Day The Earth Stood Still (2008)
For true aficionados of cinema there are a few words that will make you shutter; remake and re-imagining. This basically boils down to producers needed a hit and instead of coming up with an original story they go through their collection of old movies and pick a classic and try to rework it for modern audiences. At its worse you wind up with a shot for shot recreation of the original as was done with the ground breaking Hitchcock groundbreaking film ‘Psycho’ or one the best of this trend the complete overall of the cult favorite television series ‘Battlestar Galatica’. In between there is a gamut of films that may be entertaining but could never reach the glory of the original. I don’t have the statistical facts at hand to prove this point but it does appear that the science fiction genre has the greatest number of re-imaginings. Perhaps it is because the technology of movie making has advanced so much over the last decade as well as the general technological savvy of the audience. This is especially sad for members of the baby boomer generation. We grew up in the fifties; the golden age of Sci-Fi flicks. While many of these films were really bad they were fun to watch. Sure many of the films we grew up loving were less than perfect this was also the age of some of the best Sci-Fi movies ever. We were the generation that saw ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ and one of the latest to receive the re-imagining treatment ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’. As fans that were just starting out on a life of infatuation with Sci-Fi and film these were fantastic formative experiences. They should us that Sci-Fi movies could have social significance as well as thrilling us and providing incredible entertainment.
I may have been very young the first time I saw the 1951 version of ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ but I was still able to realize that I was watching greatness. That time was the age that was only a few years past the infamous McCarthy era that nearly divided our nation. When I saw it for that first time America was still in the midst of the cold war with the Russians. This was the first Sci-Fi movie that ever cast the United States government and military in a less than admirable light. In most fifties Sci-Fi flicks the army saves the day but here they just add to the problem. All of this means that this is not only one of the great films of its era but for those of my age it has a certain halo affect associated to it. For any film to try to replace it is close to sacrilege and would start out with a couple of strikes against it before the first showing. I tried my best to consider this film entirely on its own merits but there is too much association with the original to be completely objective. Like many remakes it may have been better to create and market it as a completely different film. There are themes that it contains that are universal and deserver to be retold each generation. It weakens the premise considerably to start out by having to attempt to reach the bar set by the original.
The basic concept of both films was a short story "Farewell to the Master" by Harry Bates. This time around the writer for the screenplay was David Scarpa whose only previous screenplay was a dramatic thriller ‘The Last Castle’. He had a difficult chore in taking on this project. He had to translate the original story and keep enough of the fifties movie intact to keep the legion of fans happy. The strength of the script is in its fundamental premise. Basically aliens send an envoy to earth to warn us off our destructive ways. With our advancing technology and perchance towards self destruction we are now capable of completely wiping our all life on our planet. Since this would ruin a rare and usable planet the aliens are out to stop us from continuing on our current path. This is an admirable and important message and again deserves retelling every so often and would have faired better if given a more novel treatment.
The framework of the fifties movie is still here. Alien Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) comes to earth in a large glowing globe along with his formidable robot called GORT by the earthling scientists (Genetically Organized Robotic Technology). He tries to give is warning to the earthlings but is shot and injured. Klaatu is taken to a secured location but thanks to his paranormal mental abilities it sis rather difficult to keep in incarcerated. Klaatu winds up befriended by one of the scientists investigating him, Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly). Together they go on the run to keep Klaatu from being recaptured. The main event is the disruption of all electrical systems in New York. Other spheres appear and start taking samples of the animal population to rescue them from the impending doom.
One thing that this film definitely has going for it is the use of special effects but as proven by the original film it is not necessary to tell this story. The glowing globes look great but they don’t have the great feel of a good old fashion flying saucer. Giving Klaatu special abilities was a bit of a copout since it made his escape too easy and removed a source of potential tension from the story. When Klaatu is able to just walk out of a lock down it distances him from the audience. Klaatu was better when he exhibited human qualities better than we could. Another unwarranted departure for the story is making Helen a scientist. When she was a working single mother there was a connection made with the audience that carried the story into a different direction. With Helen as a scientist this connection is lost and there is no one for the regular people to identify with. This is critical; it takes the immediacy from the story an distances the characters from an emotional connection with the audience.
The bottom line here is this. It is a workable science fiction flick but the memories of the original classic are just too strong and it cast a very large shadow. It is a two edged sword. The producers wanted the tie in to the fifties version but that demanded comparisons and that worked against them. Take this one for what it is; a modern day special effects extravaganza that is a solid pop corn flick. This movie is available in regular DVD and Blu-ray. If at all possible go high definition on this one. The effects are great enough to warrant the slight price difference. This does look incredible. The degree of detail that you get to see is amazing and exactly why you invested in High Def in the first place.