The Day the Earth Stood Still
Sun, 21 Dec 2008 - 4:13 PM CST
Since the dawn of time, mankind has looked upwards and wondered what, if anything, lives beyond the stars. That questioning has been reflected in film in several different guises from aliens being portrayed as gentle beings, as in "E.T.," or an enemy bent on overtaking our planet, as in "Signs" or "Independence Day." "The Day the Earth Stood Still," starring Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly and Jaden Smith, reflects the third motif in contact-with-aliens films - a non-human visitor warning against the destructive nature of mankind.
In Director Scott Derrickson's remake, the world awakens one morning to find large glowing biospheres have appeared around the globe. Astrobiologist, Dr. Helen Benson (Connelly), is brought, along with other scientists, military and political leaders, to examine the biosphere and its possible threat to the planet. As they surround the biosphere with a perimeter of assault vehicles, an alien emerges, approaches the people and extends its hand. Helen responds by reaching out, but her greeting is cut short when a trigger-happy trooper shoots the alien creature. The wounded being is rushed to emergency where a gooey surgery takes place. When he awakens, he introduces himself as Klaatu (Reeves) and asks to speak to the world leaders at the United Nations. When the powers that be treat Klaatu as a hostile and deny his request, Helen and her estranged stepson, Jacob (Smith), quickly discover that Klaatu's claim to be "a friend of the Earth"does not mean he is a friend to mankind.
This movie has some definite drawbacks, the biggest being the performances of many of the lead characters. Reeve's portrayal of Klaatu is almost one-dimensional; for most of the film, he has one look and delivers his lines with a Rod Serling monotone. Even when he begins to understand humans, the transition is subtle and doesn't change his deadpan delivery. Whereas Klaatu's stiltedness can be understood and even accepted, Helen Benson's cannot. Connelly matches Reeves single stare for single stare, and the film has only a few moments that define which of the two is actually human and which one is alien. For the most part, the rest of the characters are predictably stereotypical.
However, there are a few scenes with fully-developed characters that bring life to the screen. One is when Klaatu meets Mr. Woo, an Asian gentleman with some interesting and touching surprises. The other scene portrays John Cleese as Helen's colleague, Professor Barnhardt, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who specializes in the study of the evolutionary basis of altruism. Cleese's time on film lasts less than five minutes, but it is a brilliant scene, giving some amazing depth to the underlying messages of the film.
"The Day the Earth Stood Still" has profound and timely messages. However, the film drags the audience through these messages during the 1.5 hour running time, but when it comes to sci-fi, modern audiences are not drawn to the theaters for profundity; they want special effects. Whereas this film does not equal other blow-up-something-every-five-minutes blockbusters, I'm predicting many people will go see "The Day the Earth Stood Still" simply to learn what that black cloud is that destroys wherever it swarms. It is appropriately rated PG-13 for some sci-fi disaster images and violence. Although young children might be frightened by certain scenes, teenagers and up will get a kick out of the special effects.
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