dir: Scott Derrickson
The Earth Didn’t So Much Stand Still on This or Any Other Day, it More Kind of Farted, Rolled Over and Went Back to Sleep.
Perhaps a bit long for a title, but it’s certainly more accurate. Of course if they didn’t use the original title reminding people this is a remake of the Cold War era classic, then no-one would be any the wiser, and no-one would have bothered to go and see it.
On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being pointless, and 10 being pointed, this remake of a beloved alleged sci fi classic sits somewhere between pointless and pointlessly enjoyable. Ascribing a numerical value to that itself is pointless, but that’s probably not going to stop me from assigning a numerical rating at the end of the review. The Day The Earth Stood Still is not as entertaining or scolding as its predecessor, but it certainly looks prettier.
The earlier movie from 1951 took the tensions over the potential for nuclear destruction between the Americans and the Soviets, and made a preachy sci fi flick where a powerful alien with a super powerful robot comes to America to force people to chill the fuck out before they destroy the planet. The current film takes the tensions arising from global warming and environmental concerns and reductively imagines that some aliens (with a super powerful robot) would care enough about the rising CO2 levels and about not enough people using hybrid cars to say, “That’s it, you had your chance, now I’m going to kill all of you.”
And what saves us from certain doom? DOOOOOOOM? The love of a painfully thin female scientist (Jennifer Connelly) for her adopted African-American son whose father was apparently Will Smith from Independence Day, who survived those aliens but died in Iraq anyway. Damn those pesky Iraqis!
No, really, the annoying son is actually the spawn of Will Smith, I wasn’t joking. And as a child actor (who has admittedly been decent in a couple of other films, like that film with Will Smith called The Pursuit of Happyness: I just want to say Will Smith a couple more times), he made me long for the Earth’s destruction.
Everyone made me long for Earth’s destruction. Jennifer Connelly, who gets thinner and more translucent with each flick, used to act way back in the olden days. Now she simply uses “concern” face and cries a lot. She becomes the primary spokesperson for humanity in her dealings with the alien mechanically played by Keanu Reeves as she struggles both to protect him from her own government, and also tries to convince him that humanity is worth saving. Of course, no matter who tries to convince Klaatu that life is worth saving is going to make an impact until the last few minutes of such a film, if at all.
Really, are we worth saving, ultimately? In the end, taking an infinite universe into consideration, why the actions of a bunch of shaved ape meatbags in an insignificant area of the Milky Way would matter to some galactic confederation of superbeings is never believable in any sense other than the same rationale existing for why various gods, angels and saints give a damn about what we do as well. Long sentence, simple point: It’s all vanity.
We can’t conceive of a universe that doesn’t care about our actions, because then our existence is a random occurrence of no more significance than the rings of Saturn or the radiation emitted by a quasar.
At least, in a decidedly less wordy version than the original, Klaatu makes the case here that there are so few instances of life in the (for them) known universe, that they arrogantly, like some kind of galactic conservation foundation, have to save instances of it and then destroy the beings responsible for threatening their own survival.
But even then, the original came from a less holier-than-thou place, seeing as Klaatu’s rationale back then was that the dawning of the Atomic Age made the aliens antsy, because they feared humans were now going to spread out to the stars and start fucking their neighbourhoods up with nuclear weapons and lowering property values throughout the cosmos. And the aliens were over-leveraged in markets with inflated prices, and their mortgages were under water, and the companies doing the lending were indulging in predatory lending practices.
Wait a second, it’s just like today!
No, the truth is that there was self-interest involved in the scolding they were giving the planet. It was the classic parental / teacher “Behave, or we’ll spank you hard, and not in a fun way.” In this one, it’s the not-so-classic Vietnam-era idea of destroying the village in order to save it.
Well, Klaatu, prevented obviously by the Americans from speaking at the United Nations, has to go a long way to realise humans are worth saving, especially since the actions of Americans alone seem to be goading him into killing everybody on the planet. Isn’t that always the way? In both films the Americans are really the ones being scolded, scolded for their “Either we rule the planet or we’re going to take everyone down with us” mentality. Though militarily their paranoia and gung-ho “let’s explode our way out of our problems” shoot first policy are almost a parody, Kathy Bates’s character as Secretary of Defence, playing a kind of less evil Robert McNamara, or a more evil Hillary Clinton, figures out pretty quickly that over the course of Earth history, whenever a more advanced civilisation meets a less advanced one, the less advanced ones tend to get gently and politely obliterated. The problem is, from her point of view, the Americans are the less advanced ones this time around.
