The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) Review

Tarnishing classic films for a quick buck happens too often in Hollywood. It’s hard for remakes to succeed, but if they didn’t, studios wouldn’t keep pumping them out. If there’s one film that could possibly have the power to change the industry’s feelings towards them, it’s the utter debacle The Day the Earth Stood Still. How such a simple story could go so far astray is baffling, not to mention infuriating and frustrating. This is, quite simply, a terrible movie.

Back in 1951, nuclear war was the threat facing humanity. As such, an alien race came down to Earth to warn us of our destructive power. Since nuclear war isn’t the threat it once was, this 2008 version changes it to the environment. To its credit, it’s logical writing that makes the premise strong. Few planets support life, and the aliens won’t let us destroy this one. However, it’s funny to think nuclear annihilation isn’t frightening enough for a modern audience.

Aside from the change in premise, everything else goes wrong. Gort, the previously seven-foot tall robot giant (who served as a guard to alien spokesperson Klaatu in the original) has been unnecessarily altered into 40+ foot behemoth. The change in size never comes into play. The special effects are awful. In fact, Gort’s re-imagining and initial appearance could be the worst effect in 2008 for a major production. Even more disgraceful, the three words sci-fi fans loved and were so iconic to the original are barely uttered in this remake, hardly audible under a mess of music of action.

Keanu Reeves is actually perfect for the role of Klaatu. He’s wooden and emotionless; in other words, tailor made for a non-human alien life form. Being the centerpiece for this invasion, his feelings towards humans change as the film moves on. Yet, there’s little explanation for why he feels this way, or how the supposed previous alien research wouldn’t have revealed the same details prior to this. On top of that, why wait until humanity has nearly destroyed itself to come down and warn us? Why not plop down some time in 1975 and say that 2008 is going to be a bad year if you don’t watch yourself?

Scripting delivers one of the most clichéd, underdeveloped military generals in years. All that’s missing is a cigar. The president is conveniently missing, written out of the script as “being in hiding.” Kathy Bates is fine as the go-between, but the lack of a face on the most critical role in the film is jarring (especially since Klaatu asks for leaders). A relationship between Klaatu and a young boy takes a path that is both clichéd and illogical.

As with any alien invasion sci-fi movie, destruction is expected. Even though it was such a minor part of the original, here it attempts to take on a larger scale. Despite the invasion happening across the globe, only the US ever appears to be in danger, and of course it ends up being New York taking the brunt of the assault. It’s always New York. One would suspect that aside from the miserable special effects, Gort’s increased size was purely to make him a threat. Instead, he’s more of a transport for another unexplained life form (or robot form, or liquid, or who knows what else) which doesn’t make him a particularly decent body guard either. It’s ridiculous, much like the plot holes.

Product placements are blatant here, and it’s not worth the effort to give those companies the extra advertising space here. Needless to say, logos appear prominently on screen, with the camera in place to emphasize the brands for as long as possible. It’s distracting. One in particular for a restaurant is not only absurd, it adds unintentional humor to the script. In fact, the writing leads to a number of moments that take away from the intended seriousness of the message.

That message, one of which people have heard far too many times before, is that we can change. It’s stated so many times, it begins feeling like an onslaught of Barak Obama ads on TV stating “Yes we can.” It ruins the films one mildly thoughtful attempt at being intelligent as John Cleese (in only one scene) debates the destruction of the planet, and why it needs to be done. He simply states the same tired line of “we can change” without adding other discourse.

Action is sparse. An aerial assault against Gort seems slapped together purely to put some action on screen. It’s dull and lifeless, and Gort’s power is already clear. Why are more explosions even necessary? As far as the Earth standing still, it’s not so much a day, but if the abrupt ending is any indication, it’s going to be some time before things start moving again.

The original The Day the Earth Stood Still is a classic. This 2008 adaptation is not, and never will be, The Day the Earth Stood Still. Fans will probably rename this into something else, just like Godzilla fans renamed the 1998 version GINO (Godzilla in Name Only). This is an awful remake, and an even worse film.

Movie ★☆☆☆☆ 

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Fox offers up a clean, sharp AVC encode for the film, which is knocked down by multiple problems. Color is excellent with the exception of flesh tones. The neon-like skin on the actors bleeds out fine detail with an overpowering orange glow. There’s an odd blue tint to faces at times as well, particularly affecting Keanu Reeves. It’s not a lighting glow since it happens under a variety of conditions.

Black levels either lead to black crush, gray scale, or excellent shadow delineation. They’re all over the place. A few noisy shots, particularly those with smoke, are forgivable given their brief screen time. Detail can be excellent, superb even, when it wants to. Certain close-ups appear like top-tier material, but then crumble in the next edit. Grain is left intact, and there is no artificial enhancement. Sadly, the transfer as a whole is not consistent enough to be considered anything above average.

Video ★★★☆☆ 

Things pick up with a dominating DTS-HD track, one that delivers room-shaking bass on a regular basis. Everything reverberates as it should, from helicopter engines, Gort’s footsteps, explosions, and the destruction late in the film. Surrounds excel at tracking the on-screen action. The opening sequence in a snowstorm is wonderful, lighting up the sound field with wind effects in all channels, and LFE action to accentuate the storms power. The disc also handles subtlety well, such as an active forest of animal calls and rain.

Audio ★★★★★ 

David Scarpa provides a commentary track, an odd choice to go solo since this is only his second screenplay after the underrated Last Castle back in 2001. You can listen while one of two different pop-up features appear on-screen, delivering either storyboards or pre-vis. Build Your Own Gort lets the user select from a variety of concepts for the giant robot and piece it together for no real purpose. In the end, his design was a classic case of someone over thinking a simple problem.

Three deleted scenes run less than two minutes, and aren’t even worth the time. A string of featurettes follow, all of them painting the film in a positive light (of course). Re-imagining The Day the Earth Stood Still is the best and longest piece, comparing the two versions and delivering a making-of style piece. Unleashing Gort is 13 minutes of discussing designs for the robot, many of which are just awful and unnecessary.

Watching the Skies looks at the possibility of extraterrestrial life, although there are certainly more in-depth pieces on the same subject replaying on National Geographic or Discovery as this is being written. Day the Earth Was Green is a shameless promotional piece for the studio on how the shoot was friendly to the planet and how much they care (does anyone believe that?). Some still galleries and trailers round off the disc. Retail copies of the movie also come with the original film on a separate disc.

Extras ★★★☆☆ 

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