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“The Day the Earth Stood Still” (2-disc DVD, 3-disc DVD, and 3-disc Blu-Ray)
Reviewer:
Chris Pandolfi
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Genre:
Action
Release Date:
4/7/09
Special Features:

(All editions): Trailers / 1951 version of film Special Features (3-disc DVD and Blu-ray): Audio commentary / deleted scenes / 4 featurettes / concept art / production photos / digital copy of film (Blu-Ray only): BD-Java game / picture-in-picture track ***

Review:

Let’s not get into comparisons between this version of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and the 1951 version. It’s pointless. There are only two things you need to know as far as that’s concerned: (1) the phrase “Klaatu barata nikto” is included, but it’s basically buried under layers of synthesized noises; (2) the word GORT has been turned into an acronym, standing for Genetically Organized Robotic Technology. ***

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I feel it best to tell you that this movie will be disappointing regardless of your knowledge of the original film. It’s a science fiction fable so heavy on commentary yet so light on virtually everything else, not the least of which is a fully realized story with properly developed characters. ***

It’s really more of a showcase for special effects, which are apparently not dazzling enough to leave a lasting impression; not even the destruction of Giants Stadium late in the film is all that memorable. Maybe it’s because we’re used to more famous landmarks being destroyed in disaster films, such as the Empire State Building or the Hollywood sign. ***

The film begins in 1928, where a man camping in the snowy mountains of India has a fateful encounter with a strange glowing orb, one that looks like a mini planet covered by electrical storms. We then flash forward eighty years, when we meet Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), a microbiologist living in New York City with her stepson, Jacob (Jaden Smith). One night, Helen is escorted by a group of sinister government officials to a military base in New Jersey, where she learns that a large mass in space is on a rapid collision course with Earth, specifically New York City. ***

To everyone’s amazement, the object slows down as it enters the atmosphere above Central Park. It then lands in a cloud of smoke; when the air clears, Helen, a group of other brilliant minds, and the military discover a gigantic glowing orb, seemingly a large version of a number of orbs hidden around the world. From out of the orb emerges a creature, which is immediately shot. Soon to follow is a towering robot that reacts to the gunfire with force. ***

It isn’t long before the wounded alien is rushed into some kind of intensive care unit, which is a little odd when you stop and think about it. Did the military know beforehand that aliens would be on the way and maybe in need of medical care? Even if they did, how would they know what to do to treat them? ***

Be that as it may, the wounded alien is brought in and immediately attended to. Doctors make a fascinating discovery: The grayish skin is actually a protective covering for a very human-looking creature, one that quickly matures into an adult male. His name is Klaatu (Keanu Reeves), and he comes with a message: It’s been decided that planet Earth has to be saved from mankind’s destructive tendencies. And absolutely no one can stop it from happening. ***

The setup is promising enough. But the film sells itself short in so many ways, most notably by not adding much-needed weight to the severity of the situation. Klaatu is essentially telling us that we’re about to be exterminated, and yet there’s no satisfying sense of urgency or desperation. ***

Part of the problem may be that the story focuses on too few characters. How can the audience feel the impact of such a monumental problem when only a scientist and her son are the main characters? Somehow, that doesn’t seem big enough. Of course, there would be a major drawback; not enough time would be left for compelling human drama (and I’m not saying that just to be clever). ***

Then again, the drama in “The Day the Earth Stood Still” is unoriginal at best, with most of it reserved for the relationship between Helen and Jacob, which has been strained since the untimely death of Jacob’s military father. He puts so much effort into working against his stepmother that, at times, he comes off as nothing more than a pouty brat. At other times, it’s clear that he misses his father greatly, which is to say that we do have some sympathy for him. ***

I didn’t really believe that only three people were all Klaatu needed to reconsider allowing humanity’s destruction. The first two are Helen and Jacob. The third is Professor Barnhardt (a cameo by John Cleese), a Nobel Prize winner with a mathematical formula written on his own personal blackboard (a formula Klaatu immediately sees flaws in). The two engage in a brief but significant conversation; when Klaatu says that his species only bettered itself when it was on the brink of annihilation, Barnhardt argues that humanity is in such a place now, and therefore ready to make a change. ***

Klaatu also considers the words of a fellow alien-in-hiding--the elderly Mr. Wu (James Hong), who has grown to love humanity, despite the fact that they seem unwilling to change. It’s an interesting moment, although one wonders why their meeting was held at McDonalds. There’s something unappealing about super-intelligent beings from another world sitting in a McDonalds. ***

Just as unappealing were the infrequent appearances of Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates), the Secretary of Defense; she seemed like such an obvious character, someone included just for the sake of creating conflict. And then there’s the ending, which is very disappointing given the magnitude of what Klaatu says to Helen. ***

Special Features:

All three editions of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” include trailers and the original 1951 version of the film starring Michael Rennie. Featured only on the 3-disc DVD edition and the Blu-Ray edition are a number of special features, including the featurettes “Re-Imagining ‘The Day,’” “Unleashing Gort,” “Watching the Skies: In Search of Extraterrestrail Life,” and “The Day the Earth Was ‘Green.’” Also included are a selection of deleted scenes, a feature commentary by screenwriter David Scarpa, and a collection of production photos, concept art, and storyboards. Both editions also include a digital copy of the 2008 film. Exclusive to the Blu-Ray edition is a BD-Java game called “Build Your Own GORT” and a picture-in-picture track called “Klaatu’s Unseen Artifacts.” The 2008 film is presented in its original 2.40:1 widescreen format and features Dolby 5.1 digital sound. The 1951 film is presented in its original 1.33:1 format. ***

Final Words:

Late in the story, the GORT has disintegrated into a swarm of metal insects that can not only multiply rapidly, but also eat an entire structure in a matter of seconds. Destruction is always fun to watch, but I’m getting tired of it always happening in New York. Other cities are just as prone to alien attacks, you know. But considering how one-tracked “The Day the Earth Stood Still” is, it’s not surprising that the filmmakers would forget that.

 

 
 
 
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