Instead of being awed by the arrival of sentient extraterrestrial life, Americans are threatened by it and can only expect the outcome which, only later, becomes apparent. Why do they always have to wreck things for the rest of us?
Since the real threat is the industrial world’s raping and pillaging of that whore Nature, who was just asking for it by the way she was dressed, again you’re talking about Americans scolding Americans for their over-consumption and ecologically unsustainable ways.
Yawn. Years after the merchandising for this movie is still refusing to biodegrade in landfills across the world, and the toxic inks from the posters using Keanu’s icy, vacant glare to promote this film have leeched into the water table and caused untold deaths and mutations to unsuspecting organisms the world over, I’ll pause every now and then to think about the profound message at this film’s heart, and belch loudly to signify my commitment to living a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.
Of course after belching, which increases my carbon footprint, I have to compensate for the expulsion of greenhouse gasses by going and punching an endangered species or two in the nuts. It’s only fair.
Despite the actions of John Cleese, playing a supergenius scientist who bonds with Klaatu over mathematical paradoxes scribbled on a blackboard and who implores Klaatu to reconsider because humanity can change if given another chance, and one of Keanu’s own kind masquerading as a human (James Hong), who tells Klaatu that humanity is worth saving, he just can’t tell him why, it’s still touch and go up until the end. This close, we were. Phew! Thanks, Will Smith’s son, without you we are truly doomed.
The film’s absolute nadir comes from a scene courtesy of Will Smith’s son and Klaatu standing at Will Smith’s son’s character’s father’s grave at Arlington Cemetery (let’s take it for granted that the person interred is Will Smith), as the boy implores, amidst the destruction of the earth, for the alien to resurrect his father. Presumably so they can all die together. A director could not have created a more ham-handed scene than if he’d actually had his human hands amputated and replaced with hands of pure ham. The scene where the boy and step-mother reconcile is almost as excruciatingly, embarrassingly bad. Almost.
For the real old school geeks out there, the real bone of contention was always going to be the representation of the shiny colossus that is super robot Gort, whose Cyclops-like eye emits an everything-destroying ray. Of course this time around he’s going to be entirely CGI, but they’ve gone one better and added new functionality: he’s actually not a one piece robot, he’s actually made of millions of tiny locust-like nanorobots. That’s even better, surely?
Truth be told, there are even more robots in the flick, but those robots are the ones we thought were at least actors. Whilst we expect, if not demand a certain roboticness in Keanu, there’s no real explanation for why almost everyone else, especially Jennifer Connelly and Jaden Smith, give such mechanical performances. Maybe they were overwhelmed by the importance of the subject matter, maybe the weight of the responsibility they felt to future generations made their attempts at tenderly reaching out to audiences clumsy, perhaps the thought of what they were going to spend their mounds of dirty, dirty Hollywood money on further distracted them; truth is, I’m never going to know.
What I do know is that this flick isn’t really that different from the original, that the special effects looked okay, that it doesn’t really matter what happened or how hypocritical it all is, because in the end, it just doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t call this film entertainment, because it’s almost more like one of those parody educational films like Life Without Zinc, Fireworks: the Silent Killer and Man Versus Nature: the Road to Victory the Simpsons through Troy McClure used to joke about. It’s too didactic and hollow to be affecting, and is too bland in its action to compete with the spectacle of the other weather disaster – Armageddon – Independence Day – War of the Worlds kinds of flicks.
In short, it’s a waste of your time and mine, but not an entirely painful waste, like sitting in a dentist’s waiting room, or sitting in church, or brushing one’s teeth. It’s a mildly diverting waste of time. Thanks, Keanu, thanks a lot.
6 times Klaatu could have at least demanded that Gort kill Jaden Smith before or instead of sparing humanity out of 10
“You said you came to save us.”
- “I said I came to save the Earth.” – damned intergalactic treehuggers, The Day the Earth Stood Still.