The Day The Earth Stood Still [retro viewing]

Sci-fi (or Sy-Fy, as a certain channel would have us believe, because it’s “less geeky”) is one of those genres that just seems to produce cult gems and mockworthy spectacles. Either movies are brilliant or flat out terrible, it seems like there’s very little middle ground.

With that in mind, I decided to undertake watching the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. I’ve never seen the original, but this one has Keanu Reeves! (Unless he’s playing Ted, this does the opposite of impressing me.) Because the thing is, good movies can get boring to review, unless I find a good hook. I was going to do this one night when I was alone, but last night Duckie and I decided we were in the mood for “mindless”. What could be more mindless than a Keanu Reeves movie?

Fueled by my triumph in getting Duckie to watch as well, I grabbed a pen and paper (still no laptop- what can I say? I’m stuck in the twentieth century.) and decided to do a viewing, anticipating that Duckie would have some good stuff to say about it as well. And now, I am undergoing the Herculean task of translating my own handwriting. Lieutenant Uhura has nothing on me, let me tell you.


9:26: We start the movie. As it is on Comcast On Demand and I don’t feel like watching the display bar the whole time, you’re stuck with the time of night rather than the time into the movie. If you really want to figure something out, do the math. We watch the opening credits, and mockingly decide that John Cleese was either deluded or desperate.

9:29: I really don’t get the attraction to Keanu Reeves. He’s not all that and a bag of chips to me. Even in black leather. Also, notice how although this is India, it isn’t an Indian on the mountain. I guess he could be an explorer, but still.

9:29: When faced with some shiny crystal thing you don’t understand, what to do but whack it with a pick axe? That’s some pretty fine thinking, there.

9:34: Do scientists EVER really get summons like this? No one’s ever sent a car to pick me up, much less with unclear and mysterious instructions that I’m not allowed to question.

9:35: Okay, BSG fans, play along with me. See, The Day the Earth Stood Still is largely shot in Vancouver. Apparently, the Vancouver acting pool is smaller than Hollywood. So, watch any scifi show or movie shot there, and you’ll see a lot of the same faces. So let’s count the BSG alumni. Starting here, with Alisen Down. She’s the FBI agent with the laptop, and she also plays Jean Barolay in BSG.

9:37: Oooh, it took them THAT long to figure out they’re all scientists? Duckie comments that I’m bashing this movie before I give it a chance. I gleefully inform him that yes, yes I am.

9:39: “Three times ten to the seventh meters per second?” Who talks like this? I would say thirty million meters per second. That’s not how people really talk- and contrary to popular belief, scientists are people. And why is it always Manhattan? Even if you want a recognizable US city, why not San Francisco? Washington, D.C.? Honestly.

Oh, and by the way, for the count-the-BSG-people game, we’re up to two. The older woman scientist is Lorena Gale, who played Elosha in the series.

9:41: Okay, the military woman asking to borrow the cell phone? That was rather touching, despite my cynicism.

9:44: I’d gripe about all the scientists being men, but a.) they’re all acting rather stupidly so I’m just as content not to have much female representation, and b.) at the ages they’re at and the sectors they’re in, they’re largely men anyway, although less than it used to be. (I didn’t have a single female professor in my Fuel Science courses, although I believe there are some there now.)

9:46: I comment that at least no one’s hitting the big glowy sphere with a pick axe. The cavalry comes in. Duckie laughs and says, “there’s the pick axe.”

9:47: The title is making sense now. Seriously, they’re all just standing there and staring?

9:53: Keanu Reeves in whale blubber. What a way to make him even more attractive. I’m betting he will now respond to Helen’s amazing empathy and compassion, which no other scientist in that room will possess.

9:55: Bets that Katy Bates’s character is “evil”?

9:57: Driscoll. Recognizing the face, but who is he? (Checking IMDb… Kyle Chandler. Not sure why I think I’m recognizing him. Oh well.)

9:58: Is I just me, or does it seem logical to not jump in with accusing questions? I’m not saying that questions aren’t justified, just… when someone’s just woken up from surgery and you think they might be an alien, “hi, welcome to the planet, where are you from, can I get you something?” seems like better etiquette, especially when you don’t know if they can vaporize you or not. (And given that they can travel further through space than we can, I’d assume the answer is “yes” until proven otherwise.)

10:04: I’m finding myself running low on wise cracks. This surprises me. It’s not because the movie is better than I expected. It’s just more boring than I expected.

10:08: Wow. It’s amazing what a beard and long hair will do. Hoshi (Brad Dryborough, aka BSG person #3) looks fairly hot, even if he is playing a thug type.

10:10: “School’s cancelled on account of the aliens.” Hehe.

10:13: Duckie points out that it’s rather ridiculous that she’s still carrying around the vial. He’s got a point. I don’t usually shove bottles of substances into my non-work jacket and then around with them, especially if they may be dangerous.

10:17: My Chinese is rusty, but Keanu Reeves seems to be doing a vaguely reasonable job with it. Sure, he sounds like a foreigner speaking it, but since he’s supposed to be an alien in the truest sense of the word, I think that’s understandable. But I’m surprised. But then, I’m surprised I managed to recognize it as Mandarin Chinese, so take that for what it’s worth- wait. Why did they suddenly switch back to English? Did we lose our ability to read subtitles? Or is it for the Moral Of The Story?

“But as this life comes to an end, I consider myself lucky to have lived it.” I like that sentiment. I’d like to be able to say that when I die.

10:22: “Do or not do… there is no try.” Oh, come on. Like you weren’t thinking it, too.

