June 30th, 2009 by Mike Fulton

One question kept occurring to me as I watched this movie. Why does the movie industry, for the most part, think the military is run by a bunch of complete morons? There are a few exceptions, but for the most part when the military shows up in a movie, you can count on them to do whatever thing is the worst possible choice for the situation.

And coming along for the ride on that scenario is the idea that government offcials are either idiots or evil villains. At best, government officials in movies might be portrayed as amoral rather than evil, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of movies I’ve seen in recent years where someone in the government was actually the good guy.

Frankly, I don’t even want to debate the question of how realistic this portrayal may or may not be. To be honest that’s besides the point. Ultimately, the real problem is that this portrayal is getting boring. It long since stopped being merely predictable; the average movie viewer can easily foresee what’s coming whenever a government official or military leader has to decide some plot point in a movie.

In The Day The Earth Stood Still, the alien Klatuu comes to Earth to decide the fate of humanity. Is anybody watching surprised when the military shoots him 5 seconds after he walks off the boat, empty-handed at that?

The basic idea in this movie is that Klatuu has come to Earth to figure out if humans are going to manage to get their act together before they completely ruin the Earth’s ecosphere. If he doesn’t think the planet will survive humanity’s influence, he’s going to remove them from the equation. Apparently there’s some sort of galactic civilization out there and they’ve banded together to ensure that viable habitable planets, which are quite rare, are not destroyed by emerging native civilizations.

I saw the original movie when I was a kid, but the main thing that has stuck with me over the years is the scene near the beginning where the spaceship has just landed and Gort has come out to defend Klatuu. So I don’t really remember if that version had anything like the same basic idea behind the alien’s motivations.

Jennifer Connelly plays a scientist who is called in by the government when they figure out that an alien spaceship is headed their way. The government is assembling a team of experts in various fields to help analyze and deal with the situation. Consequentally, she’s at the front of the line when the ship lands and Klatuu emerges.

Klatuu is played by Keanu Reeves. Basically, he’s an alien whose conciousness has been moved into a more-or-less human body for the purpose of interacting with the people of Earth. Presumably the idea here is to avoid freaking out the natives, as if the arrival of a huge spaceship in New York’s Central Park hasn’t already taken care of that.

From the moment that Klatuu emerges from his ship, the movie largely takes a turn towards the cliché. First we have the spooked soldier who fires his gun at an unarmed Klatuu after he comes out of his ship, despite orders to the contrary. Then we have the government representative who actually thinks he’s the one driving this situation and who wants to take the alien into custody and treat him like they’d just caught Osama Bin Ladin. And of course, we have the spunky scientist who rescues the alien, followed by the big chase where the government tries to get them back. That’s about as much information as you’d get from watching a trailer or TV commercial, so I’ll stop before giving anything away.

Maybe these characters and plot conventions weren’t so cliché when the first version of this movie came out in the 50’s, but they certainly are now, and modern special effects and a more environmentally aware outlook doesn’t change that. And neither does adding in references to modern scientific concepts like nanotechnology. However, if your primary concern about a movie is originality, you’re probably not watching a remake in the first place.

I do like the basic idea that the galactics’ basic motivation is to preserve the earth’s habitat, but I have some questions. First, if habitable planets are that rare, then new sentient species must be even that much more rare. Why don’t the galatics have the same protective nature towards them? If the galactics are going to protect the planet from the humans, why can’t they protect the humans from themselves as part of the bargain? Certainly they must realize that the fact of their arrival on Earth would have a huge change on the overall psychology of humanity.

Some of the other reviews I’ve seen about this movie have said things like Jennifer Connolly was “unbelievable” as a super-scientist, but since the movie never really depicts her doing anything especially scientific, I can only imagine that what they really meant was “she’s way to pretty to be smart” and all I have to say about that is, shame on you other reviewer! She does a fine job. Better, really, than the movie really deserves.

Likewise, other reviews I’ve seen have refererred to Keanu Reeves’ performance as “shallow” or “wooden” and I even saw one that said “lacks humanity”. Well the obvious response to that last is “duh”. Supposedly, after being brought into the project, Reeves worked with the screenwriters to improve the character. I don’t know if that helped, or hurt, or if they just didn’t take it far enough. I think the real issue is the character moreso than the actor. Ultimately, the character of Klatuu is like a building or fire inspector. He’s been sent here to do an inspection and write up a report. Some interaction with the natives is inevitable, but mainly he just wants to look around and take his notes without people bugging him.

The video and audio quality of the Blu-Ray disc was excellent and I would imagine that the DVD version is as good as you could expect. The “special features” were somewhat lacking, unfortunately, and if anything only served to illustrate that the filmmakers took themselves way too seriously. One of my favorite “special features” for any movie is the gag reel, a collection of outtakes and flubbed scenes. It seems like you only see these for comedic movies, and that’s just wrong. I think it should be a standard “special” feature for any movie.

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