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The Day the Earth Stood Still: Keanu Reeves Has Come from Space to Eat a Sandwich and Pout

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People who defend the original 1951 Day the Earth Stood Still as a good movie obviously haven't watched it with clear eyes. At least a quarter of the film consists of reaction shots (A flying saucer arrives! Cue two to five minutes of stock footage of people panicking and tanks driving to meet the flying saucer!), and the rest of it is a snoozer about how nuclear bombs will kill us all. So the 2008 Day actually had a rare opportunity: It could have been a remake that improves upon the original. That opportunity has been pathetically, almost hatefully, squandered.

Keanu Reeves stars as Klaatu, an alien from far away with a message for humanity. Instead of an earnest lecture against nukes, he wants to inform us that we are murdering the environment. And so his large robotic friend (who is named Gort in the original, and whom the military hilariously dubs some long faux-sciency term that acronyms conveniently down to G.O.R.T. in the remake) prepares to destroy the Earth. To keep us from destroying the Earth.

There are few things more unpalatable than gorgeous, undertalented actors whining about the environment. An Inconvenient Truth was a good film—adapted from a PowerPoint presentation, for Christ's sake—because it wasn't packed with platitudes and cow-eyed Jennifer Connelly and paycheck-hungry John Cleese all but looking directly into the camera and scolding us to change our light bulbs or what the fuck ever. And it doesn't help that Day's plot is the worst kind of Bruckheimer-style nonsense and that all the dialogue is shit.

The vaguely brain-damaged-seeming Reeves is, in theory, a great choice to play a dispassionate alien. This is the one role that would've been perfect had he brought his usual himbo vacuousness to the job. Instead, Reeves tries to act—you can tell because his eyebrows are knit in a couple scenes—and the result is the expected blend of ineptitude and unintentional hilarity, like when he tries to eat a tuna sandwich the way an alien would. Connelly is at her most forgettable as a scientist specializing in some sort of scientific specialty. Cleese, in his one brief scene, should have a sign around his neck reading "Will act for food." Worst of all is Will Smith's young, corkscrew-haired clone Jaden. He plays the douchiest generic child ever put to screen in a big studio film (at one point, early in the film, he actually says "Vegetables? Ew!") and brings a ham-fisted gravity to the situation: Deep down, the little monster is hurting, see?

Beyond its message-film mentality, Day makes several other egregious errors. It follows in the footsteps of Contact and War of the Worlds by making an entire alien invasion of Earth all about one family's inability to properly relate to one another. And it tries to somehow be more realistic than the original film. When your movie is about a giant robot with a boner for global destruction, it doesn't matter if your spaceship looks like a humongous pie-plate (in the original) or a somehow more realistic sphere of clouds (in the remake). It's a fucking flying saucer. Everyone knows that flying saucers fly through outer space. No crappy "realistic" explanation necessary. Problem solved. Move on. Unfortunately, after you slice through all the bad acting and the oatmeal-thick environmental message and the harebrained attempts at realism, there's nothing there. It's a big dumb joyless vacuum of a movie, signifying absolutely nothing. recommended

 

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1
I find it hard to believe that the remake can be as shmaltzy and heavy-handed as the original.
Posted by Man with Hat on December 12, 2008 at 5:02 PM · Report this
2
Woah.
Posted by Karlheinz Arschbomber on December 13, 2008 at 8:50 AM · Report this
3
@ Man with Hat: You go watch it and see. I'll be waiting here, in the comments, for you to tell me I was right.
Posted by Paul Constant on December 13, 2008 at 11:31 AM · Report this
4
Paul. Are you as passionate and emphatic in person as you are in print? If so, remind me never to get cornered by you at a party.
Posted by Meatbot 3000 on December 14, 2008 at 1:00 AM · Report this
5
Saw the film and have to agree with Paul on most points. The message IS "oatmeal-thick".

A strange thing though, as I sit in my office, for the life of me, I can NOT remember how the movie exactly ended. Not in details.

Don't worry, no spoilers, but I am seriously going blank. What I do remember is wanting to slap Will Smith's son a few times, and I am not a violent person, nor do I dislike Will Smith.

In defense of Keanu, I like the guy. I like him in most of his films. There's something about him. Yeah, he's no Tom Hanks, but I like the guy.
Posted by Cheesy Double Beef Burritto on December 15, 2008 at 9:30 AM · Report this
6
I haven't seen the film, but the review confirms some of my prejudices.

Sad to hear about Reeves, though; his casting seemed right in the same way that his casting in A Scanner Darkly (his best work, IMO) seemed right. I think he has an opacity that can be compelling when well utilized.

