Judge Eric Profancik wants to see Keanu Reeves in more remakes, like Gone with the Wind and Singin' in the Rain.
Our reviews of The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) (Blu-Ray) (published December 15th, 2008), The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951): 2-Disc Special Edition (published December 15th, 2008), and The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008): 3-Disc Special Edition (published April 7th, 2009) are also available.
"This is our planet."
Because studios continue to do it, I feel compelled to continue asking the question: Why? Why do they keep rehashing, remaking, and re-imagining movies? Why do they think they can turn everything from clunkers to classics into certifiable hits for this generation? We're simply stuck in a cycle of vacuous studio heads taking the easiest route to rid young people of their money.
And it works.
I'll bet you and I were alike when this trailer came out. First you asked "Why?," promptly thought it was a really bad idea, and decided you wouldn't see it. Yet it still pulled in about $80 million domestically, so there are plenty of kids out there who never saw the original and thought Keanu was worth their money. I'm definitely not in that crowd, but must admit I love my sci-fi and explosions, so this re-imagining fits the bill.
But is it any good?
Facts of the Case
The United States Government's Space Guard program detects an object on a collision course with Earth. With frantic speed, scientists of all stripes are brought together to plan for the catastrophe. The point of impact is projected to be New York City, but the object slows down and reveals itself as an alien spacecraft. The sphere-ship lands and discharges its occupant, a gray humanoid. In no time, flat itchy trigger fingers lead to the alien being shot, prompting the appearance of a giant robot that stops any further aggression. The robot seems to shut down, wherein the alien is whisked away to a secret military bunker.
Inside the facility, the gray alien sheds his biological spacesuit and transforms into what appears to be a human male named Klaatu (Keanu Reeves, The Matrix). Observing and studying him are several scientists including Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly, The Rocketeer). When Klaatu wakes up, he comes under questioning but states he will only speak to the United Nations, as he has a message for the entire planet. But the U.S. Government won't allow that, forcing Dr. Benson to help Klaatu escape.
As the two run from the government, Klaatu's remarkable message will be revealed.
To answer my own question: Yes, but it is not as simple as that. The question itself is very broad. So in what fashion is it good? Is it Keanu Reeves? Is it the story? Is it the special effects? What is it?
Keanu Reeves, expressive as ever, makes the perfect encapsulation of an alien visitor to our world. His stiff wooden delivery allows for an excellent level of menace—acting cold and removed from the situation. Being a bit stiff, Keanu comes across as detached, serving the framework of the plot. So is it Keanu that makes the movie any good? He does have some small measure it in.
Is this a carbon copy of the 1951 version, just slightly tweaked to modern sensibilities? Yes and no. This new version utilizes the classic original as a template, but goes in other directions to reach a similar yet different goal. Both are message movies with a character named Klaatu, but neither he nor the message are the same. While the original was a movie about aggression and war among the super powers of the day, this re-imagining is about the environment and polluting the planet. It's a green movie that wants the audience to take stock in how man is harming the Earth and how things need to change to ensure its health for future generations. The message is obvious but perhaps a bit less ham-fisted than the original. Is this what makes the movie any good? Yes, the story does play a large part in it.
Could today's vaunted special effects be the driving force behind the goodness of the remake? We most certainly have some stunningly beautiful effects, from the simple yet striking sphere-ship to the destruction of wide swaths of manmade edifices. Yet, as good as they are rendered, they aren't as breathtaking and mesmerizing as other effects we have seen. Hence the occasional stilted "cool" doesn't give the movie the overriding boost it needs to be good. Whereas the effects don't hurt the film, they don't go into the tally that makes the movie good.
Surprisingly, it is a bit of Keanu and a bit of the story that make The Day the Earth Stood Still (TDTESS) affirmative to the question. It is good, in some small measure, but that measure isn't really enough. TDTESS is nothing more than a glorified rehash of a classic, taking a lot of Hollywood money and churning out mediocrity. It's serviceable, has an interesting message—if you believe in it (which I do)—but the remake will never ever be considered a classic in its own right.
Let's move on to the technical qualifications of the big budget Blu-ray release. The video, a 2.35:1 1080p presentation, is excellent on all levels but failed to impress me. The print itself is perfect, with not a blemish, speckle, piece of dirt or error to be found. Colors are rendered accurately, with rich hues and contrast, and details jump out of the screen—most noticeably in the nighttime New York City shots. But with all this perfection, I did not have my "wow" moment. No single scene took my breath away. It all looked good, as it should, but no more. I think much of that has to do with the darker color palette, coupled with most of the movie taking place inside at night.
On the audio front, we English speakers will enjoy the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. As with the video, I detected nay single a fault. Dialogue is crisp and clear, effects and general ambience made me feel as if I was in the middle of the action through the surrounds, and the subwoofer comes to life plenty of times, causing various items in my home to vibrate and shake. And, again, as good as it is, I didn't feel there was a stand-out "wow" moment I wanted to watch/hear over and over again.
