The Day the Earth Stood Still

Movie Information

The Story: A visitor from outer space lands in Central Park to make way for the destruction of humanity. The Lowdown: A low-grade -- and incredibly unexciting -- attempt to cash in on a famous title by "improving" it with more special effects, color photography and colorless characters.
Score:

Genre: Science Fiction
Director: Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose)
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jaden Smith, John Cleese, Jon Hamm
Rated: PG-13

I’m old enough to remember when Robert Wise’s 1951 The Day the Earth Stood Still was just a movie and not an untouchable, iconic classic. Why, I’m even old enough to remember when Robert Wise had forgotten almost everything about making the film, except that there had been a great sense of haste to get it done. (After it became a classic, his memory improved and he could recall all manner of details about the film’s thematic implications. I can’t really blame him—nor, I think, would Mark Twain.) Frankly, I’ve never been quite as impressed with it as I’m supposed to be, but—much as I like horror and fantasy—science fiction has always left me a little cold.

Similarly, I have nothing against remakes; it’s just that most of them aren’t very good. There are exceptions. I can genuinely enjoy the Coen Brothers’ 2004 remake of The Ladykillers (1955), for example, and I actually prefer Rouben Mamoulian’s musical Silk Stockings (1957) to its more lauded original, Ernst Lubitsch’s Ninotchka (1939). I’m pretty much alone in liking Jonathan Demme’s The Truth About Charlie (2004), a reworking of Stanley Donen’s Charade (1963), but nearly everyone agrees that John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon (1941) is superior to two earlier versions of the same material.

All this brings us to the new version of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Ye gods, does this thing stink on ice. It redefines dull mediocrity at its most expensive. It would be easy to lay much of the blame on Keanu Reeves. (I’ve been saying, “Keanu barada nikto,” ever since I saw the first trailer.) And he’s pretty lousy in the film (though Will Smith’s son, Jaden, gives him a run for his money). But there’s more than enough blame to go around. No one should get out of this boring mess unscathed.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the story, it’s about a spaceship that comes to Earth bearing an alien, Klaatu, and his robot, Gort. In the original, they land in D.C. In the remake, it’s Central Park. (What an imaginative change!) In the old movie, Klaatu comes bearing the vaguely fascistic message, “Straighten up or face annihilation,” because Earth is threatening to spread its warring ways into space. (The film had a somewhat exaggerated notion of our technical prowess.) The threat had to do with nuclear war, though I don’t think the term is ever used. In the new version, Klaatu arrives prepared to set off the destruction of life on Earth before we render the place uninhabitable. This one’s all about global warming, but the movie is too afraid of alienating people with money in their pockets to come out and say it. But let’s face facts: Global warming is not nearly as showy and immediate as nuclear war anyway. If you’ve sat through The Day After Tomorrow (2004), you know what I mean.

It falls to Jennifer Connelly’s Helen Benson, a fussy John Cleese as Professor Barnhardt, and Helen’s obnoxious step-son, Jacob (Jaden Smith), to convince our visitor that humankind is worth giving another chance—apparently on the strength of Bach and hugging. The outcome isn’t hard to guess, but you have to slog through lots of not-very-special special effects and general tedium to get to it. (The results might have been quite different had it involved the Sex Pistols and a mosh pit.) It’s not worth the bother.

The acting is dismal. David Scarpa’s (The Last Castle) screenplay is simpleminded, dull and largely devoid of structure. In common with most recent effects-driven movies, there’s no real payoff and logic is nonexistent (the plague of rapacious robotic insects unleashed on the world can eat skyscrapers, but you’re safe under a bridge in Central Park). Things just stop when a sufficient (or excessive) running time has been achieved. Scott Derrickson’s direction is quite on par with his work on The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)—with everything that implies. The effects are the usual CGI-athon of half-assery we’ve come to expect, but maybe even a little worse. Making the robot roughly the size of the Colossus of Rhodes and buffing him up probably seemed like a good idea, and it was a nice touch that the basic design of the original was maintained. Too bad that it looks exactly like the computer-generated cartoon it is, though it’s about what the movie deserves.

In a masterstroke of silliness, 20th Century Fox is having the damned movie beamed to Alpha Centauri via satellite. Granted, it’ll take a few years to get there, but there are two upsides to consider here. First, anything that gets the film out of our solar system and into another one has much to recommend it. Second, if beings are out there to watch it, it will doubtless persuade them that the Earth is just too stupid to bother invading. On the other hand, they might feel differently about merely obliterating us. Rated PG-13 for some sci-fi disaster images and violence.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

17 thoughts on “The Day the Earth Stood Still

  1. Dionysis

    Drat. As anticipated (similar comments on Rotten Tomatoes), another botched remake. Unlike Ken, I do like a well-made science fiction film, and had hoped this would be one of the rare remakes that match or exceed the original (such as The Thing or Invasion of the Body Snatchers)). I really hate it when they mess up a promising remake premise.
    As if this isn’t bad enough, there is (reportedly) in early production a remake of the classic 1957 film The Incredible Shrinking Man (one of my favorites) that will star…(are you ready?)…Eddie Murphy. I’m already miffed at the very idea.

    Geez, just leave well enough alone.

  2. Ken Hanke

    a remake of the classic 1957 film The Incredible Shrinking Man (one of my favorites) that will star…(are you ready?)…Eddie Murphy.

    Now, there’s a concept just brimming with cosmic God-awfulness.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Somehow Lily Tomlin is less grating than Eddie Murphy. I can’t account for it, but there you are.

  4. Sean Williams

    Man, I was hoping this thing would be bad enough to entertain. No such luck, eh?

    (I’ve been saying, “Keanu barada nikto,” ever since I saw the first trailer.)

    And here I thought he was playing Gort the Robot.

    In the new version, Klaatu arrives prepared to set off the destruction of life on Earth before we render the place uninhabitable.

    Isn’t this a case of the cure being as bad as the disease? At least the aliens had some kind of motivation in the original — they didn’t want us Earthlings screwing up intergalactic society. But why would they want to destroy a planet to prevent it from destroying itself in isolation?

    Somehow Lily Tomlin is less grating than Eddie Murphy. I can’t account for it, but there you are.

    Mr. Hanke, there are grades of sandpaper less grating than Eddie Murphy.

  5. Chad Nesbitt

    Me, my wife, and my daughter, fell asleep 1/4 way through the movie. I’m not kidding.
    The 3 of us woke up as the credits were rolling.

  6. Rob Close

    I don’t know why the ads had gotten me excited; maybe it was the Secret Invasion in the marvel universe I had enjoyed reading so much this year. Very similar storyline – except that one of them really, really, really sucked.

    This was the worst movie I’ve seen in years. It hurt my intelligence thoroughly. I wanted to scream at the characters, but really, at the writers. Utterly terrible.

  7. Ken Hanke

    This was the worst movie I’ve seen in years. It hurt my intelligence thoroughly. I wanted to scream at the characters, but really, at the writers. Utterly terrible

    Even though I tend to have my intelligence hurt on a pretty regular basis, I understand your ire. I went in expecting nothing and even then got less than I’d bargained for.

  8. Maur

    Harsh.

    I watched this movie right after (partially) watching The Spirit, so it was definitely a shift in gears. I didn’t think the movie was great, but I thought it was pretty safe (average) for most people. Especially considering how many movies you must have seen, it’s hard to imagine how you could be so critical of it. I know I’ve certainly seen much worse (sci-fi or otherwise).

    I thought Keanu’s robotic performance was (finally) fitting considering he was playing an alien. Smith was insufferable and the movie would’ve been better without him. I also thought the beginning of the movie was well paced. A quick cursory intro then jumping immediately into some oncoming sci-fi disaster (and I don’t just mean the way it ends). It was somewhere after Keanu’s arrival that the movie slows to a crawl and it starts to descend into mediocrity and I could see where people would get bored… but still.

    Like I said, I’ve certainly seen much worse and less exciting/entertaining films and this movie didn’t strike me any worse than Day After Tomorrow or I Am Legend or that remake of War of the Worlds. Hell, I’d say I found this movie slightly more entertaining and less pretentious than Valkyrie. *braces self*

  9. Ken Hanke

    I thought it was pretty safe (average) for most people

    Which is even duller than being awful in my book. At least awful can be accidentally entertaining, and entertaining is something this never came near for me on any level.

    this movie didn’t strike me any worse than Day After Tomorrow or I Am Legend or that remake of War of the Worlds.

    That’s not exactly a stellar list of movies it’s no worse than.