I have the original at home right now. I can't believe I haven't seen it yet; seems I should, as a fan of '50s sci-fi, even if it's as bad as you say it is.
Posted by thelyamhound on December 15, 2008 at 10:04 AM · Report this
7
Contact wasn't about an invasion, more like an invitation. It was about one woman not being able to relate to other people, but that made for some good drama since the story focused on her and her experience rather than humanity as a whole fighting for survival (which, I agree, is a tired story). It could have no featured aliens at all and still have been a great story.

P.S the book is better. I'll grant you, Matthew Mchonehey was terrible in the movie
Posted by Brandon H on December 15, 2008 at 10:17 AM · Report this
8
I love the original. But faults and all. Paul, you're absolutely right about it. Still I love it. It has some great Iconic scenes and imagery that last with you forever. Plus? The music.

Yet, yeah, it drags, and is silly in places, and has a pacing that was ponderours even in 52.
Posted by Steve Bradford on December 15, 2008 at 10:36 AM · Report this
9
The little metal bugs that tore through everything, including an entire football stadium, were cool! If you know about the tiny robotic insects that the government has created and will use to spy on you, then you appreciated seeing them in this movie as perhaps a reminder of what is to come...
Posted by I love Neo in any movie! on December 15, 2008 at 1:50 PM · Report this
10
Whoa now. Did you just shit on Contact?
Posted by Greg on December 17, 2008 at 10:09 AM · Report this
11
The original did not have "stock footage" Those tanks were from the Virgina National Guard or Reserve, not sure. The US Government did not want to take part in the movie since they thought it was to pacifist? Pro-Commie? Who knows? Moreover, the original was from 1951 and how many sci-fi movies from the 50's still hold up today?
Posted by Mike on December 17, 2008 at 11:35 AM · Report this
12
HAHA, you complain about movies! on teh internet....
Posted by YOUR FACE HERE -> on December 19, 2008 at 4:18 PM · Report this
13
Heh, I liked The Day the Earth Stood Still when it was remade as the last 30 minutes of The Abyss: Special Edition. But that's about it, Robert Wise was kind of an overrated director in general.
Posted by stevedave on December 20, 2008 at 7:04 AM · Report this
14
Say what you want- Keanu Reeves is an icon in his own way as the original "Still" is . I think how a critic sees the show is probably a lot motivated by how he/she sees Keanu Reeves . For the most part, critics have been heartless and they seem to always have a knee-jerk reaction when they blurt out thier opinion . In a nutshell they have stigmatized him, and that is so unfair. All you have to do to realize that it's not true about him being empty-headed and not able to show emotion is to watch him in "The Devil's Advocate" . It was bursting with emotion- most of it his . That's one example.

Hollywood hunks come and go and they have become as common as weeds. Keanu stands out from the crowd in many ways, starting with his looks. No other actor has that rather exotic and sculpted face . And he's his own person-not Hollywood assembily line stuff . Also, he is a mystery, because in spite of all the hard knocks he gets so often, he is one of the most sucessful actors in the business, and one of the most wealthy also . The show is worth seeing .
Posted by Dee on December 21, 2008 at 1:46 AM · Report this
15
I KNEW it. See? I didn't even have to see that abortion of a film, and I have been proven totally right by this entire review, down to the last detail.

God, I hate Keanu Reeves. He nearly ruined A Scanner Darkly. He sure as hell isn't ruining my wonderful little bubble of ignorance about one of my all-time favorite B movies. Even if I wanted to sit through two hours of one-dimensional celebrities bitching about the environment and vomiting up facts I already knew, I probably would be too put off by the awful fact that it's a remake that has the audacity to royally molest the at least sociable message of the first to enjoy it. This... This just seems awful.

In the first, at the very least the guy is there on a peaceful, diplomatic mission. He isn't there to be a douchebag, he isn't there to fuck us over, he's there to be reasonable, logical, and diplomatic, like I would imagine an advanced alien species would be. Not Keanu Reeves descending (literally) in a cloud of egotism and ambiguous threats to the planet. God, he's got the logic of a five-year-old. "You're being mean so I'll just kill you."

See, I never even saw the thing. I'll probably go anyways just to prove myself right.
Posted by Alex on December 22, 2008 at 8:20 PM · Report this
16
I enjoy any actor who can't be convincing long enough for even a trailer. Keanu is the king at this. In a nihilistic way I love him for it. His acting is so devoid of genuine human emotion that instead I inject my own emotion in his shell. He makes movies interactive!

Now someone please cast him in a future Frank Miller movie. Keanu works best with a green screen because everyone else is acting just as awkward and wooden as he does.
Posted by T-Bone on December 24, 2008 at 8:37 PM · Report this

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