Friday, December 12, 2008

The Day The Earth Stood Still (Movie Review)

Last night, for the first time, I sat down and watched "The Day The Earth Stood Still" and today I went out to see the remake.

The film has a suitable dark tone and while Keanu Reeves doesn't offer anything terribly new, his performance style fit the role of alien visitor "Klaatu" well enough. Jennifer Connelly plays a microbiologist recruited by the US military to help them understand what they are dealing with in Klaatu.

Times have certainly changed and this movie is a constant reminder. The re-imagining of the deadly protector, Gort, draws heavily from the original film, but leaves behind the clunky "man in a suit" in favor of a streamlined massive CGI creature. Gort is a silent, powerful and eerie presence through most of the film and goes through an interesting change late in the film that is a departure from the original movie.

In general the special effects work well, although they are unremarkable. This is true of the movie as a whole. It works, it's just fairly forgettable.

The movie becomes much more interesting as a vehicle for conversation.


The original film acted as a warning to humanity, identifying us as people bent on violence and hatred toward each other. That message still rang true when I watched the original last night. But for some reason, producers of the remake saw fit to change the warning to reflect the current issue of global warming. While Klaatu gives lip service to humanity's violent, hateful nature, his primary concern is for "the earth", and not humanity. Earth is valuable in the galactic economy because it can sustain complex life forms, a very rare trait. And yet it is the "complex life forms" of earth that are left behind as the aliens collect samples of all living creatures in preparation to wipe out all life on the planet. Scorpions, snakes and squids all make it onto the "ark", but humans are left to die. What does that say about the worth of a human life?

The message of the film is a little mixed. There is certainly a "green" agenda, but the film also points out our tendency to hurt each other. Thankfully, the film is not as heavy-handed in its tree-hugging as "The Happening", but I think the film would have served itself better by focusing on one theme from humanity's evil: Selfishness. It is our self-serving "learn to love yourself before you can love others" mentality that leads us into lack of love for others and a carelessness toward our resources. But if you have to choose one or the other, I think our hatred of each other is a more timeless theme than our poor management of fossil fuels.

Either way, this movie says something that Hollywood doesn't often say. It says we are bad. People are naturally bad, not good. Diplomacy and responsibility are last resorts, both in our politics and personal relationships. This movie presents the concept of final judgment in sci-fi packaging that atheism and pop-spirituality will be more receptive to. (Because aliens coming to judge the world makes much more sense than God doing it, right?)

There is a beautiful metaphor midway through the film. Klaatu talks to another alien that has been undercover on earth for 70 years. This alien says that humanity is hopeless. That Klaatu shouldn't even bother talking to them because they won't listen. And yet, this alien says that he wants to stay and die with them when they are destroyed. He says that despite the fact that we will destroy each other, their is another side to us. And that he loves us.

My wife told me that tears came to her eyes when she watched that scene. Intentional or not, it was a depiction of God's love for us. Left to our own devices, we are bent on serving ourselves and destroying others. We have our good moments, but in the end we will fail. Despite all of this, God made us to resemble him in some way. We are beautiful to him and he loves us. He was even willing to die as one of us.

Although this movie is no artistic masterpiece, it offers plenty worth talking about.

Rated PG-13 for some sci-fi disaster images and violence

Quality: 8.0/10

Relevance: 9.0/10

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