Tuesday, December 09, 2008

‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ is filled with the unexpected (and the expected)

Would an alien species consider humans worthy of saving?

Klaatu: If the Earth dies, you die. If you die, the Earth survives.

Be warned, 'Day' starts slowly and modestly and is mired by a minefield of movie cliches. But give 'Day' a few moments to warm up. There are some spectacular moments, and some innovative moments, even if a lot of it was imagined for the first time in 1951.

When a flick features a cast that includes the mythic Keanu Reeves, the chic Jennifer Connelly and the irrepressible John Cleese, it's probably worth seeing just to see what each of them get up to. Kathy Bates as the Defence Minister, and a President (among a slew of world leaders) who never make an appearance are among many flaws in this flick. That said, how effectual are our leaders today? Do we ever see them do anything that matters?

David Scarpa's screenplay makes a mockery of the 1951 script upon which it was based, and Scott Derrickson (who?) is not the industries most accomplished director. Derrickson is responsible for duds like 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose' and 'Hellraiser'.

With 'The Day The Earth Stood Still' Derrickson graduates to another the level. This flick will be remembered for a couple of good reasons. And one or two bad ones.

The title of the flick is confusing. This is not a spoiler by the way; in fact it may help curtail certain niggling thoughts most people in the audience would otherwise have for the first fifth of those 103 minutes. 'The Day The Earth Stood Still' is not about a day that the Earth stood still. For some crazy reason I took the title literally, imagining the rotation of the planet - for one reason or another - stalls, and this creates a crisis.

No, the crisis is about something else altogether. Since the flick releases worldwide on 12.12.2008, I am not going to retell some of the vital elements of the flick. In order to enjoy this flick, you need to suspend some of the myriad clichés 'The Day The Earth Stood Still' has to bump against before it emerges as a story in its own right, a story with a fairly original take, and a meaningful, important message for our present circumstances.

Why does it take somuch time for the 1950's freshness of the script to emerge? It may be a fluke, or coincidence, or that Sci-Fi has inspired further Sci Fi over the past 50 years, but in 'Day' you will find allusions to Independence Day, Superman Returns, I am Legend, The Abyss, ET, The Matrix, The Happening, Sphere, War of the Worlds, Cloverfield, Star Wars, Close Encounters, The Fifth Element and others. For some, all these references – which as I say seem incidental – will irk. If you can try to wipe away your internal movie archive, and all that movie memorabilia, 'Day' has an important message.

Polygraph Operator: I'm going to ask you a series of control questions. Are you currently in a seated position?
Klaatu: Yes.
Polygraph Operator: Are you human?
Klaatu: My body is.
Polygraph Operator: Do you feel pain?
Klaatu: My body does.
Polygraph Operator: Are you aware of an impending attack on the planet earth?
Klaatu: You should let me go.

The message is goes something like this: Would an alien species consider humans worthy of saving?

It is interesting to see the number of movies coming out now with a more and more serious message. People – collectively – will have to change. The message is becoming more radical in the movie zeitgeist, which makes this a timely and appropriate flick and a worthy addition to this particular theme. Interestingly, and uniquely, this flick cites exactly this sentiment, where (sitting in McDonalds) one being says to another:
“They sense their own demise but don’t know what to do about it.” Or words to that effect.

While not as cheesy as the Fifth Element (where the princess saves the Earth by getting true love's kiss at the last moment), I nevertheless found the brat in the film really annoying. Keanu Reeves is perfect as the ‘anomaly’ walking between the human beings.

It is the message of the movie that resonates above all, however I am not so certain I'd agree with the the alien's sentiment at the end. I believe our standards (for ourselves) need to be much higher than they are, and 'Day' does well to open our eyes to this.


Read my review of Jim Carrey's 'Yes Man'.

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