Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)


Review by Boniface

Last night I viewed The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008), which is a remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic of the same name. The film tells the tale of the mysterious alien visitor Klaatu and his robotic companion, Gort, who come to earth in order to "save" the planet. from impending doom.

The first thing to note is that this film is directed by Scott Derrickson, the same director who made "The Exorcism of Emily Rose." I heard him speaking about this film on the Al Kresta show once, and he is certainly a committed Christian, albeit Protestant. He graduated from an conservative evangelical seminary in California and even got his degree in theological studies. If you notice certain Christian themes in the film, it is probably more than coincidence.

This film was relatively good, as sci-fi films go. It was about the end of the world, but it had a substantial depth of plot, more than just a lot of explosions and apocalyptic imagery (though there was some of that at the end). The special effects were just enough to draw you into the sci-fi element of the movie but no so overbearing that it detracted from the storyline. The robotic Gort creature is especially great.

The film has one of my favorite actors and one of my least favorite: the main character is played by Jennifer Connelley, whom I have loved ever since I was a kid and saw her in Labyrinth with David Bowie. The alien visitor, Klaatu, is played by Keanu Reeves, whom normally I would not like, but in this film he seems suited to the role. Keanu Reeves is known as being able to make only one facial expression, and as he plays a pretty emotionless alien in this film, he fits the role perfectly.

Jaden Smith is also in the film as the irritating, sassy step-son of the main character. His character gets irritating really quick, but towards the end you start to see thematically why he was included. There is a tension in the film between the step-son and his mom which is resolved at the end of the film in the context of proving that humans are capable of true, selfless love. A predictable, banal comparison, but one that works out alright.

The plot moves fast but not a breakneck speed; it's definitely not one of those annoying movies where the protagonists are constantly running everywhere. Basically, Klaatu (Reeves) shows up mysteriously with the vague mission of "saving earth." The humans naturally assume he is referring to saving earth from some catastrophe or attack. The mission of Klaatu is gradually revealed through his interactions with different characters as the movie progresses, but I have to say that once the full plot is revealed it becomes sort of anti-climactic.

We notice early on that Klaatu says he has come to "save the earth", but makes no mention of humanity. The viewer is left for most of the film wondering what he is saving the earth from, and towards the end we are distraught to find that the film buys into the current, earth-idolatry mantra that humans are like parasites on the earth. Klaatu has in fact not come to save humanity, but has come to save "the earth" from humanity. He preaches to Connelley about how destructive humans are and how they are wrecking the earth - he says, "If the earth dies, you die. But if you die, the earth survives." He then initiates a process that is meant to cleanse the earth of all traces of human habitation in the form of some kind of nano-bot self-replicating mites that devour everything.

This was very disappointing. I had hoped the director would have came up with something better than this. It is just the same earth-centered philosophy that sees the planet as having some kind of ultimate purpose of teleology apart from mankind, which is portrayed as incidental or even parasitical to earth's existence. This is the worst part about the film.

It also doesn't make sense thematically either. Klaatu tells the humans that they need to "change", but he never says how or why. Presumably, the fact that they are ruining the planet means it is something environmental. But then later, when he witnesses the main character, Connelley, exhibiting true love for her step-son, Klaatu suddenly changes his mind and decides not to destroy humanity afterall. He is moved by human love, but apparently misses the fact that there is no logical relation between a mother loving her child and human impact on the environment. He then goes to stop the whole process he has initiated and staves off the end of the world just as the great cloud of nano-mites is about to devour everything. This also doesn't make sense, because throughout the film he keeps telliing everybody that "there is nothing you can do" and saying that the end is inevitable. Later we see that in fact it is completely within his power, and that all he has to do to stave off the destruction of the world is put his hand out and touch a glowing sphere and the whole process of planetary destruction suddenly ceases without explanation. Huh?

Well, as long as you don't think too hard about these things or expect a whole lot of internal consistency, I have to say that this movie is pretty good. It's really cool seeing Gort trash all the military equipment and equally amusing to see all the interesting powers Klaatu apparently has, most relating to the ability to manipulate machinery and electricity. There are religious symbols scattered throughout the movie: people praying the Our Father, shots of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York with the spaceship behind it, scientists praying the Rosary (which was cool) and even file footage of Benedict XVI. Despite the fact that the director, Derrickson, is a Protestant, judging from this film and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, we must deduce that he seems to have a fetish for Catholic spirituality.

There is no cussing and nothing sensual whatsoever, and best of all, the director resisted the urge to throw a love story into the mix. I suppose we could say that the relationship between the protagonist and her step-son is kind of a love story, but it is commendable that the director did not feel the need to include a romantic subplot in a story about aliens and the end of the world, where it would have been completely out of place.

In the end, I thought this was a pretty good movie. Plot kept me interested, characters were believable (despite the annoying presence of Jaden Smith), nothing objectionable, cool special effects (but not too many of them) and alright theme if you can ignore the environmentalist agenda that is subtley woven throughout. I give it two out of three papal tiaras.