The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) Review
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Ah, the remake…Hollywood’s attempt to update (and, let’s face it, capitalize on) an old movie that was pretty darn good to begin with. The mere mention of a remake makes film critics cringe—and the finished product tends to make fans of the original violently angry.

So, in an attempt to remain as objective as possible toward director Scott Derrickson’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (and to keep from becoming one of those violently angry fans), I deliberately resisted the temptation to rush out and see the original. That way, I wouldn’t have anything to compare it to—and, consequently, I’d have less to complain about. And you know what? I think it worked.

In the CG-filled remake of director Robert Wise’s 1951 sci-fi classic, Jennifer Connelly stars as Dr. Helen Benson, a micro-biologist who’s picked up by the government and brought to work on an important matter of “national security.” In just over an hour, she’s told, an unidentified object will crash into Earth—and she’s supposed to help with the aftermath.

  
 
As scientists and engineers look on, however, the object doesn’t crash. Instead, it gently lands in Central Park. And from it emerges a strange being, which the government quickly hauls away for examination.

Under examination, the being soon takes on human form. He introduces himself as Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) and asks to be taken to the U.N. to address the planet’s leaders. Instead, the government hides him and attempts to interrogate him about his purpose for arriving on Earth—but he escapes and heads for the one person he can trust: Dr. Benson. She tries to help him with his mission, but when she finds out what it is, she starts to realize that the fate of humanity might be in her hands.

A new sci-fi classic it’s not, but The Day the Earth Stood Still nevertheless makes a decent choice for some brainless entertainment. The story is preachy—though, from what I’ve heard, no more than the original—and it beats you over the head with its environmental message so severely that you might walk out of the theater with a big, purple lump on your noggin. (Yes, Jennifer Connelly, I get it already. We can change. I promise to recycle my coffee cup. Now will you please stop hitting me?) But, fortunately, the preachiness is pretty easy to ignore—thanks to the film’s abundance of gunfire and explosions and general worldwide destruction. The effects—from the giant, menacing robot known as Gort to the swarm of alien bugs that are ready and willing to destroy life as we know it—are thrilling. And the other-worldly suspense will keep you on your toes.

Also, as I suspected, Reeves is perfect for the role of Klaatu. Complain all you want about his acting abilities, but I can’t think of anyone who’s better equipped to play an unemotional being from another planet. You want a flat, wooden performance? Keanu’s your guy! And while that may not work in, say, a romantic comedy, it’s just right for sci-fi.

While it’s inevitable that die-hard fans of the 1951 original will find plenty to pick apart, The Day the Earth Stood Still makes a decent popcorn flick. Sure, the story may not be especially solid, but the story doesn’t really matter, does it? What matters is that they blow things up and disintegrate huge buildings. And after a long day, a bit of computer-animated destruction might just do a world of good.


DVD Review:
I chose to stay away from the original The Day the Earth Stood Still (see Michael’s review) before I saw the remake. But if you pick up a copy of the two-disc DVD release, you’ll get your very own copy of the original, too.

Extras on the feature-filled main disc include three short (and rather pointless) deleted/extended scenes, galleries, trailers, and a commentary with writer David Scarpa. There are also three making-of features: a 30-minute general feature (which gives an overview of everything from the screenwriting to the effects), a feature on the design of Gort (including early renderings), and a fascinating feature on Fox’s attempt to make the film “green.” Though it’s not necessarily an exciting feature, it is interesting to see how the studio changed its usual procedures to decrease its carbon footprint (and, really, they couldn’t have done so with a more fitting film). And, finally, there’s also Watching the Skies, a feature on the search for extraterrestrial life—including interviews with scientists, skeptics, and various experts.

If you’re a fan of the original, the extra disc is definitely an added bonus—and the making-of features will help to give you a better appreciation for the remake and the thought that went into reimagining the classic sci-fi film. And if you’re intrigued by the idea of life on other planets, you’ll definitely want to check out Watching the Skies (which includes an interesting little story about Jimmy Carter). Since they’re a bit longer than the usual featurettes, these extras do require more than just a quick look after watching the movie—but, if you’ve got the time, they’re worth checking out.

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