The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008) – Review

Trying to justify Will Smith’s kid presence in the film requires more force than Klaatu can provide

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Director: Scott Derrickson
Notable Cast:
Jennifer Connelly, Keanu Reeves, Jaden Smith, John Cleese

Will Smith is perhaps the more steady actors in Hollywood right now, providing consistently good films with box office receipts consistently over $200 million. So it’s kind of infuriating that his untalented and annoying child is being shoved into films he doesn’t belong in, with the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still being another in a line of films he ruins with his lack of screen presence or acting ability. It may seem harsh to criticize a child so severely, but without Jaden Smith TDTESS is a film significantly above mediocre. With him, it barely passes as acceptable entertainment.

A remake of the science fiction classic, the plot is still pretty much the same. Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) is an alien who comes down with a giant robot Gort to try and save the human race from itself. That and the gigantic sphere that’s ready to exterminate the human race in order to save the planet. Prevented from addressing the United Nations after landing in New York’s Central Park, as well as shot by an overzealous soldier, Klaatu ends up on the run with a beautiful scientist (Jennifer Connelly) and her stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith), as she has to try and convince him to save humanity.

And for the first 70 minutes or so the film is running in high mode, a true homage to the original while reinventing certain aspects for a modern audience. More of an environmental opus than one against nuclear weapons as the original was, the film is a terse thriller for most of its initial two acts that works on any number of levels. It follows much of the same style as last year’s I am Legend in that it’s more about the buildup then anything else. This is a film that spends so much time building up to the big reveal that, when said reveal comes, the film doesn’t capitalize on it. There’s so many different ways the film could go that the one it does take is an easy, perfunctory one.

The problems begin when Jacob becomes more integral to the film and it’s clear he only is in the film to completely derail the plot. Jacob’s whole existence in the film revolves around doing things kids only do in the movies to worsen the situation Klaatu is in. He adds absolutely nothing except for his perfunctory function at the end, but by that point it’s too late. The damage is done and any solid direction the film could’ve gone in is ruined by his sheer presence in the film.

It’s an interesting exercise and a gutsy portrayal by Reeves. Known for being more methodical than most actors to the point where he’s stiff or wooden, it works wonders for the character as Klaatu’s body is human but he isn’t. Klaatu’s mannerisms are creepy but subtle enough to not be extremely obvious. It’s in his cadence of speaking and his gestures where Reeves brings out a lot; it’s hard to follow in what’s acknowledged to be a classic character and he doesn’t disappoint. It’s not a brilliant performance by any means but it’s good for a genre picture.

The film’s effects are marvelous as everything just looks wonderful. The spheres that comprise most of the effects look other worldly, as opposed to CGI generated, and it lends itself to the atmosphere. Everything about the film, including Scott Derrickson’s direction, is tight and well done. Even a well placed cameo by John Cleese in a serious role seems to push the film in a certain direction, and it’s at that point where the film collapses under its own weight. Derrickson, with only The Exorcism of Emily Rose to his credit, is hampered by a script that doesn’t lead him where he needs to go and he’s not experienced enough to be able to elevate the material.

The Day the Earth Stood Still looks much better than the film it was remade from but that’s about the only difference between the two. It’s an admirable attempt, and for the first 70 minutes it looks as if it could’ve been the next classic in the genre, but ultimately descends into mediocrity and stays there.


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