Saturday, December 13, 2008

Review: The Day the Earth Stood Still (**)

Directed by Scott Derrickson
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jaden Smith, John Cleese, Jon Hamm, Kyle Chandler, Robert Knepper, James Hong, John Rothman, Sunita Prasad, Juan Riedinger, Sam Gilroy, Tanya Champoux, Rukiya Bernard.
2008--103 minutes
Rated PG-13 (violence)
Reviewed by The Teen Critic on December 13, 2008.

I don't remember "The Day the Earth Stood Still" being one big environmental message. The original 1951 picture is one of the greatest science fiction films of the age, and its remake is one of the weakest. This is spineless pulp fiction at best; one imagines original director Robert Wise shaking his finger at Scott Derrickson. And how can we blame him? Derrickson turned GORT, one of the great villainous robots in the movies, into the worst special effects creation of the last year and three months (since the dragons of "Dragon Wars").

Still, I suppose this was inevitable. The original maybe shouldn't have been touched, but then, what teenager today will admit he has seen it? Moreover, who of those will admit he loves it? So, Derrickson attempts to update it, and the result is the best film that can come from an immortal film. How good is that? Not very, but it's far from boring.

Wise's "The Day the Earth Stood Still" was one of the best chillers ever made; he was sci-fi's Hitchcock, if you will, followed closely by Kubrick. Derrickson's remake is a second-rate action flick with not very much action. The most intense sequence involves a silly and gigantic robot taking control of fighter pilots and running them into the ground. Insidious, yes; skillful, no. The effects in these sequences are laughably see-through, not a good sign for a sci-fi movie released in 2008 with Keanu Reeves.

Speaking of Reeves, he plays Klaatu, an alien who has come to "save the planet Earth," though not necessarily its inhabitants. He teams up with "astrobiologist" Helen Benson and her stepson Jacob to evade the government, who is trying to kill Klaatu so that the human race is okay. What they don't know is, he's got some pretty freaky powers. He can control a lot of things with his mind. There's one chilling scene when he causes a guy to have a heart attack and die. Too bad the whole movie couldn't have been that chilling.

There's a lot of melodrama in this "The Day the Earth Stood Still," a lot of which doesn't work, but I did like the scenes with little Jaden Smith's character when he mourns the loss of his father by lashing out at others; it's more realistic than any special effect could be and shows how brilliant the film could have been but wasn't. The whole movie feels that way: a series of missed opportunities. I can't tell you how many sequences began well and ended disappointingly.

There are a few good things. I was very impressed by the tiny nanobyte/bug thingies and how they dissolved everything in their path; the effects here are Oscar-worthy while nothing else in the film is. And the human emotions of young Smith's character are palpably felt. And Reeves does well with what he's got playing Klaatu: he's impressively emotionless.

It's a shame the movie they are in is the biggest disappointment of the year, easily surpassing--but not leaving the restraints of the star rating--"Hancock," "Jumper," and "Quantum of Solace." While maybe I shouldn't have, I was expecting something epic. What I got was neither an epic nor an epic failure. I really didn't hate this film. I just really didn't like it, either. It's just plain forgettable, without being incomprehensible or terrible.

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