The Day the Earth Stood Still

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

I haven’t seen the 1951 version by the time I wrote this review so I’m not going to compare the 2008 version to that one. That said, it’s interesting to me how Keanu Reeves can be so good at playing robotic characters (like Neo in “The Matrix” franchise) but so bad at playing real people that are supposed to be emotionally crippled or conflicted (as Alex Wyler in “The Lake House” and Detective Tom Ludlow in “Street Kings”). I thought he was effective here as Klaatu, a humanoid whose role is to determine whether the human species need to be obliterated in order to save the Earth. He was creepy, convincingly powerful, and had a definite sense of purpose. He claims that if the Earth dies, everything else will perish along with it but if all humans die, the Earth and everything that it nurtures will go on living. I thought that was a decent reasoning so I went along with it. What’s unforgivable, however, is its lack of human emotional core. That’s when Jennifer Connely and her step-son (Jaden Smith) come in. Their backstory isn’t enough to convince me why Reeves should spare the human race. In the end, I wanted to see an apocalypse because humans are portrayed as violent people (the United States army) and incapable of standing up to authority, such as when Kathy Bates (as the president’s Secretary of Defense) followed what the president wanted her to do despite her best instincts. There are only four things I liked about the movie which saved it from utter failure: the somewhat brilliant visual effects, Gort as Klaatu’s automaton companion, the idea of humans’ nature regarding a precipice and change, and John Cleese as the Nobel prize-winning professor who we meet in the middle of the picture. The rest is junk, which is a shame because the movie is started off very well. The director, Scott Derrickson, could’ve made a superior film that is more character-driven and less visually impressive. After all, the story is about humanity and why we should be saved from extinction. Since the director lost that core (or maybe he didn’t find it in the first place), the final product is a mess. This picture can be an enjoyable Netflix rental on an uneventful Friday night but do not go rushing into the cinema to see it.

3 replies »

  1. I don’t plan on seeing this movie (the plot sounds really stupid,and Keanu Reeves makes me want to stay away anyway) but an interesting review nonetheless.

    I would hope that this is one of those ‘robotic’ roles in which Keanu could get away with simply being his bland and wooden self, but even then he often fails. Even though I think the first Matrix installment was pretty good, and Keanu no doubt has the looks and the confidence to be Neo, I nearly gave up on it about 20 minutes in, when Neo gets his first call from Morpheus, and he has to go out on the roof (or wherever it was). Reeves definitely doesn’t have it in him to play terrified or stressed out in any convincing way. Instead of doing some actual action, he simply clenches his teeth and mumbles uinspired. I was so annoyed by that.

    But still, we shouldn’t forget that he has done decent work in the past, when he can be more cordial, like ‘My Own Private Idaho’ or ‘Thumbsucker’.

  2. Hahaha, now that I thought about it some more… the movie is STILL dumb. Maybe I was too easy on it because I really liked Gort. He was bad-ass.

    Oh yeah! Keanu CAN do a good job portraying very human characters (like in the films you mentioned). I forgot that he’s capable because I’ve seen him in wayyy too movies where he’s just so… robotic and boring.

    At first I thought Will Smith was kinda robotic as well. But then in the past four or five movies he had (NOT “Hancock’), he’s been in different kinds of roles so I changed my mind. Reeves needs to take a cue from Smith, I think.

  3. I actually haven’t seen him in neither ‘I Am Legend’ nor ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’, but I think he was surprisingly good in Michael Mann’s ‘Ali’, which is a really underrated biopic. In this way he reminds me somewhat of Robin Williams, in that generally they can be pretty awful (‘Hitch’, ‘I, Robot’/’Jumanji’, ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’, ‘Flubber’ etc.), but when they’re offered a chance to transcend the comedic shtick (‘Ali’/’Dead Poets Society, ‘Good Will Hunting’) they can be quite impressive.

    I’m not (at all) suggesting that Keanu suddenly try to reinvent himself as a ‘substance’ guy (’cause frankly, I don’t think he’s capable of that, either), but it would be nice if he turned down just some of those self-important world-savior roles, if you know what I mean.

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