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Review: The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

Directed by: Scott Derrickson

Premise: A remake of Robert Wise’s 1951 film. An alien spacecraft lands in Central Park with an emissary named Klaatu (Keanu Reeves). After warning the Secretary of Defense that human beings will be exterminated if they do not stop harming the planet, Klaatu finds himself on the run with a scientist (Jennifer Connelly) and her stepson (Jaden Smith) as they attempt to dissuade the extraterrestrials from destroying the planet.

What Works: The casting of the lead actors works well. Keanu Reeves’ flat, minimalist acting style works in The Day the Earth Stood Still like it did in The Matrix. His blank stares and detachment from the events going on around him tend to work in his favor and suit the character. Jennifer Connelly and Jaden Smith also work well together as mother and son and the tension in their relationship is interesting to watch.

What Doesn’t: Aside from the leads, not much else in this version of The Day the Earth Stood Still is done very well at all. The film has no tension. Despite the impending end of humanity, the film is unable to create a sense of urgency about it. This is largely due to the lack of a clear goal and the film never puts an antagonist in the way of that goal. The closest the film comes to this is Kathy Bates who is miscast as the Secretary of Defense. The film needs a Don Rumsfeld or a Robert McNamara to act as an antagonist toward the protagonists, but Bates has no menace and never comes into direct conflict with the heroes. This is indicative of the superficiality of the film’s politics. The Day the Earth Stood Still is about change from a violent, reactive, and unnecessarily aggressive world view to a more tolerant and thoughtful point of view and how change in a culture can be willed by its members in the face of an impending disaster, but the film does not qualify that change or offer the viewer tangible evidence to believe in it.

Bottom Line: The Day the Earth Stood Still is reminiscent of 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow in its lazy storytelling, forced politics, and softball handling of big issues. On the one hand, The Day the Earth Stood Still does have better science to it but at least The Day After Tomorrow was exciting if stupid.

Episode: #219 (December 21, 2008)