Monday, December 15, 2008

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL: MOVIE REVIEW


Cast: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates
Director: Scott Derrickson
Runtime: 103 min.
Rating: **
Genre: Sci-fi

        One of these days, someone’s got to get on with the job of destroying earth. And mankind. For real. Enough of this horsing around with the idea every once in a while, selling us obligatory images of destruction and carnage where car parks and stadiums and cities are wiped out. There was a time when we would watch these images, often with great intent and often with a sense of wonder. Now we stare at them, often our eyelids betraying a sense of fatigue and often beyond. The said problem accentuates when somebody decides to wrap it up in a message for all mankind, like for instance in this case, we humans are destroying earth and we need to pull our pants and act. As far as environmental pontification is concerned, everyone down at the movies seems to be in overdrive. Yeah, whatever. Speechify on your own time.
        I am curious what exactly the guys behind this remake brought to the table by themselves. Everything that is exciting has been borrowed from the 1951 original, including Klaatu, a spaceship, aliens, Iron Man and an iron-handed message for mankind. Okay, strike the last one out. All they have thrown in for spicing up matters is Jennifer Connelly, who feels gorgeous on any day, and young Jaden Smith as her son, whose character is such a nuisance he would have my vote for an alien abduction on any day. Aliens, are you listening? Are you receiving my signal? And no, thank you, we don’t want him back. Our hands are already full dealing with many of those stubborn annoying nuisances Dakota Fanning has left for us. Could you be good universal neighbors, and share the burden? Please?
        The premise is exactly how it was for the past 57 years. Mankind bad. Very, very bad. Destroying earth. So, self-styled universe monitors, who got nothing better to do than to run around and hammer their righteousness over unsuspecting citizens of planets, pry on them secretly, learn their language and surprise them by speaking with their accent, and looking like them. They might seem like someone you would want to strike a conversation with, or ask a thousand questions, but if Klaatu played by the usually bored Keanu Reeves is any indicator, the fact is they might bore you to death. But no, to our good fortune that is not their strategy. As is supposed to be the universal protocol, be it aliens on tripods, or asteroids, or aliens in huge saucers, or comets, or Michael Bay, human extermination ought to involve a sweeping explosion of some kind. Nothing else works.
        Now, what differs is our mischief. Back in 51, we were being bad kids quarrelling with each other, and supposedly in need of a good spanking or two. In 2008, we’re still being bad kids who aren’t keeping their rooms neat and sparkling clean, and supposedly still in need of a good spanking or two. If you are wondering that this could have been a sequel rather than a remake, I’m standing right by you, agreeing that would have been a better idea. You know, like with a cool name, The Second Day The Earth Stands Still. Never mind, because that isn’t our call. Our call, may be, is to enjoy the spanking, because it involves a gargantuan Iron Man wannabe, called Gort, wreaking havoc and destroying us. The Gort guy is straight out of the disaster movie protocol that asserts, time and again, that bigger is better. We humans are savvy only when it is big. Our dinosaurs got to be big. Our Godzillas got to be big. Our cyclones got to be big. Our dragons got to be big. Our cyborgs got to be big. Our explosions got to be big. Our snakes got to be big. Megan Fox and Angelina Jolie and Nicole Kidman have got to have them big. The lips I mean. We are idiots and the beauty of the small is lost upon us. Or the practicality of the economical.
        So, our call ought to be to enjoy the spectacle, but we are denied that right because the special effects are tacky. The original had a robot walk out in what seemed like an aluminum suit betraying the overall clumsy production values. But that was 1951, and even in that age, the film had a certain grounded reality to it which made it seem all the more immediate. This one here, with its clumsy CGI feature places the film in a worse situation, where we obviously cannot believe the film at any level. It is half-way, as in a bad fantasy. And in a bad fantasy, or a bad sci-fi as this, you got nowhere to go except to pity your eyes.
        But then, you might take a call to marvel at the beauty of Ms. Connelly, and the vast talents she is in possession of. She can appear to be thoughtful, and poignant even in the face of impossibly written situations. Often, as seems to be the trend with great many bad sci-fi movies of late, it comes down to a contest to see how much of impossible dialog one can get away with if there’s an actor of her stature present. If it indeed is true, Ms. Connelly is a wonderful bet. As for Mr. Reeves, he cannot act even if his very life depended upon it. The good thing is that isn’t the case here, and all he needs to do is another variation of his robotic turns. And he does that with great efficiency. There’s Academy Award winner Kathy Bates, and she needs to pull a straight somber face, often barking random orders and she manages that, just as she manages to drive to work everyday.
        I know where the idea of the disaster movie comes from. You know, the time when Orson Welles was so convincing on the radio recital of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, that people actually thought there was an invasion from Mars, and they ran screaming out of their rooms. There was a time when the movies actually made us feel that dread, but now it is all sugar coated blockbuster-style. And hammered into size by the most available message. The problem is, the film is trying to play it on both sides. On one, it is playing the prosecutor. On the other, it is playing the defendant telling Al Gore and co. that a species acts only at the precipice of annihilation. Maybe, we can still sit smug since ours might have not yet been reached. So hey, you know what, relax. You can clean the room later. You can arrange the shelf later. Dad’s coming day after tomorrow.

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