal role in the monosyllabic alien struggling to come to terms with what it means to be human, there will always be fans out there still holding out hope for Bill and Ted’s Midlife Crises.

It doesn’t help Reeves that GORT manages to portray more quiet menace and personality in his single roaming eye than the ex-dude does throughout the entire film. The remake should have had him as the one in the suit, stomping a trail of robotic destruction throughout Manhattan while Keanu Reeves stands motionless in a room full of army generals trying to pneumatic drill their way through his immovable exterior.

If you can stomach the environmental spoon-feeding, director Scott Derrickson does a good enough job of this remake. The SFX are mesmerising and it’s refreshing that it differs from your average disaster flick as it’s based on the sort of invaders who would clean up after themselves when they’ve finished. But the writing is patchy, and the witty repartee sparse (thanks, Keanu) so the characters are often reduced to stating the obvious (“They’re arks!”). Despite being painfully pro-green, the film’s messages still manage to be ham-fisted and confused. Will America ever learn that violence begets violence? Can’t we all just get along? No? Then prepare to be eaten alive by a hoard of escapee-Acme termites.

Derrickson focuses arbitrarily on the human angle and proves that hinging an entire film on one emotional scene is a tricky business. Still, Will Smith Junior finally gets his chance to try to save the world. It’s just a shame that the sense of impending doom never really develops until the very end. The world doesn’t seem on the brink of suddenly ending so much as gently coasting to a stop.


The Day The Earth Stood Still (12A) is on general release.

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chukka peteDecember 16th 2008.

This is another disaster movie. Or rather, another disaster of a movie with wooden indian actor keanu reeves.Dont watch it. Dont review it. forget it and go to bed.

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