The Day the Earth Stood Stupid

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 14, 2008

Futurama fans will undoubtedly be laughing right now based on the title alone!

Beware of possible spoilers below!  If you haven’t seen The Day the Earth Stood Still and don’t want to know any specifics of the story, turn away now!

I took my son to see The Day the Earth Stood Still (heretofore referred to as TDtESS because I’m lazy!) last night.  I had read a ton of reviews leading up to it and there seemed to be a mostly negative opinion of it out there.  Being a huge fan of the original I didn’t have much hope for it… I figured the FX would be cool, and maybe there’d be some decent action scenes, but beyond that, I didn’t expect much more.  I took my son precisely because I’m trying to get him more into sci-fi so that I have someone to watch movies with (my wife is decidedly NOT a sci-fi aficionado!)  and I figured maybe the action and intrigue here would work on him.

So, did it work?  And what did I think of the movie you ask?

Ok, you couldn’t care less about either because who the hell am I and why does my opinion matter anyway (hint: it doesn’t any more than yours!), but since you’re here you might as well get the answers anyway!

My son generally was interested the whole way through, which in and of itself is a win.  I wouldn’t say he loved it, and I wouldn’t say it sold him on sci-fi in general, but I think he liked it enough that I could get him to watch some other movies down the road.  So that’s good.  For me I mean!

But what did I think of the movie?  In a nutshell, I found it to be quite a bit better than I expected.

It wasn’t a great movie by any stretch, but I thought it was a good movie, and went JUST SLIGHTLY beyond a decent piece of entertainment.

I think comparing it to the original is probably unfair.  I’m not a fan of remakes/reimaginings under most circumstances, but sometimes you can get away with it.  This requires (a) that you respect the original source material and (b) do a good job so as to not insult the original.  I think TDtESS does pay respect to the original, and I think it generally does it proud.

What I’d like to do is address a few specific issues I saw people call out, because while this isn’t a perfect movie I do think that some of the criticisms I’ve seen didn’t ring true for me.

  • Keanu Reeves’ acting sucks.  In general, I wouldn’t disagree much, but I think in THIS movie he did a pretty good job.  No, I’d go further than that: I think he pretty much nailed it.  Now, to be clear, he was wooden, he was emotionless, true, but I think that’s precisely what the role called for.  And I’ll say this: you’ve probably seen the scene in the interrogation where he says “You should let me go”.  That’s a fantastic scene, and I think he did a tremendous job in it, and that line in particular.  If this movie does nothing else I think it truly gave as an iconic moment right there, an iconic line.
  • GORT.  I’ve seen some people complain that the “robot” wasn’t named GORT by Klaatu but is an acronym made up by own military to describe the thing.  I’m not sure why anyone would have a problem with this.  Do we go around naming our computers?  (some do of course, but most of us don’t).  Most of us don’t even name our cars.  GORT is a tool of Klaatu, why would he name it?  It’d be like naming your hammer!  Also, the acronym didn’t seem forced to me, as is frequently the case in fiction where acronyms are involved.  I think it made sense based on what GORT was.
  • “Klaatu Barada Nikto”.  Some people have claimed that the iconic line that disabled GORT was not in this movie.  First of all, it was: when Klaatu is shot early on, you can hear him utter the words, that’s why GORT ceases his attack at that point.  Granted, the mix wasn’t so hot in that part so it was easy to miss, but it’s there.
  • “Klaatu Barada Nikto” redux.  Some people have complained about the fact that Klaatu couldn’t halt GORT’s cleansing of the Earth by simply uttering the words again.  I think those people missed something: GORT the “robot” was constructed from millions (more likely billions) of nanotech insects (more on this in a bit).  When they were together in “robot” form, they essentially functioned as one entity.  As such, it’s not far-fetched to believe there is a kill-switch command Klaatu can use to disable it.  But, when it breaks down into its nano form and begins scouring the planet, there’s no longer a central control mechanism to disable.  They are at that point billions and billions of autonomous devices with a pre-programmed purpose, and they cannot be disabled except by extreme measures.  I don’t at all see this as a plot hole as some do, I, in fact, see it as a clever construct in the story that makes a lot of sense.
  • Some have said there was too much action in this version.  I disagree.  First of all, MOST of the movie is NOT action-based.  The action is interspersed and doesn’t generally last for more than 30 seconds or so at a time.  I think this worked out pretty well actually, and as evidence, I go back to the fact that my son was fairly well engaged in it the whole time, and he’s got a notoriously short attention span!
  • Some people have complained about an advanced alien species wiping out the human race to save the Earth.  I think those people missed a very important plot point: as Klaatu clearly states, there is a very limited number of planets in the cosmos that can support complex life.  That being the case, an advanced species being willing to wipe out a less advanced race to save a natural resource is completely reasonable (in terms of story, not in terms of morals)… in fact, you could make a good argument that it’s MORALLY reasonable too on the ground that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.  If nothing else, it’s a point that’s debatable.
  • Some people have complained about Klaatu’s super-powers.  I admit I think I would have preferred him being more human in this regard, but I can live with it based on one thing: Klaatu’s true form is never revealed, and I suspect it was some sort of energy being in nature.  If this is the case then being able to control electrical fields and transfer consciousness and that sort of thing isn’t entirely crazy.
    The Earth “standing still”.  Some people have complained about how in the original Klaatu disables technology as a demonstration of his capabilities while in the original its a consequence of his actions to save us.  I think some people just don’t like the reimagining of the
  • “Earth standing still” idea, but I for one liked it.  I think it was a natural outcome of what happened at the end of the movie, and it actually was a fairly profound moment (my son, on his own, commented on how this essentially throws the human race back into the stone age and how that might really affect how we do things, given the new knowledge of what’s out there we have at that point).
  • Some have complained that “a few boo-hoo moments from a mom and her child” changed Klaatu’s mind.  That’s just wrong.  Two things changed his mind.  First was the absolutely irrefutable logic that Dr. Barnhardt laid on him about a species only changing when their existence is threatened and comparing us to Klaatu’s own experience.  I think this probably got Klaatu 99% of the way convinced.  What pushed him over the edge is seeing the change in the kid.  At first, he just wanted to kill the alien, but by the end, he changed and was now essentially Klaatu’s friend.  This proved to him that our species had the capacity for change.  And in the end, what’s going to convince a representative of an advanced species more: a bunch of politicians telling him what he wants to hear, which is what he would have gotten at the U.N. as he requested speaking to, or a mother and child showing on a personal level what we might really be made of?  I suspect any sophisticated species, as Klaatu’s clearly must be, wouldn’t be fooled by politicians but would instead put more weight on their own personal interactions with a limited sampling of humans.

