Let’s get this out of the way first and foremost: I’m rather fond of Keanu Reeves. Intellectually I realize that he is at best a limited actor, but I just like the guy. That’s probably got more than a little something to do with the fact that on one hot August night in 1999 I spent the better part of my time signing autographs for the guy at a festival show Dogstar headlined with a band I was working with. While I’m the first guy to admit that Reeves is by far a more attractive man than yours truly, the confusion was mostly due to less than attentive fans and one very impish guitar tech who insisted to every fan that yes, I was Keanu Reeves. It probably didn’t help that I was wearing all black, had close-cropped short black hair, and was easily visible backstage. So for anyone at the Kansas City River Market Dogstar show in August of 1999 still possessing an autograph signed ‘Avoid the clap! – Keanu‘ or ‘Be Cool, Stay in School! – Keanu‘ I’m terribly sorry. Also, you’re an idiot, because that day he was wearing ratty jeans, and orange t-shirt and had a 3-week beard.
So I caught the press screening for The Day the Earth Stood Still remake on Tuesday, and while I would very much love to be able to tell you unequivocally that it’s a terrible, terrible attempt at a modern update of a beloved sci-fi classic I’ll confess that it’s just a little sad and disappointing. More than anything I felt slightly embarrassed for the film, as it was much like watching the not-really-that-bright kid in class who tries REALLY hard but still can’t wrap his brain around the science concept, let alone explain it in a presentation in front of the class.
For those of you unaware of the 1951 original, the premise is that the Earth has been deemed a threat by other, more advanced civilizations in the galaxies and Klaatu has been sent to our planet (along with his bad-ass robot GORT) to play intergalactic bad cop and to render judgment on humanity’s seat at the existence table. The update maintains the same basic notion, though this time around Klaatu (Reeves) isn’t here to learn about us; just to wipe us out and save the planet’s valuable life forms. It’s up to micro-biologist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) to convince the spaceman to give us one more chance while the Secretary of State (Kathy Bates) gets her gun on trying to destroy Klaatu’s ship and trusty robot pal.
While anyone judging solely from the trailer might assume this film was wall-to-wall destructo-pr0n, in actuality it’s mostly all talk with a little bit of the old Hollywood flash-and-bang during the last act. Sadly, therein lay the problem with this film. Not that I wanted this movie to be yet another Roland Emmerich smack-the-Earth-up movie. Quite the opposite in fact, but director Scott Derrickson (who claims to have been eager to remake the original for 15 years) and screenwriter David Scarpa have released unto the world a ‘talkie’ sci-fi film in which not only is there an almost complete lack of actual, you know, TALK, but one in which it felt to me as if they were completely terrified of taking a stand on the central issues of the film.
In the original Klaatu is disgusted by the world leaders’ complete inability to decide upon a meeting site/day for a summit with the alien, while in this film the highest ranking government official we have any knowledge of is the Secretary of State Regina Jackson (Bates), leading me to believe that the filmmaker’s were unwilling to presuppose what the current political landscape might look like after Nov. 4th’s election. Is she a Republican or Democratic appointee? Who the fuck knows? There’s a single phone call with the President, but we only hear Jackson’s side of the conversation. Thin evidence for my hypothesis to be sure, but it doesn’t stop there.
We’re told a few times during the film that mankind is killing the planet (one of a handful of life-supporting planets in the cosmos, and therefore worthy of the intergalactic community’s attention), yet we’re never told HOW. Global warming? Climate change? Pollution? Over population? Hell, for all we’re told it could be that the current season of Charm School is destroying Mother Earth. (Which, now that I think about it, might not be too far off the mark…)
To make matters worst, we’re teased with a far, far too brief scene (seriously: we’re talking 4 minutes TOPS) where Klaatu has a discussion with a Nobel laureate scientist (Cleese) on why it’s important to let our species have the chance to change ourselves, but what could have been a wonderful examination of the human condition is shoved to the side in order to give Will Smith’s kid a little more screen time. The phrase ‘philosophical cocktease’ comes to mind…
That’s not to say I hated the film. In a weird way, I enjoyed large parts of the film, which I have unofficially retitled ‘John Carpenter’s Starman is Back and He is PISSED’, but that’s mostly because I’m a little gay for Keanu Reeves, who found a role that perfectly utilizes his ‘blank robot’ method and throws on some extra ‘I’m a bit of a bad-ass’ authority gravy atop it. (His delivery is pretty much ‘You have no idea how stupid you prehistoric meat bags are to me’ from beginning to end) Between that, the fact that the fate of the human race is decided over the course of a discussion at a McDonald’s with DAVID freaking LO PAN, and some subtly clever nods to Sci-Fi’s heavy hitters there are some moments in which I could see the germ of a fascinating movie tragically smothered by callous and inept hands holding the deadly feather-stuffed pillow of marketability.
As it stands the most I was able to take away from the film was that Derrickson and/or Scarpa were wholly afraid to piss off conservatives who might reflexively reject any notion that we’re harming the planet with our industrial practices, or that perhaps they felt the idea that mankind needs to re-examine ourselves might somehow offend the crowd that was there to see Giants stadium get eaten by nanobot dissemblers.
Let me put it this way: I walked out of that movie wishing Katie Holmes was in it. Okay, so not Katie Holmes herself, but rather her character from Wonder Boys who admonishes Micheal Douglas’ creatively frustrated Grady Tripp for not having the balls to make an actual CHOICE when it comes to telling a story. Or as I like to put it: Pick a side and start swinging, sissypants.
The Day the Earth Stood Still – Releasing nationwide on Friday, December 12th.
Rating: 2 Stars. Or 5 stars. Or maybe 1. Or none. Fuck it. Here’s a video of a rocket exploding: