Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

The Day the Earth Stood Still


Review by Patrick Hodges


The 1951 version of The Day The Earth Stood Still is viewed by many, including yours truly, as a classic.  Even though it was black-and-white, it was the perfect blend of sci-fi, horror and drama, as well as being a poignant cautionary tale about the perils of developing nuclear weapons (which were a new thing at the time).

When I heard that they were re-making this film with an updated theme, I was immediately intrigued and brimming with anticipation.  I fully expected that when I left the theater, the six words I would be uttering would be: “wow, that was a great movie.”  Regrettably, what I actually found myself saying as I made my egress was: “at least the effects were great.”  In other words, not nearly what I’d hoped for.

A review I wrote just recently about the movie Yes Man stated, basically, that having a movie that is predictable is often a bad thing.  For most films, you expect the “Hollywood ending”, the happy ending, but I’ve long since been of the opinion that if a film makes you feel good or keeps you laughing, being predictable is not a deal-breaker.  However, The Day the Earth Stood Still is not a “happy” movie, it’s a movie with a very dire message to deliver, with the subtlety of a crowbar to the head.

When a gigantic sphere lands in Central Park, it deposits an alien named Klaatu (played emotionlessly by Keanu Reeves, hardly stretching himself), who announces that he has a message to deliver to the leaders of Earth:  that the planet is dying, and mankind must change its destructive ways or the Earth must be cleansed its human population before our world becomes unsalvageable.  He, along with a fifty-foot high automaton named “Gort”, who is the harbinger of said doom are, not surprisingly, met with a less than cordial welcome:  Klaatu is shot, taken prisoner and interrogated.  Not long after, though, he escapes with the help of a biologist named Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), who seems to be one of the few people smart enough to realize that perhaps antagonizing the vastly superior alien is not the way to go.

On the run, Helen takes Klaatu to see Professor Barnhardt (played in a surprise bit of casting by comedic actor John Cleese), along with her young stepson Jacob, with whom her relationship has been very contentious since the death of his father the year before.  In by far the film’s best scene (which is, alas, all too brief), Helen and the Professor must try to convince Klaatu that mankind is worth saving.

A review is just an opinion, after all, but honestly, I was hoping for more.  Perhaps it’s the trying times that we are living in, perhaps it’s the onset of the Christmas season, but I wanted to leave the theater feeling good, and I didn’t.  It’s not because of the end-of-the-world theme; many of the disaster movies that have been the bread and butter of directors like Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich were incredibly entertaining, mostly because even though they featured destruction on a grand scale, they inevitably ended with man triumphing over nature.  There was no triumph here, other than the fact that we were not completely eradicated (though the Giants will need to find a new place to play their home games, wink).  I didn’t even like it as much as last winter’s nigh-apocalypse thriller I Am Legend (and I didn’t much care for that, either), because Keanu Reeves, while the right choice for this role, doesn’t have half the charisma or screen presence as Will Smith.

Maybe a jarring reminder of how close we all are, as a species, to the precipice of destruction is not what I need right now.  Maybe I’m just squeamish by nature.  I just didn’t like this film.

But at least the effects were great.

2 / 5 stars

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