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"The Day the Earth Stood Still" (2008- Blu-ray)
Wayne Klein
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Release Date:
Special Features:

Featurettes, commentary by writer David Scarpa, the 1951 “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, digital copy on the third disc




Giant robots are back in fashion. So are ecology messages. Scott Derrickson’s remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” boldly took the concepts expressed in Edmund North’s (“Patton”) original screenplay and gave it a decidedly early 21st century spin. I slammed the film when it came out in 2008 but one thing I failed to consider was the film without the context of the original in mind and taken on its own “The Day the Earth Stood Still” balances the blockbuster and thoughtful science fiction film pretty well even if it isn’t quite a classic on its own terms and it is entertaining avoiding the worst sin of most remakes. ***

An object is on a hyperbolic course towards Earth at a speed that will make Manhattan into little more than a dust cloud and sterilize the planet in the process much like the theorized asteroid collision that helped wipe out the dinosaurs eons ago. Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connolly) is brought on board a team of scientists by Dr. Michael Grainer to figure out a post-disaster scenario for Manhattan. Benson’s specialty is extraterrestrial life forms that might exist on other worlds. When Benson finds out her home might be destroyed she calls her stepson who is in the care of a neighbor (his father died in Iraq) to warn them. ***

Ferried to ground zero they discover that the object isn’t an asteroid and didn’t vaporize Manhattan but slowly landed in Central Park. When Klaatu emerges from his ship (which in an imaginative touch is a giant globe filled with swirling clouds and color) he’s shot by a trigger happy member of the military. The injured Klaatu immediately has his guardian the 20 foot tall GORT at his side who disables the weapons and stops before injuring anyone when Klaatu issues the command “Gort, Klaatu verada nikto”. Klaatu is whisked away to a military facility for treatment where he reveals he’s there to speak to all of humanity on an important subject that will impact our entire race. When the Secretary of State (Kathy Bates) refuses to let him meet with the U.N., he escapes and becomes the subject of a manhunt. Klaatu reveals his mission to Helen who must convince him to abort it. ***

My original assessment of the film was pretty harsh and, in retrospect, unfair. Derrickson’s film may fail to become a classic like the original film but he still manages to make an engaging, entertaining film. The central flaws in the film are in the casting and some underwritten roles; Keanu Reeves does a credible job initially but as the film progresses it’s clear that he’s not up to the role and can’t do the subtle job of unpeeling the layers of Klaatu’s “soul”. Likewise the casting of Jaden Smith is a miscalculation as he just doesn’t have the experience yet as an actor to play his role with the conviction—he’s “acting” and in children that’s a bad thing because it can often come across as shrill and artificial which is how it appears here. The role as written by Scarpa would have been tough for most kids to play. Hamm is wasted in a role where he must explain everything and isn’t given dramatic “meat” in his role. I would have found it much more interesting to see him his role as a combination of scientist and the Hugh Marlowe role in the original movie—someone who elects to betray Klaatu once he finds out his true mission. It seems to me that Kathy Bates role as the Secretary of State consumed some of Hamm’s role when she was cast to give her role more meat. Image & Sound: Unfortunately, I’m a bit delayed in posting this because Fox in its infinite cheapness, couldn’t “afford” to sent me a review copy. I had to wait for a Blu-ray to become available for purchase to review the film. El Cheapo-Fox Home Video does a very good job with the transfer. The Blu-ray looks extremely good with nice detail although a few scenes are surprisingly a bit soft. Since presentation is an important element of Blu-ray for Fox NOT to provide a good looking review copy is idiotic and par for the course for the studio. Colors look quite good nicely reproducing the color scheme of the film. We also have grain to just remind us that this WAS shot on film and it adds nicely to the presentation. The Blu-ray isn't over processed like many of Fox's recent catalog titles. Shot in Super 35 mm and using a digital interpositive (2K), the film looks impressive (which isn't a surprise given that it was designed with both regular theaters and IMAX in mind). ***

Audio sounds terrific with a multi-layered, finely detailed presentation particularly during the stunning opening and conclusion of the film. The mix and editing nicely compliment the visuals with a clear presentation that still favors dialog during important dramatic sequences. ---

Special Features:

