The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951 & 2008) – Review

19 Feb

Science fiction, like all the other genres of film, can be done in one of two ways. On one side you there’s movies like Barbarella that have no real thought provoking qualities of any kind and serve as mindless entertainment. On the other hand, there’s films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, which challenges the viewers to expand their minds and discuss the themes and implications that are artfully shown. In 1951, the movie world got one of the most revered and thoughtful science fiction films ever made up until that point. That movie is Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, a movie which came with a heavy and relevant message. As with many classics, it also got the remake treatment in 2008, but my response to that may surprise some people.

Let’s start this review by looking at the classic original film.

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The world is sent into a frenzy when a mysterious UFO lands in Washington D.C. early one morning. The occupants of the ship are a humanoid alien named Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and his 8 foot tall robotic sentry, Gort (Lock Martin). Klaatu is here on a very important mission, and he makes it clear that he must speak to all the leaders of the world at once instead of talking to them one at a time out of fear that it would be seen as him taking a particular side. This idea is completely ruled out which forces him to escape his government overseers and hide out in a small boarding house. There he meets a woman named Helen (Patricia Neal) and her highly curious son, Bobby (Billy Gray), who soon become the only people he can trust. Now on the run from the government, Klaatu teams up with the world renowned scientist, Prof. Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe) to organize a meeting with all of the great thinkers, scientists, and philosophers from around the world to hear Klaatu’s message that could save the planet from catastrophe.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is widely regarded as one of the best science fiction films ever made, and with good reason. This film came out at a very complicated time in history, and it showed the follies of the situation with a lot more intelligence than its counterparts. The 1950s was loaded with alien invasion movies due to the fear that surrounded the Red Scare, but The Day the Earth Stood Still gives us a hero that looks at the situation calmly and tries to offer a solution. All this intelligent writing is made complete by a strong cast of characters and some really cool moments of science fiction. I can’t help but smile whenever I hear the words “Klaatu barada nikto” or thinking about the destruction Gort could unleash upon the world if need be. Let’s not forget Bernard Hermann’s eerie, theremin heavy score that sets the mood just right. This film perfectly encapsulates everything that is to be loved about this era of science fiction.

One minor complaint here has to do with the final message of the movie. The whole story clearly has a message of peace, open-mindedness, and acceptance, but Klaatu’s wording can get a little…should I say…awkward? His big speech at the end mentions how the planets he represents agreed to peace and are protected by a race of robots like Gort that act as law enforcement. The thing is that he kind of describes something resembling a police state. I don’t really think this is what the writers had in mind, but it does come off as kind of weird and never fails to pull me out of the movie.

Awkward wording aside, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a timeless tale of caution that should be praised for its clear, outspoken message to the masses of the time. The special effects, performances, and music are all exactly what this movie needs and it has earned the right to be called one of the best science fiction films ever made and to also have become an iconic landmark in film history. It’s intelligent and exciting and I find it hard to imagine there can be people that exist that don’t like this movie.

Final Grade: A-

Like it or not, the cinematic world was given the weight of a remake of a movie that has become a classic. While there was some judgement before going into it, I tried to keep as open a mind as possible.

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Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) is a professor of astrobiology who also has the challenge of single handedly raising her stepson, Jacob (Jaden Smith). Out of the blue, government agents arrive at her house and whisks her away to a secret facility that’s been tracking a UFO. The UFO finally lands in Manhattan, and a single figure emerges that identifies himself as Klaatu (Keanu Reeves). Klaatu is not alone however, as he also has with him a 28 foot tall robot sentry that is soon named GORT. After it’s clear the United States government will not listen to Klaatu’s warnings, Dr. Benson helps him flee from the government with the hopes that he will finish his mission to save the earth. What remains unclear, however, is if Klaatu’s mission will save the earth, but at the expense of the entire human race.

Like I said, I went into this movie with an open mind even after hearing mostly negative reviews from most of the critics I follow on the internet. I wanted to make my own assessment of the movie, and I think I have. The remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, despite some serious issues with the plot and characters, isn’t that bad of a movie. It isn’t that great of a movie, but I can’t just say I hate the movie solely because it’s a remake no one really asked for of a classic science fiction film. Keanu Reeves as Klaatu was a really good choice, especially for the direction that the filmmakers wanted to take the character in. It’s also a very good looking movie, which wasn’t too surprising since the director, Scott Derrickson, was responsible for one of the best looking movies of 2016, Doctor Strange. It may not have the best special effects, but there’s something really appealing about them, especially the first time we see GORT. His monstrous size combined with the ship behind him made it a very memorable scene.

So while I do like the visuals in this movie, I will say that this is much more style than it is substance, which is kind of disappointing considering how thought provoking the original was. The remake, however, is much more of a CGI spectacle and the story sometimes gets lost amongst it all, especially towards the end. I also really couldn’t stand Jaden Smith’s character in this movie. Like not even a little bit. He does nothing but slow the action down and really only succeeds at getting the characters in more trouble than they should probably be in. If he wasn’t in this movie, it would be all the better for it. Something sort of nit pickey is also the fact that they changed the conflict in the movie to something that doesn’t involve violence, which is still relevant for the time, but I liked the idea that these aliens were coming because of our misuse of weapons and our constant states of war.

With all these problems, I still had a pretty good time with The Day the Earth Stood Still. It certainly is a movie that has been forgotten over the years since its release, and I’m not going to forcefully remind people that it exists and they should see it, but it also really doesn’t deserve the hate that it gets. It’s a movie that works best as a time waster for a boring afternoon, and that’s it. That’s more than can be said about a lot of other remakes.

Final Grade: C+

In conclusion, the original The Day the Earth Stood Still is a landmark science fiction film that deserves to be respected. It’s one of the best there is and that’s that. The remake, however, doesn’t hit the right spots like the original did, but it’s still a pretty fun and disposable movie. If you’re going to just watch one, make it the original.

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