Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Day The Earth Stood Still

Year: 2008
Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jaden Smith

Over 50 years ago, there was a film called The Day The Earth Stood Still, about an alien who arrived on earth to negotiate with the world leaders to stop fighting each other, or face annihilation. And now it has been remade.

Here's how it goes: after what seemed to be an ordinary day for astro-biologist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), she gets whisked away by government agents, who take her to a military facility where she is informed of an imminent alien invasion. Not long after that, a giant glowing sphere descents from space and lands in Central Park in New York. A mysterious alien and a giant robot emerge from it, and before you can say 'Aliens!' the military capture the entity by force.

After Helen and other scientists study it, they realise that it is a human body inhabited by an alien, who calls himself Klaatu (Keanu Reeves). Klaatu requests to meet up with the world's leaders but is denied by the U.S. Secretary of Defense Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates), who believes Klaatu is a threat. Helen, who senses that Klaatu means no harm, helps him escape, only to learn from him later that after some deliberation on his part, he will destroy mankind in order to save the planet. Helen now has to convince him to change his mind.

Thematically I think the 1951 version was better, because Klaatu was motivated by the idea that Earth's powers that be would eventually bring their ever expanding nuclear war beyond the planet. In this version, it's an environmental friendly message, which although is relevant in today's age, doesn't quite hold water when it relates to an alien's intentions. Like, why would it care about another planet's life or death? Anyway, director Scott Derrickson manages to keep things interesting by using lots of special effects and keeping the pace steady. I especially enjoyed watching Klaatu's robot GORT annihilate the military forces and facilities when it is attacked.

And then there's Keanu. Sigh. You know, this guy never really grasped the first rule of good acting, which is to be convincing. As far as looking like an alien goes, he's got that part down pat. But when he speaks, it's Keanu. As in the same Keanu that was Neo. Or Constantine. Or Jack Traven from Speed. So essentially we get an alien that talks like Keanu, instead of Keanu that talks like an alien. But he did try to be different, and to that extent he more or less succeeds. And I liked the part where he spoke Mandarin, that was funny. Connelly plays the part of the human that has to be Klaatu's out of this world buddy, and she pulls it off well, though it's not a very complex role. Jaden Smith succeeds also as Helen's stepson Jacob, who lets his naivety and grief over his father's death get the better of him. Other supporting actors like James Hong and John Cleese unexpectedly shine in the few minutes of screen time they have.

This is an ambitious film, no doubt. But it is let down by a very flat ending, a very Hollywood type finish. And many of the other things happening in the film, especially the relationship turmoil between the characters are resolved way too quickly, which inevitably make it very unconvincing. A little more time spent on substance instead of style could have gone a long way.

An okay effort in my book. Watch it for the effects, if nothing else. (3/5)

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