Wednesday, December 10, 2008

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (2008) - An inconvenient remake

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL was a lean, simple sci-fi movie about an alien in human form who tries to warn humankind against continuing on its destructive path. Released at the start of the Cold War, the movie had a strong agenda - against realist inter-state politics and for liberal internationalism as mediated by the United Nations. The movie also contained a lot of Christian imagery, with Klaatu as the saviour of humankind come down to earth to point out the error of our ways. The message was large and profound but it was made through argument rather than special effects. Klaatu - the alien - ponders the words of The Lincoln Memorial and debates politics with an eminent scientist. It was a remarkably quiet and thoughtful film.

The new remake is a rather different beast. For a start, it's replete with big-budget special effects and it's self-consciously grandiose. The message is also different. Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) isn't here to save us from ourselves but to save the Earth from human-kind. Maybe in a post-modern world full of failing states and discredited supernational institutions, the film-makers thought appealing to liberal internationalism wouldn't fly? But it's a real shame. In the year of the Obama landslide, I could easily imagine a film that earnestly professed belief in the redemptive power of liberal democracy striking a chord.

The one constant is the Christian iconography - Klaatu walks on water, raises a man from the dead, and in a closing scene seems to take the agents of death out of the Bensons and into himself - thus taking away the sin of the world.

I rather like the bleak message and I also liked the special effects. But I didn't buy into the human relationships that power the plot. In the original film Klaatu strikes up a warm relationship between a single mother and her son who happen to live in the same boarding house as him. Through spending time with them he realises that humans have good qualities and deserve the chance to change. In the current movie I was never sold on the relationship between Klaatu, Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) and her stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith). Maybe it's because Helen is cast as a high powered scientist, and the relationship between Helen and her son is now rather complicated. Somehow it detracts from the relationship with Klaatu. At any rate, I didn't buy that in the course of a rather cursory relationship, Klaatu would change his mind about humanity.

So, for my money, stick to the original movie. Not least to avoid any fanboy disappointment at the omission of the most famous line of the original movie.

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL is on release in Belgium, France, Norway, Thailand, Austria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, the Netherlands, Peru, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Turkey, the UK, the USA and Venezuela. It opens in Japan on December 19th; in South Korea on December 24th; in Australia on December 26th; in Egypt on December 31st; in Argentina on January 1st; in Brazil on January 9th; and in Poland on January 16th.


  1. Where was that Obama landslide in your head?

  2. OOOO bitter republican! It's a movie review.

  3. *spoilers ahead*

    Yes, I almost mentioned the intrusively obvious parallels between Klaatu and Jesus in my review. It was all so insulting.

    Plus it was wholly inconsistent with the ending. He just fucks off. Not a word of warning, no sacrifice, no actual redemptive power. Just "nae bother son, you'll be alright on yer own."

    What wank.