The first special feature to note is the inclusion of the original "The Day the Earth Stood Still" in Blu-ray as part of this three disc set. The original film looks particularly although stock footage and segues look a bit soft the film looks impressive in its Blu-ray presentation. The only complaint I have about the film in Blu-ray is something that I missed as I rushed to review it before when it was released to coincide with the theatrical remake; the 5.1 mix compliments Bernard Herrmann's brilliant score but Fox chose to ALTER the soundtrack by adding brand new sound effects that sound extremely close to many of the original ones. In this case where a full restoration of the film's soundtrack elements, I find this a questionable decision. Few restored films have used brand new Foley tracks the only one that I know of that was both questionable but also worthwhile was for Hitchcock's "Vertigo" where Robert A. Harris did so at the insistence of Universal particularly when he realized that a 5.1 mix of the soundtrack would demonstrate huge gaps in the soundtrack. Even Harris questioned what he was doing but given the fact that the original elements for the soundtrack no longer existed AND that it was being adapted for a 5.1 Surround Sound Mix he recognized that it was important to make the filml sound as good as possible. The same could be said for "The Day the Earth Stood Still" BUT I found these new Foley effects a bit more intrusive and obvious by comparison. Still, it does sound GOOD and most fans probably won't notice the difference. None of the special features from the original film are included. This is just the film itself. ***

“Klaatu’s Artifacts” is a PIP feature that allows you to watch material related to the production of the film including raw footage, sketches, etc. There’s also a lame game that allows you to make your own Gort. They should have saved the money and actually sent out review copies. ***

The best special feature here for my money (aside from the original film)is on disc one. Writer David Scarpa gives us the history of the remake including a discussion of scenes/approaches abandoned in early drafts of the film. He also makes some interesting observations about what works well in the remake and what doesn't. Unfortunately, director Derrickson is MIA although it would have been interesting to hear some of his thoughts outside of the behind-the-scenes featurette on his approach to the material. I would love to have heard, for example, a comparison contrast between early drafts (and with Blu-ray it would have been very easy to present a pip with early drafts of the script/storyboards and the scene itself as well as Derrickson or Scarpa's comments) and the finished product. Although Scarpa does a very good job here it would have helped to have someone to moderate his commentary track to prevent the stretches of silence we do hear (which can be quite extensive). ***

We also get 3 deleted scenes which, if this is all there is, suggests that Derrickson didn't cut the film in post-production after screening it or at the insistence of Fox but may have cut/changed the script material prior to shooting the film. Either that or any additional footage never received the post-production polish that they deserved. None of the deleted scenes are essential and the decision to remove them was right on the mark--they add nothing to the film and would have damaged the pacing of the film even more. ***

"Re-Imagining The Day" is a short documentary on the process of tackling such a daunting subject and of a film highly regarded by many science fiction and film fans. The original film may seem slow compared to current movies--in fact its pacing reminds me more of a foreign film with a pensive almost mediatative approach to the material by director Robert Wise. In our over stimulated Attention Deficit culture it might seem a bit slow but it's rewards are many. Writer Paul Sammon (who wrote an exhaustive book The Making of Blade Runner) extols the virtues of the original classic film while others including director Derrickson discusses his version of the same story. It's an interesting documentary that provides some insight into the thought process behind Derrickson's approach but doesn't explain the shortcomings of the film very well (except in a hilarious scene where Derrickson praises Reeves ability as an actor. I like Reeves and within his limitations as a leading man he can be quite good with the right material. "The Day the Earth Stood Still" really isn't that material. There are at least a half dozen other actors I can think of that would have done a better job than Reeves). ***

We also get a featurette on the "Green" production of the film. Although it isn't something you're likely to watch more than once (if that), it is admirable what the producers did with this film and trying to remain as “green” as possible in keeping with the theme of the film. ***

The most interesting featurette to me was "Unleashing Gort". The subtle overhaul for the massive robot from the first film where Lock Martin portrayed Gort in a suit to using CGI instead is discussed and the decision NOT to go with a guy in a suit. The alterations to the "look" of Gort and his presentation in the film do make sense within the context of the film itself. We get an explanation for his sparkly look that ties into what we discover about him later in the film. We get to see the variety designs from a creature that doesn’t look remotely human to one that looks almost too human. ***

"Watching the Skies" is the final featurette included. If I'm not mistaken this was the promotional film that Fox had originally planned to air when the film was to premiere. Don’t know what happened to prevent it from airing. ***

The second disc is a digital copy of the film and it comes with all editions of the Blu-ray (you can purchase the two films together without the digital copy of the film). I still find these to be some of the most meaningless "extras" that a studio can provide. I suppose they do it to prevent piracy and control how many people watch the film on their computers. I have bad news for Fox--it won't work.

Final Words:

Although it isn’t a classic on the scale of the original 1951 movie, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” strikes a nice balance between blockbuster and thoughtful science fiction film. Derrickson and screenwriter Scarpa do some interesting things with the scenario but between the casting and some underwritten roles don’t quite save the Earth this time but they do make the end-of-the world entertaining.


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