    But there’s no need to brace yourself. Ultimately, it’s an opinion. My basic problem with the film is that it never seems to even try to be more than mediocre. It feels entirely like a product, not a movie — like it trundled off an assembly line packaged in shrink-wrap.

  10. Maur

    It feels entirely like a product, not a movie

    Well, that’s because that’s exactly what it was, and precisely what I was expecting. I treat music the same way. I know there are some great compositions that are powerful and meaningful works of art, and then… there’s the rest. Disposable entertainment meant to kill some time and maybe amuse and make a little money on the side.

    From the trailer alone I knew it was going to be a quick catch and release. See and forget. So I can’t necessarily fault them for that. Its goofy story and gimmicky theatrics did what it set out to do. I’ll agree mediocrity CAN be worse than awful movies, however there are some gawd awful movies (Date Movie et al.) with nothing redeeming about them whatsoever that are far, far worse than anything average.

    And if you think TDtESS is worse than or even as bad as Date Movie and co. then… maybe you need to watch them again? O_o

  11. Ken Hanke

    Disposable entertainment meant to kill some time and maybe amuse and make a little money on the side.

    Well, yes, you can approach it that way, but I don’t really subscribe to that line of thought. It’s too easy. It ultimately brings it down to a level where we are supposed to accept the mediocre and the disposable as okay because they don’t purport to be anything else. In other words, we’re at “it is what it is” level, so why bother criticizing anything?

    I’m not even sure that you can justify applying that to this. Okay, I’ve admitted I’m not that jazzed about the 1951 film, but it is widely considered a classic and an important film in its genre — and since it’s weathered 57 years to get there and hold that, I’d say it deserves some consideration. So here you’ve got this hack director coming along and claiming — as does the effects supervisor — that they want to honor the original — yet bring it up to date with modern special effects. This isn’t exactly admitting to creating mind candy. In fact, it’s shamelessly trying to cash in on the old film’s status. And they certainly don’t honor the original and the effects are some of the most cartoonish CGI I’ve ever seen.

    This may satisfy you. And that’s fine, but it didn’t satisfy me. It annoyed me and it bored me. Is it as bad as Date Movie or even the odious Four Christmases? No, of course it’s not — though you can make the exact same “did what it set out to do” case for those movies. I think to some degree you’re fixating on that half-star rating. Well, for me, that’s all the film was worth, but the only reason that it shares the same star rating with Date Movie and Four Christmases is that I don’t have the ability to rate in negative numbers. I think they’re all lousy, uninteresting movies — just not in the same way. I suppose you can make a case that all that was offended by Day the Earth Stood Still was my intelligence, while the others just plain offended me.

  12. Maur

    Hehe, that’s fine. I’m not looking to argue. Just trying to wrap my head around the rating. If an average movie gets half a star, then what does 2.5 mean? Good? Is 3.5 great? And 5 a masterpiece?

  13. Ken Hanke

    The star rating is so arbitrary as to be almost meaningless, but papers insist on it for the sake of their readers who don’t like to read. I would hardly call Day the Earth Stood Still average, though. I think it’s much worse than that. (That really seems to be what’s at issue here.) I’d break the ratings down like this –

    5 Stars — a must-see
    4.5 Stars — near great
    4 Stars — very good
    3.5 Stars — good, but hardly essential
    3 Stars — passable
    2.5 Stars — passable, if you’re desperate
    2 Stars — pretty bad
    1 Star — bad
    .5 Stars — spurn it as you would a rabid dog

    Still, that tells so little of the story that, to me, it verges on worthless. (I don’t just mean in my case, but with any reviewer.) It doesn’t tell you why and it doesn’t help you make an informed decision beyond, “Well, so-and-so liked it” or “hated it.” And even that’s not entirely true. There are times when I have to admit that a movie is worthy of four stars for various reasons, but don’t necessarily like the film. I pretty much hate The Dark Knight, but I can’t say it’s a bad movie.

  14. des

    please
    please
    please
    please
    please * 1,000,000
    dont ever make a movie like this again….such crap…crap…crap
    remember JAWS 1…..use this as a bench mark for the next movie
    reeves…please get a real job….

  15. Jeff

    Why would aliens even care? Let us destroy ourselves. We aren’t going to destroy life on earth. That idea is waaaay too egocentric. Life was here for a billion years before us and it’ll be here long after we are gone. These aliens are just a bunch of nosy busybodies, just like the preachy do-gooders of Earth.

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