I knew immediately that the 2008 remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still would be a bad movie, and probably really bad. Nevertheless, it ended up in my Netflix queue and we just recently watched it on DVD, even though I knew there would be nothing (other than greed) to justify its existence, and that in the end it would be just another pathetic Hollywood abomination. And sadly, I was right.
However — I have to say that there was one point in the movie when I glimpsed an opportunity for the filmmakers to do something a little different (better, even) than the classic 1951 film, something that would have been creative and possibly even profound, something that could have completely redeemed all the nauseatingly preachy left-wing political correctness that drenched the rest of the film. For approximately one minute I was tantalized by the possibility, while I waited to see which direction they would go… Would they zig left or zag to the right? Alas, we’re dealing with Hollywood, so naturally they zigged WAY left. I suppose what follows here might be considered spoilers, but trust me — if you haven’t already seen this film, you’re really not missing much.
OK, so Keanu/Klaatu is an alien representative who shows up to save the earth. The catch, of course, is that he’s not here to save humans; he’s here to save the earth from humans because we’re all so horrible. After arriving in NYC’s Central Park, Keanu/Klaatu asks to speak to the world’s leaders at the United Nations. Unfortunately, someone cast Kathy Bates as the Worst Secretary of Defense Ever, and he never manages to get any higher up the chain of command. Granted, poor Keanu/Klaatu was rather rudely welcomed with a bullet and first impressions can be hard to shake, but one cannot help but marvel that after a meager 15 to 20 minute effort at talking with the world’s leaders, he throws in the towel and decides that every last human on the planet must be exterminated. I mean, I’m just saying — maybe the aliens need to rethink their approach to first contact situations, so as to not totally freak out the fledgling species they visit. Hello?
Anyway, there’s a pivotal scene where Keanu/Klaatu explains all this to Jennifer Connelly, and as she realizes that he intends to kill every human being on the planet, she pleads with him. “You could stop this,” she says. “Couldn’t you? If you wanted to…” Keanu/Klaatu replies “I tried to reason with you. I tried to speak to your leaders.” (Snort.) And with a beautiful tone in her voice that suggests she might be rolling her eyes if the situation wasn’t so desperate, she says “Oh, those aren’t our leaders. If you want to speak to one of our leaders, I’ll take you to one.” I do love that particular line. Those aren’t our leaders… Those are just politicians.
Here’s where the film could have redeemed itself for all the stupid trigger-happy warmongering military stereotypes that it wallowed in up to this point. Who will Jennifer Connelly present to Keanu/Klaatu as a true leader and representative of the human race? As I already indicated, Hollywood zigged when it should have zagged — she takes him to a scientist. True, he seems like a pretty nice guy, and he’s obviously brilliant. So what’s the problem?
The problem is that what Keanu/Klaatu wants is for humans to be kinder, gentler, and generally more responsible beings. He wants people to be morally better. (“Be excellent to each other,” he might have said.) But what do scientists have to say about morality? When do scientists ever make moral claims — and if they did, on what authority would they base their claim? They simply can’t, at least not on the basis of scientific inquiry. This is precisely why the Nazi scientists were able to do all the horrible things they did. It was all in the name of Science, and moral values were simply not involved.
On the other hand, if Jennifer Connelly had taken Keanu/Klaatu to visit a moral teacher of some kind — say a pastor, or a priest, or a rabbi, or a mullah, or a swami, or perhaps a small representative group of various different religious leaders — now that would have really impressed me. Then the film could have had a much more profound message. Hollywood could still have sold one of its favorite lies (that all religious faiths are basically the same and have equal value), but at least the point would have been made that we cannot make a religion out of Science and look to it for moral guidance. Science simply has nothing to offer in this regard. They had a perfect opening to break some new ground with this remake, and they squandered it. Instead, she took him to a scientist… (Sigh.)
The more I think about this movie, the more it annoys me. Some advanced and supposedly morally superior aliens come to Earth, they do a terrible job introducing themselves, and then quickly decide on genocide of an entire sentient species. Not even the most ridiculous caricature of George W. Bush would bring war upon civilians so casually. At the end of the film, I think we are supposed to feel grateful that we’ve been spared. But frankly, I just feel pissed off. We don’t get a clear picture of how many humans are actually exterminated by the aliens, but judging from the size of the nano-insect cloud and the population density in the New York City area, it’s easy to imagine a number in the hundreds of thousands, or even millions.
I would actually kinda like to see a sequel. I’d call it The Day The Earth Took Action, and I’d like to see humanity rise up and exact a terrible vengeance upon all the alien races responsible for the invasion. That would be cool.
- I thought the polygraph scene was kinda fun.
- “Those aren’t our leaders.”
- There were a few decent special effects.
- Jennifer Connelly
- Lots of negative points for even trying to remake such a classic.
- She took him to a scientist.
- Ridiculously heavy-handed and preachy message
- Kathy Bates (not so much the actress I suppose, but the role)
Scale of 1 – 10: 2