More the problem I’ve found with this movie is that it’s philosophical without substance, trying to be mysterious but only ending up confusing without any real mystery. They’re being very heavy handed with their message, but delivering it in tones that make it sound like they’re trying not to be. Very pretentious, and pretension = BORING.

10:24: The government gets intel off the internet. This amuses me, even if the joke is getting old already.

10:25: Well, at least the idea of the heroine falling in love with the alien is presented as a weird, bad idea by the kid. Erm, I hope.

10:27: Oh, God. Humans are evil. AGAIN.

10:28: Now, if this movie had any guts, they’d kill off the entire human race.

10:30: Okay, the kid just grew on me. It seems realistic that he’d be so direct, and yet there’s an innate respect for human life at the core. Hmm. He was playing a violent video game (World of Warcraft, I’m told) at the beginning. Is this a comment on video game violence warping children’s minds? Or is that too subtle for this movie? Probably the latter.

10:31: Yup. Kathy Bates’s character is the bad guy.

10:30: I still can’t buy Keanu Reeves as any kind of scientist, but I like this scene with the equation- the derivation, and Cleese’s character keeping up with Reeve’s character- is really neat.

10:35: Battlestar Galactica spotting #4- that’s Ty Olsson, aka Captain Kelly.

10:43: Bugs. I hate bugs.

10:44: Ten bucks say that flaming the GORT doesn’t work. What, aren’t you going to take my bet?

10:45: Nothing like a Biblical plague of locusts.

10:46: Are they honestly firing missiles at a bunch of bugs? Not Raid or something? Also, hiding somewhere in these military scenes is Michael Hogan, Tigh from BSG. I think I spotted him, but I had a hard time with it. (That’s #5)

10:49: So, how many people are dead by now, I wonder? Just for the record, they never do tell you. But given how fast those bugs work, I’m betting a lot.

10:50: Yup, we’re at Dad’s grave. Big shock. But that’s depressing- he was only two years older than me. Oh, darn. This scene is actually kind of moving… at least when the kid’s begging “you have powers!” That’s nicely done, to be honest- very black and white way of viewing the world, and the kid just not getting it. Ouch.

10:53: Heck with the killer bugs- let’s have a daddy issues scene instead. But at least they’re subtle. Love saves us all, right? (Although at least this ‘love saves us all’ makes some sort of sense- this being is seeing the love between these two people and saving the human race based on that exhibition of love.)

10:54: How does a handful of decent people giving their word constitute an entire human race changing? If that really worked, wouldn’t the world be a better place already?

10:55: Okay, so Kathy Bates isn’t pure evil. This is our “people can change” lesson again as she argues with the President.

10:57: If the bugs are already here, how will he be able to- oh, I see. Okay, they’re running in front of them.

10:59: And he gives up his own life to save them. Gee. Didn’t see that one coming. Well, I assume he’ll die, anyway.

11:00: Oh, come on. I don’t need to be at death’s door to know I’d but a kid’s life before mine, especially a kid I’m responsible for raising. Sheesh. And how’s he keeping the bugs out of the tunnel? And seriously, what exactly has changed? For the entire movie, this woman has protected this kid and had his safety at the top of her priority list. It’s never been an issue. And I’m not arguing with that, necessarily. I’m just saying it’s like Kaatu has seen some great change, and it’s been there the whole time.

11:02: Ah… NOW is when the earth stands still and the title makes some sort of sense and dead bugs rain down from above. Ick.

11:04: And so, the movie ends. I have to be honest, it was nowhere near as mockable as I thought it would be. I’m not saying it was good, mind you. It was really quite boring and unremarkable, and another glossy Hollywood effort telling us how Evil We All Are for polluting the planet and being mean to each other. Changed my life and my way of thinking, this movie did.

Look, I’m not at all saying that the world doesn’t have problems, or we’re so much cleaner than that, or that people are good except for one or two bad apples. The problems that some of these movies present are real in our society. But for crying out loud, say something about it. Make it a real story. This was just “people suck, and if they don’t change their ways they’ll be eaten by alien bugs.” Um, yeah. Like I said, very persuasive. “Be excellent to one another” was more compelling. (Or, if we’re attributing the correct line- “party on, dudes!”)

So, safe in the knowledge that we all suck and the bugs are coming, I bid you all good night. Hopefully I (and the BSG cast) will find something a little more interesting next time.

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2 Comments

  1. The original film was really captivating as I recall, although it has been years since I viewed it. I found your comments both interesting and entertaining as you related this updated verison to the PC world we live in at times:

    “…and another glossy Hollywood effort telling us how Evil We All Are for polluting the planet and being mean to each other. Changed my life and my way of thinking, this movie did.”

    I guess with your tongue planted firmly in cheek you could not conclude anything else.

    I’m mildly tempted to view this newer version, understanding the tepid review you gave it. But that’s what makes folm so interesting–we never know who a certain story will strike in a certain way.

  2. Nice, I currently finishing my own review of this film. I had to read yours to figure out if I was correct in my guess of when “the Earth stood still.” Seriously, one watch stops and that’s enough to justify the title?

    In the original, Klaatu stops the Earth to show just how powerful he is. He does so but makes a point to keep hospitals and the like running. In this one, none of the characters are nearly as noble. In the documentary included on the DVD, the director points out that Klaatu was modeled after an assassin.

    Which paints the film into a “us vs them” corner from the start. Which is sad as in the original, the aliens truly wanted us to get it together, but we just couldn’t/can’t.

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