This special edition Blu-ray needs three discs to pack in all the bonus features. Let's work our way backwards from Disc Three to One:
This is the meat and potatoes of the bonus material.
• In-Movie Features: Called "BonusView" on the packaging, at any time during the movie press the Green button on your remote for David Scarpa's audio commentary, the Blue button for pre-viz and special effects footage, or the Yellow button for storyboards. I didn't utilize this feature as they are all available separately from the movie, and I watched them that way.
• "Klaatu's Unseen Artifacts—The Day the Earth Stood Still Picture-in-Picture Track": (The Blue button) This is a video track which plays in the bottom right quadrant of the screen throughout the movie. It'll show pre-viz, concept art, still galleries, and a few other goodies (mostly) corresponding to the scene you are watching. It's not a bad track, but the concept art—especially for GORT—goes on far too long.
• "Build Your Own GORT": This is an interactive feature that lets you assemble different concept designs of GORT's head, arms, legs, and body into a GORT of your own design. When you are done, the screen "cracks" and you can design another GORT, which then leads to another crack. After 100 or so cracks, nothing happened. I'm not sure if I lost patience or it was a silly psychological test put in by the disc designers. Let me know if something happens for you.
• Deleted Scenes (1:56): There are three "scenes," all of which would have added nothing to the movie. Actually, they are more trimmings than scenes.
• "Re-Imagining the Day" (30:06): The big behind-the-scenes featurette is a bit fluff and a bit more, coming together to be a tad above average. It showcases a decent and interesting amount of BTS footage and interviews, including your only taste of Keanu.
• "Unleashing GORT" (13:52): This one talks about all the permutations and combinations involved in creating the new GORT. Interesting, but as with all the features here, it's watch once and forget.
• "Watching the Skies—In Search of Extraterrestrial Life" (23:08): It's just as the name implies, with scientists and people talking about the possibility of life beyond Earth. The most salient point presented is that scientists say nothing ever happens just once.
• " The Day the Earth was "Green"" (14:04): The Day the Earth Stood Still is a message movie, and its message is to take care of the environment to protect the planet. This explores that idea a bit further, detailing the movie shoot and the studio working to be carbon neutral. It boils down to a bit of self-congratulation.
• Audio Commentary by Writer David Scarpa: (The Green button) An engaging and surprisingly informative track, Mr. Scarpa does the best thing possible by often answering the question, "Why?" Aside from a few too many gaps in the last third of the movie, it's an excellent listen.
• Still Galleries: A variety of picture galleries subdivided into the following sections: Concept Art, Storyboards (The Yellow button), and Production Photos.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In this spot I am apt to take the opposite position of what I wrote earlier, which would be akin to this:
The Day the Earth Stood Still is a faithful re-imaging of the classic 1951 Robert Wise (Star Trek: The Motion Picture) film. Updating the message to the 21st Century, Keanu Reeves brilliantly becomes the enigmatic Klaatu, preparing us and paving the way for the future of our planet. This movie will delight you with its message, wow you with its tale, and amaze you with its effects.
But of course the above is a grand exaggeration, so I'd rather take a moment to note three items skipped in my earlier discourse.
First up is "the kid." While the child in the first movie, Bobby Bensen (Billy Gray, Father Knows Best) was an innocent, precocious, yet likeable boy, Jacob Bensen (Jaden Smith—yeah, Will Smith's son) is obnoxious, rotten, and unlikeable. If the evolution of the Benson boy is a mirror to our society, I feel so very sorry for our future.
Next let's give kudos to all the other actors in this movie, for outside Keanu and Jaden, they are actually quite good. Jennifer Connelly gives a credible aura of warmth and intelligence; Kathy Bates (Fried Green Tomatoes) is strong, cold, and compassionate as the Secretary of Defense; and John Cleese (Monty Python's Flying Circus) is shortchanged in his brief scene as the scientist who helps sway Klaatu's opinion of humans.
Lastly is everyone's favorite robot, GORT. In 1951, he was a man in a suit. In 2008, he's a big CGI creation. The new guy, faithful to the original in most respects, is interesting, adds a good twist to the movie, yet isn't as remarkable as the man in the rubber suit. Sometimes simpler is better.
I tuned in to The Day the Earth Stood Still not because I truly had any interest in the re-imagining, but simply because I enjoy science fiction and explosions. So while TDTESS delivers on both counts, the end result is a lackluster remake missing the charming simplicity of a classic B-movie which made the most of its parts and created something that stands the test of time. Here we have those same parts assembled in such a fashion that it simply passes an hour and a half of time. Not bad, not great, but humbled by its roots. This is a decent rental to help shake your walls a little bit. If you want a good movie, watch the classic. It may be dated, it may be a quaint picture of a simpler time, but it's how you make a movie.
The Day the Earth Stood Still is hereby found guilty is standing in the shadow of its classic cousin and sentenced to 24 hours of community service, sorting through the recyclables. Court adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• 1951 Version
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