I almost don’t want to give The Day the Earth Stood Still a bad review because it actually contains some interesting hard science fiction concepts. That’s just so rare in Hollywood these days that I almost want to give the film a pass simply because it isn’t dumb fantasy dressed up in scifi drag. But then I remember how stupidly these concepts are used and what a complete waste of time the entire movie is and I remember why I need to trash this interminable piece of shit.
A note before we go any further: the original film holds no special place in my heart; it isn’t that I devalue the film but rather that it was never one of those seminal movies for me. The only reason I’m telling you this is so that you don’t think my savaging of the remake comes from a place of preciousness about the original movie. It comes totally from a place of this movie being terrible.
In the interests of kindness, let’s start with the scifi concepts that I liked. I liked that Klaatu, the alien come to warn Earth to behave, doesn’t arrive in anything that we would recognize as a spaceship. I like that he is actually a being who has evolved beyond the physical world that we understand and that he is born into a new Earth body. I like that he has come not to warn Earthlings about their warlike tendencies but rather to protect one of the few planets in the cosmos capable of supporting complex life (this is actually a clever way of slipping an ecological message into the film). I like that Gort is made up of nanobots, and that these nanobots become a swarm that eats everything in their path, much like the hypothetical ‘grey goo’ apocalypse scenario.
I hate everything else in the film.
I hate Keanu Reeves, who has found a role that actually calls for his usual blankness. But even when that blankness is intentional, it’s still irritating. I honestly do not know how this guy has become a bona fide movie star while the much more charismatic Alex Winter is stuck in Saul of the Mole Men (beats me). His version of Klaatu is almost Aspergian, and every scene with him is a chore to sit through. He’s in probably 80% of the movie.
I hate Jennifer Connelly and Jaden Smith. She’s Smith’s stepmom as well as one of the top xenobiologists in the world, so when Klaatu’s big sphere lands, the government calls her in. When the evil Feds want to take Klaatu to Guantanamo Bay, she helps him spend the entire second act pointlessly being on the run. Jaden, meanwhile, is doing everything he can to thwart his mom’s plans because he thinks his dead Army dad would have kicked some ET ass. Everybody learns lessons, I wish they would have all died. Connelly has shown an almost unerring ability to choose leading roles in movies that are pan-fried feces, and The Day the Earth Stood Still may finally be the film to knock Dark Water off the top of her ‘Worst of’ list. Meanwhile Jaden Smith is just an annoying moppet, but at least we have late-life drug abuse or crime problems to look forward to with him.
I hate the plot. After Klaatu escapes from military custody he spends the entire second and most of the third act of the movie engaging in a shitty knock off of The Fugitive. It’s glaringly obvious that the screenwriters ‘cracked’ the opening and closing of the movie but had fuck all of an idea about what to do with the middle, so they put all the main characters on the run… in an anemic, boring way. All of the interesting societal and political impacts of aliens making themselves suddenly known to us are relegated to TV screens in the backgrounds of scenes, and mostly told through obvious stock footage. Also, someone should make note that the movie manages to make an ending that is apocalyptic and epic and massive and world-changing (spoilers: as far a I can tell the nanobot cloud destroys everything and everyone between Maryland and New York at least; it may have been spreading in all directions as well. Also, the nanobots are defeated by a giant electromagnetic pulse that knocks out all electricity on Earth, which would kill thousands of people with pacemakers, people on iron lungs, people in planes, people in subs, etc etc etc. This is huge, sweeping stuff that makes the end of Watchmen look like The Wizard of Oz) completely anti-climactic. Go back and read those spoilers if you dare – I go into more detail about what happens at the end of the movie than the movie itself does. All of that is just glossed over.
I hate the special effects. Gort, who in this version is 40 feet tall and black, looks like he was rendered by someone who chained three Amigas together. Watching the movie I was literally dazed that a modern blockbuster film could have effects this shoddy. The movie makes a big deal about the huge marble in which Klaatu arrives, panning and swooping the camera around it. Unfortunately, it looks like shit. The movie is so enamored of this crummy effect that it never realizes that it doesn’t look pretty, impressive or cool. This film looks like it cost less than a season of Battlestar Galactica.
I hate Scott Derrickson’s direction. The entire film is flat, grey and ugly. There’s not a single image that sticks out in my mind; even the massive scenes of destruction are reminiscent of similar scenes in other movies. There’s almost nothing in The Day the Earth Stood Still that I hadn’t seen done elsewhere, and better. He finds a way to drain the drama, life and interest from almost every single scene in the movie. It’s obvious that Fox hired him to direct this movie because he was someone they could push around, not because he’s any kind of a visionary.
I hate myself for sitting through the entire film. I did it because I was attending the junket the next day and because I knew I couldn’t review the movie if I didn’t see the whole thing. What a waste of time. I should have known better.
Finally, I hate anybody who champions this film. There are bad movies that are saved by quirky choices or stunning moments. There are bad movies that are watchable because they’re accidentally hilarious. There are bad movies that are doubly painful because everybody involved tried so hard, but at least you can respect the failure. The Day the Earth Stood Still is simply bad in the most bland, generic way imaginable. This film feels like the grey goo that would be left over after that nanobot apocalypse, a mess without form or substance. There’s nothing exceptional on display, nothing in this movie that will earn it a place in your memory even a day later. The only kind of person who could champion a movie like this is someone as boring, empty and stupid as the film itself.