[Review] [Film] The Day the Earth Stood Still


Please be warned that this review also contains spoilers.


Just looking at the title of this film kind of makes you shudder for a bit. But then 90 minutes later you’ll probably find yourself walking away with a scowl on your face, an unsatisfied hunger that the title first imposed you with. Apparently this film has already been done back in 1951 which may explain why its 2008 counterpart seemed to lack so much.


General synopsis: An alien ventures onto planet earth bringing a message of doom for mankind. Mankind has weakened the planet and need to be erased before the damage is irreversible. One woman and her son, determined to fight against this prophecy, try to convince him to change his mind; that mankind have the potential to change and restore planet earth.


Actually, if I had never known that this movie had already been filmed before, I would’ve said it was a fair idea to address the environmental issue [of climate change], although the impending problem at the moment does appear to be the financial crisis. Unfortunately even so, the film does poorly to address any sort of environmental issue that needs responding to. In fact the movie is so ambiguous you can probably interpret the storyline in any way you want to. And with post-modernism kicking in, you just can’t resist reading the film in a multitude of ways.


It’s good to see Keanu Reeves come back onto the movie scene, though aging now, as the alien “Klaatu” (clearly a dodgy name thought up in the 50’s). Reeves’ character enters from a giant sphere that lands on the earth. The sphere was rather well-designed, its surface a swirling mass of blue and black; sort of resembling clouds or even the waves in the ocean. It was a rather mesmerizing colour that invoked both fear and wonder.


The film did well to jump into near-climax action in the second (after a strange but later-explained opening scene). Planet earth gets threatened by massive destruction from the afore-mentioned sphere which was feared to collide with the earth in mere minutes. Not such a bad moment although the pace was quite short-lived. Reeves reveals himself when he emerges from a cocoon, naked and bald. In fact, one cannot help but be reminded of a similar moment in “The Matrix”; a shamefully re-used concept with the same actor, not smart.


Reeves plays a fairly appealing mellow character; lacking emotion in that “terminator” sort of way. However such a role doesn’t seem suited for him. He was full of action back in the days of “Speed” and during the “Matrix” trilogy he only hid his emotions rather than be void of them entirely. I would’ve wished his character had done more on the action side, his character was just too passive, while all the action was spread over to the military and police.


The heroine for the film was Helen Benson, played by Jennifer Connelly, along with her son Jacob, played by the son of WIll Smith, Jaden. I’m not too familiar with Connelly’s acting style but as for young Smith, he did well to portray the typical black child with both parents dead and ending up with a foster mother. The kid acts well to play out the character that keeps his cool throughout all the pre-apocalyptic events that take place.


Apart from these three we have the giant robot “Gort” which in the 2008 version, resembles a black Ironman; again thumbs down for the resemblance. Later Gort dissolves away into millions of black locust-type insects that can decompose metal and any non “natural” material. So mankind would simply be destroyed by a plague of locusts. The film did well again earlier to mention that similar spheres mentioned above were acting as “arks” to preserve non-human wildlife. Unfortunately it did bad to refer to the “plague of locusts” as the impending “flood”. Still, small recognition for the attempt at Biblical allusion. Further along, after Gort breaks down into the swarm of locusts and breaks free from the underground base, military personnel focus fire everything at the black cloud mass, again mirroring a similar moment from “The Matrix: Revolutions” when the Sentinels break through into the dock. Too many “stolen” scenes from other films, which is truly shameful.


The plot barely made any sense at the very end. Klaatu makes a move to stop the destruction of mankind when he sees Jacob finally acting nice to his foster mum (for not apparent reason, mind you). And that seems to serve as the evidence that mankind can change and fix up the environment. Hardly any logic involved there and therefore an unjustified ending. The climax comes in the form of Klaatu trudging through a blizzard of locusts and laying his hands on the sphere he emerged out of, causing the locusts to “die” and fall to the ground like flakes of snow. This moment actually legitimately paralleled the opening scene of the film which didn’t have any meaning but similarly portrayed an actual blizzard, etc.


As I’ve said before, the film can be interpreted in so many ways. The origins of Klaatu are so blurred that for me as a Christian, it is actually possible to read Reeves’ character as Christ coming down to warn mankind of impending destruction but later pulling back to allow more time to “repent”. This is just how ambiguous the film actually is. I won’t go further into other readings because there are way too many.


Interesting thing in the film was the scene where Reeves meets up with an old Chinese man (apparently another alien in human form) and they begin conversing in Mandarin. Reeves demonstrated a rather strange knowledge of Chinese in that he handled the language well, although over-emphasising some syllables by using the English consonants. Still it was interesting to watch Reeves speak Chinese, if indeed that is worth 90 minutes.


A short film, and one that hardly leaves as big an impact as the title originally did. A huge mistake to actually work off the 1951 classic version and definitely poorly done in terms of modern standards. Effects would’ve been better if they hadn’t already been used in other films. Bottom line:do not watch it. You might get an interesting message out of it, if any, but definitely not worth putting up with the lame storyline.


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