The Day The Earth Stood Still

February 15 2009 at 9:10 am (Cinema reviews)

the_day_the_earth_stood_still_movie_posterRobert Wise’s 1950’s sci-fi cautionary tale is such a classic that it has stood the test of time after over 50 years. But of course nothing is sacred in Hollywood and it’s only a matter of time before every perfectly good film gets rehashed… and this truly is a hash job.

 

The basic premise has been left untouched. Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) comes to earth in a giant marble (not the wobbly flying saucer that made the original so charming) and starts being all miserable and creepy. He is befriended by Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), an astrobiologist assigned to study him. Together they find Professor Barnhardt – ‘the only man who can help them’ – who for some reason takes the unlikely form of John Cleese. Government officials talk about taking action without actually doing very much while Klaatu, Helen and her stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith) run around and stuff before director David Scarpa decides he’s had enough and seemingly hands the last third of the film to James Cameron and Michael Bay so that they can lay their grubby little techno-hands all over it. There’s a message about being nice to our planet at the end but you can’t see it for all the shiny graphics.

 

This should have been a good fit for Reeves; his chance to show off his acting chops. Instead he’s wiped Michael Rennie’s personable smile off Klaatu’s face only to give the character little more than a confused scowl. Still, that’s the least of the film’s problems. Remaking such a vital piece of cinema as a CGI-stuffed thriller is bad enough but to neglect to inject any excitement is unforgiveable.

 

What made the original so good was the low-fi approach – Klaatu’s spaceship was a simple flying saucer while his giant robot bodyguard Gort was just a big man in a tin foil suit. Now he has become an enormous computer generated behemoth, the threat no longer his amusingly primitive laser eye but something altogether more ridiculous – he’s actually composed of billions of metallic insects that can literally devour everything. This results in a finale so overblown that the ‘earth standing still’ bit seems like an afterthought.

 

Of course, the film is about climate change, an admittedly needed update of the original’s response to the Cold War. It’s an honourable message but perhaps what’s most galling is when people claim that classic films need to be remade, timeless songs need to be covered and breathtaking novels need to be adapted so that they can be discovered by a new generation. Quite why this new generation cannot get off their lazy backsides and seek out the originals is a mystery.

 

Rating: 2/5

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