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The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

Movie title: The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: PG-13
Summation: A remake of the 1951 classic sci-fi film about an alien visitor and his giant robot counterpart as they visit Earth.
Spoilers ahead: No

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What does good sci-fi do for you? What does it mean to you? What do you look for when watching a sci-fi film? Answering these questions will determine in part whether or not you’d like the new The Day The Earth Stood Still, with Klaatu (Keanu Reeves), Jacob Benson (Jaden Smith), Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), and Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates).

It’s no match for its classic forerunner from 1951. Let’s get that straight right here and now. If you haven’t seen that one, by all means, go rent it. It’s a classic. That wayfaring work of genius was declared by the American Film Institute to be one of the ten best sci-fi films of all time, and it earned that designation fair and square.

The remake, like most sequels, is nowhere near such an accomplishment. It is, however, worthy of being defended against some of the charges of it being a plot-hole-ridden film. It wasn’t nearly as upscale or as refined as it could have been. The story progression was but fair. However, it wasn’t a total loss. Some entertainment value was there.

If you watch sci-fi for gadgetry out of a desire to see an authoritative civilization advanced beyond your own, you will see that here. The new movie at least has the special affects going for it. The 2008 Gort is a huge improvement over the 1951 Gort—and in ways the creators of the first film could never have imagined. And consider that if an alien race did want to destroy our species, they’d without a doubt use nanotechnology, and so credit must be given for that.

On that basis alone, you might enjoy this (I say that being a stickler for special affects myself). If, on the other hand, you are more of a plot-critical seeker of original ideas, you’ll find some issues here. The plot of the original dealt with the bias of the time—the fear of nuclear attack. This one deals with what most consider the looming issue of our day—environmental ruin brought on by humans, causing global warming and mass extinction.

Some have alleged to be plot-holes several big elements, the first being why these advanced aliens would choose to wipe out an intelligent civilization like humans to save squid and squirrels and lesser lifeforms. To some, it seems to make no sense to destroy the humans and save the animals. But think again; this makes perfect sense; a higher species won’t think like we do with our Homosapien biases. They wouldn’t value life on advancement, but on life having the potential for advancement.

Mammals – like whales, rodents, big cats, and elephants – among others, have great (which is to say, foreseeable) potential for evolutionary advancement, and at the same time, do not destroy other species. Klaatu’s people, realizing that Earth is a rare planet with many distinct types of life, cannot allow it to go to waste. So the loss of one species (the loss of the species causing the problems) doesn’t matter, but saving the other species does. If you don’t agree, well, most humans wouldn’t. We’re humans! Of course, we (well, most of us) think we’re great. But the idea that we humans are the “most valuable” form of life is a little misleading and a lot arrogant.

Other voiced concerns have not been as big, like how does an alien happen to wear the same size suit as the guy giving him the lie detector test. That’s what’s called a plot move-along technique; give a little here and there to speed things up. It’s not really important, especially considering that most average-sized men can share suits.

If you want to take the movie to task on other issues, then fine. How did the nano-termites destroy a stadium in a second and not the large building that Klaatu, Ben, and Helen were using for shelter for over ten minutes? This was a mistake, plain and simple, just like Klaatu’s clothes only beginning to be consumed from off of his body as he approached the final sphere. It wouldn’t have happened that way. His clothes would have been gone in a second.

The movie contains a few ruminations back to the original, including the fact that Klaatu was shot, Gort is stopped from saving Klaatu and attacking the humans who shot him. There is also Klaatu reaching out to human leadership, a young boy being influenced by Klaatu, and some writing on the chalkboard of a genius with the accompanying phrase, “He won’t mind.” Having these things took me back a little. But mostly, the new movie covers new territory.

Klaatu having to be born into this world to fully develop, fit in, and survive in the atmosphere was out-of-the-box and exhibited a keen respect for realism. The transcendent technology of Klaatu’s race and Gort’s methods of attack were ingeniously done. Gort’s energy “eye” following people when they enter the room? Puh-lease! That’s a deduction right there!

The distant relationship between young Jacob and his stepmother was an unneeded fixture built into the plot. It was Klaatu’s becoming human and learning that humans come back when on the brink of disaster that reached across species lines and touched his heart. Do I think that could happen with an alien race resolved to destroy us? No, I don’t. It’s just more Homosapien bias we have to overlook—a glaring fault of the movie for sure.

Think what you want of Keanu Reeves’ acting, but his airy “far out” quality fit his role. Kathy Bates as Regina Jackson, the Secretary of Defense speaking in behalf of a removed and secured president, was fair, though the roll didn’t fit her personality. Jaden Smith’s performance was the best performance by far.

Was it as good as the first one? Heck no. But if we are going to proceed with remaking classic movies for modern times (which we shouldn’t), why not give this one some credit? Was it a decent science fiction film? I say it was okay.

(JH)

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Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Keanu Reeves “Klaatu,” Jennifer Connelly “Helen Benson,” Kathy Bates “Regina Jackson,” Jaden Smith “Jacob Benson,” John Cleese “Professor Barnhardt,” Jon Hamm “Michael Granier,” Kyle Chandler “John Driscoll,” Robert Knepper “Colonel,” James Hong “Mr. Wu”
Genre: Drama/Sci-fi/Thriller

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