Monday, December 15, 2008


I'll admit a conflict here. I'm a big fan of the original 1951 THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, with Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal. I'm not alone of course, as you'll see if you click on the link, the original movie is #199 on the IMDB Top 250 movies of all time. 

Of course, there's a reason for that. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) was an incredibly brave piece of cinema, coming as it did at the height of McCarthyism - challenging the rabid suspicion of outsiders and the dogma of the nuclear arms race. 

Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and his indestructible robot Gort come to earth to deliver a message of cooperation and peace to world leaders. Yet, immediately as he steps out of his spacecraft, Klaatu is shot, taken into custody, and branded everything from Angel of Death to evil communist. Yet he escapes, is helped by a kindly widow named Helen Benson (Patricia Neal), her son Bobby (Billy Gray) and a well known scientist, Professor Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe).

Finally, he delivers his message outside of his spacecraft, which is worth re-printing in full:

"I am leaving soon, and you will forgive me if I speak bluntly. The universe grows smaller every day, and the threat of aggression by any group, anywhere, can no longer be tolerated. There must be security for all, or no one is secure. Now, this does not mean giving up any freedom, except the freedom to act irresponsibly. Your ancestors knew this when they made laws to govern themselves and hired policemen to enforce them. We, of the other planets, have long accepted this principle. 

We have an organization for the mutual protection of all planets and for the complete elimination of aggression. The test of any such higher authority is, of course, the police force that supports it. For our policemen, we created a race of robots. Their function is to patrol the planets in spaceships like this one and preserve the peace. In matters of aggression, we have given them absolute power over us. This power cannot be revoked. At the first sign of violence, they act automatically against the aggressor. The penalty for provoking their action is too terrible to risk. The result is, we live in peace, without arms or armies, secure in the knowledge that we are free from aggression and war. Free to pursue more... profitable enterprises. 

Now, we do not pretend to have achieved perfection, but we do have a system, and it works. I came here to give you these facts. It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you."

This speech has been debated and poured over since the film's release. Was it a stab at the toothless U.N. before it became fashionable to call it toothless? Was it an attack on the arms race and space race, being fought at the time against the Soviets? Was Klaatu actually meant to represent a religious figure - are there parallels to the Christian message?

Whatever the answers to these questions, it was certainly not pointlessly moralising, nor did it descend into feel-good shmaltz. The message was simple: "You guys are violent assholes. If you stop being violent, you can prosper and be happy. But if you turn your violence out into space towards us, our robot pigdogs will fuck you up."

The same cannot be said of the pointless modern remake. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (2008) lurches between paint-by-numbers Hollywood moralising about the environment and how we're screwing it up, to ridiculous levels of shmaltziness near the end. The message of this movie seems to be that humans have a soft and squidgy side that will come out in a crisis and that this will somehow manage to save us (from ourselves). This is despite copious evidence to the contrary played out in front of us throughout the film.

Now, don't get me wrong. One might well imagine that the (poorly acted and awfully scripted) love between a mother (Jennifer Connelly) and her unnecessarily black son (Jaden Smith) might convince Klaatu (Keanu Reaves) that human beings are worth saving. But surely it wouldn't convince him that we can save ourselves?! Not after the (equally poorly scripted) US Secretary of State (Kathy Bates) has unleashed seven shades of shit, torture and sidewinders on him and his unoffending robot for no good logical reason.

Talking about bad acting, let the record show that Reeves showcases the full repetoire of his monotonal potential in this flick. The scene with a catastrophically underused Professor Barnhardt (John Cleese) is a case in point. Cleese (the only competant actor in the film) looks like he's doing a bluescreen dress rehearsal next to a piece of wood. He delivers his lines as if he were trying to wake Reeves up, or at least trying to awake some extremely well hidden talent in him.

Mind you, Keanu doesn't have much to work with. He agreed to perform an (unintentionally) hilarious, monosyllabic script so as not to stretch himself - setting low standards that he consistently fails to live up to. The plot is similarly dire. Rather than perfectly pitching the low-key anti-communist paranoia of the 1950s - it goes for the catastrophism of the execrable I AM LEGEND and the similarly fecal modern remake of WAR OF THE WORLDS.  

All this adds up to a totally unnecessary money-spinning remake, arrogantly self-justified as some sort of environmentalist crusade. If you love cinema, love the original, or indeed have any of the human emotions that Reeves so conspicuously fails to imitate on screen, I would advise you to steer well clear of this garbage.



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