Tuesday, May 5, 2009

2 Days That the Earth Stood Still

The Day the Earth Stood Still
1951. Not Rated, 91 minutes.
Director: Robert Wise. Starring Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Sam Jaffe, Billy Gray.
An alien spacecraft lands smack dab in the middle of Washington D.C. during a busy day. The being that emerges from the ship is shot within moments of setting foot on Earth. He survives and demands to meet with all of the planet's leaders. With WWII having ended only 6 years earlier, along comes this grim allegory of a movie that's gone on to be hailed as a sci-fi classic. The being inside, Klaatu (Rennie) represents us, therefore it's very important that he looks like us. He's no green-skinned monster who instantly opens fire on us. He is us, giving a warning to ourselves. As far as movie-making prowess goes, it's a success but not an overwhelming one. The narrative drags just a bit since the tension is eased while our messenger takes a tour around D.C. Still, even that serves a purpose in the movie, so no big deal. The special fx are actually pretty stong for the era and appropriately they're used sparingly. The dialogue lacks any subtlety whatsoever which gives the movie the feeling of someone beating you over the head with their message. What's remarkable is that message is not as dated as the movie's age suggests. By changing the word atomic to nuclear and making it a little snazzier looking it could still resonate with today's audience. Hmmm....

I normally don't do this for old movies but just as a point of comparison...

What the Internet Says: 8.1/10 on imdb.com (#224 all time, 5/5/09), 94% on rottentomatoes, N/A on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 8/10

...which brings us to this...

The Day the Earth Stood Still
2008. Rated PG-13, 104 minutes.
Director: Scott Derrickson. Starring Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Jaden Smith, Kathy Bates, John Cleese, James Hong.

Plot: An alien spacecraft lands smack dab in the middle of Manhattan one night. The being that emerges from the spacecraft is shot within moments of setting foot on Earth. He survives and demands to meet with the planet's leaders.

The Good: The early parts of the movie do a nice job building tension quickly. This gives it the sense of urgency it's looking for. There's also an air of mystery as we watch a bunch of scientists and government officials who are rightfully baffled by what's going on. It's also a good looking movie, reminiscent of The Matrix franchise. Having Keanu Reeves as the star only reinforces this notion, but it's attractive nonetheless in that same monochromatic manner. Finally the new GORT, Klaatu's personal giant robot security guard is very impressive...for much of the movie.

The Bad: A constant problem for this movie is that it's ideas are solid but the execution of them is horrible. Chief among these ideas is the updated premise. The original was a warning against us causing our own destruction through atomic weapons. With our constant worry about who has nuclear weapons, I thought that was still a strong foundation to build on, obviously changing the word atomic to nuclear. However, the filmmakers opted to go with the "green" angle (hence, the greenish tint to the whole movie) and warn us about destroying the planet itself. Okay, I'll buy that but exactly why beings from other universes should care is unclear. It follows that by piling up inconsistencies at a mind boggling rate. Some of which even involves special fx - I'm looking at you, massive swarm of bugs. Next, not only is Klaatu not terribly bright for a being from a supposedly more advanced civilization but he does something incredibly idiotic. That by itself might not be so bad, but we get the sense he only does it so the movie has an excuse to try and dazzle us with cgi. Don't even get me started on the overly melodramatic and Armageddon-esque finale that's only possible because our hero came to the same realization that my 6 year old came to about 3 years ago.

The Ugly: Ya know, I liked Jaden Smith alongside his dad in The Pursuit of Happyness but he really, really...really annoyed me here.

Recommendation: This is a misguided attempt at modernization. Instead of thoughtfully updating the original it gives us the same basic setup and then repeatedly taps us on the shoulder and says "Hey, doesn't this look cool?" Even the DVD cover does this. If you look at the back of it, you'll see in large print "THIS TIME THERE'S MORE ACTION, MORE SPECIAL EFFECTS AND MORE MAYHEM!" Yawn.

The Opposite View: David Nusair, Reel Film Reviews

What the Internet Says: 5.6/10 on imdb.com (5/5/09), 21% on rottentomatoes.com, 40/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 3/10

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