Sunday, 14 December 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still


Directed by: Scott Derrickson
Screenplay: David Scarpa
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly and Jaden Smith

This is a tough call. On the one hand I really enjoyed the new version of The Day the Earth Stood Still (DTESS) (a remake of the 1950s sci-fi benchmark), on the other it seemed pretty much pointless, never really adding anything new, and despite being very well made and paced, suffers from the soulless Hollywood machine. Now I’m no advocator of remakes but don’t despise all of them either (the remake of The Hills Have Eyes being a much better film than the original) but with decent remakes like The Omen (yep, I enjoyed it) and The Departed, one always comes away with the feeling, why bother? It was a good or decent film but nothing compared to the original. DTESS suffers the same effect: good, but was it really needed?

Alien Klaatu (Reeves) comes to earth along with his protector robot, Gort, to warn the earth of eradication as we humans are destroying our planet. Befriending foxy scientist Helen Benson (Connelly) and her step son (Smith), Klaatu gives them one chance to convince him not to go ahead with the eradication. So, what is good about the DTESS? Well first off, it is well made, slick, well paced (and mercifully not over edited to ridiculousness) and director Derrickson even whips up some impressive scenes of nervous tension and destruction. The cast aren’t bad either (though Reeves will no doubt receive many oh so funny quips about him being ideal for an emotional alien from much smarter and wittier critics) but the script is perhaps too pedestrian, everything set out in a straightforward manner the characters just pointing us in the right direction to the predictable conclusion. The script also wastes too much time on Benson’s annoying step son, too many scenes of him moaning about his dead father, that he comes across as the typical shoehorned in, he has to learn a message kid in a Hollywood blockbuster. Which is exactly what he is. We never get the sense that the world is ever really in danger, as we spend too much time with a whinging kid. Jaden Smith isn’t bad in the acting department just given a really unsympathetic character. Likewise, John Hamm and John Cleese are completely wasted.

On the flipside, Derrickson handles his first big blockbuster well, making a film that harkens back to how blockbusters were made back in the 80s and 90s. No tricksey editing, the action scenes flow well, the pace never rushed. The original DTESS is also famous for one of movieland’s best robots, Gort. Luckily, the new version of Gort is done well the best scenes in the film featuring him and his capture and incarceration in an underground complex. Effective CGI is used to render Gort and the scene where he is held captive and his red eye follows one of the characters is nerve rackingly good and as good as anything in the original. Having helmed the underrated Hellraiser Inferno and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Derrcikosn knows a thing or two about scaring and this is where the remake of DTESS works best.

In addition, don’t go expecting an action extravaganza like the trailers suggest. This is no Independence Day. There are some impressive scenes of destruction but the film is equally about drama and tension as it about wrecking 18 wheelers and baseball stadiums. DTESS is a fairly decent flick that won’t really have a chance in hell. The fan boys will pick it to pieces, many won’t get past Reeves and yeah it does succumb to bloated Hollywood schmaltz and the easy way out come the final third. However, it’s still got a lot going for it, some great scenes of tension, Gort (who should have been in it way more) and it never resorts to CGI excess. But despite all this dissection and defence, one will no doubt come away (myself included) thinking what was the point? The debate over whether remakes (especially of classics) are worthy continues.

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