So ok, I’ve defended the movie a fair bit here, but I also said it’s not perfect.  Here are a few negatives:

  • The only truly glaring plot hole I noticed is the fact that GORT’s nanites can destroy an entire sports stadium in a few seconds but seem to take their sweet-ass time getting through some plain old glass!  Now, I understand this is a pacing issue the director had to do to generate the right sense of dread and tension in certain scenes, so I can suspend disbelief enough to not have it ruin things for me, but I definitely noticed it.
  • The nanites being bug-like.  I can’t think of a single good reason they would take the form of metallic grasshoppers other than someone in the FX department, or the director more likely, thought it was a good idea.  It wasn’t.  First of all, the FX weren’t all that great on them so they just looked fake and stupid.  Second, showing them as more miniature robot forms of some sort would have made more sense.  The only way I can see that being a good decision is if there’s an argument that they are actually biological in nature, but then I wouldn’t expect an EMP at the end to wipe them out (and we know it was an EMP because of what it did to all our technology).
  • The whole “undercover agent” side of things.  I mean, I can understand how it makes some sense… if this group of civilizations is out there are wants to learn about us and decide if we can change, living among us for a while is probably a good way to do that.  Still though, it really felt kind of silly to me.  I really would have preferred Klaatu coming down and simply saying “hey, we’ve been watching you, and we’ve made our decision”.
  • Klaatu getting shot.  Arguably this was a flaw in the original too, but it seems even more of a flaw here given how sensitive the new GORT seemed to be to violent intentions.  Even putting that aside, Klaatu was coming down to destroy us, and in his mind, we are a violent, primitive race, so why even come out and put yourself in a situation to be shot in the first place?  Again, I can suspend disbelief here because it serves the story, but it’s a hole in my mind still.
  • The FX were average in this movie.  There were some good scenes (the various objects melting from the nanobug cloud) and some weren’t so good (the close-ups of the nanobugs).  I also thought Gort was a mixed bag… a bit too CG for my tastes.  Also, the scenes were they try to incinerate it had some of the worst fire effects I’ve ever seen.  We’re so spoiled with great FX these days that you really notice the flaws now.  They weren’t distractingly bad (except maybe the nanobug close-ups), but they weren’t terribly memorable overall.
  • Jaden Smith.  I put him as a negative because he was annoying, but I think it’s important to point out that he wasn’t anywhere near as annoying as most child actors tend to be.  I think I’m more ambivalent about his performance than really thinking of it as a negative.  But, I’m pushed to call him a negative because the rumor is he’s going to be in the remake of The Karate Kid, which is a remake that DOES NOT need to be made, but even if it’s got to happen, he is SO not the right kid to play the part, so I’m pre-emptively deducting some points from him and counting that future work against him in this movie!

So, on balance, I actually liked this reimagining (which is what it is, NOT a remake).  The underlying premise of saving the planet from us I thought worked, I think Keanu Reeves worked, I think the additional action worked, and I don’t think there were any major plot holes (save maybe the magical power of simple glass to resist otherwise unstoppable nanotechnology!).  I think it did the original proud, I think it updated a classic in a way that made sense and that didn’t trample all over what came before.  This is one of the few times I think a remake, more precisely, a reimagining, was warranted, and one of the even fewer times where it actually worked.

That is, of course, just one man’s opinion 🙂

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