Day the Earth Stood Still, The (US - BD RA)
Gabe could hardly stand still for this day. It was a very unremarkable day indeed...
An unidentified flying object is rocketing through space, and it’s heading directly for New York City. The government quickly assembles a team of scientists to best asses the problem, but by the time they get everyone in one place the object is less than a day away. Just when it looks like the end is nigh the UFO slows it’s decent and ‘lands’ in Central Park. The object is a blue and green sphere, and from out of it appears an alien figure (Keanu Reeves), who is quickly shot by frightened law enforcement. The authorities save the alien’s life, but attempt to imprison him. Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) takes the initiative, and helps the alien escape, but is she ready to deal with his ultimate plan for our planet?
A film remake is not an inherently bad thing, and despite a recent over-abundance, science fiction and horror film remakes have been successful for generations. Prime examples start with Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1978, which re-appropriated the original film’s Cold War era metaphors and applied them to the self-centred late ‘70s (in a similar fashion to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, which was released the same year). This led into a trilogy of B-movie remakes in the ‘80s. John Carpenter’s The Thing took a second glance at the original 1951 film’s source short story, and updated the special effects. David Cronenberg’s The Fly took a campy classic and created an emotionally affecting, real life horror story with roots in the new plague of AIDS. In contrast Chuck Russell’s The Blob embraced the original film’s schlocky charms, and amped them in a modern fashion. More recent remakes, like Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, and Alexander Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes, have reassigned post-September 11th subtext to their horrors.
This brings us to Scott Derrickson’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, which will surely go down as one of the most forgettable and unnecessary remakes of the already over-remade ‘00s. Derrickson and his screenwriter David Scarpa aren’t idiots, and take lessons from all the previously successful remakes. The new film removes most of the original film’s Cold War subtext and replaces it with the more modern concerns of Global Warming. At the same time, Derrickson and Scarpa remain almost slavishly devoted to the source plot. These two facts don’t charmingly complement each other as gracefully as intended. The problem is compounded because the original film is one of the cornerstones of the ‘50s era, and is specifically responsible for many of the tropes and clichés. This sticks the new film somewhere barren between inspired retooling, and good natured retelling. Derrickson and Scarpa have a grasp of what could make the story special for modern times, but drastically under-write the whole thing, and leave a lot of logic casualties along the road to the climax. Yes, the original film is pretty lean, but this fact just takes us back to questions of why. Why remake the film if you’re not going to commit to rewriting it?
The light weight plotting makes for a pretty breezy viewing experience (minus credits the film’s only just over ninety minutes), and Derrickson does have it in him to produce some nice visuals, but there’s nothing particularly memorable about the entire film. The very modern element of nano-technology does open the door for some nightmarish apocalyptic visions (visions which don’t push the violence beyond the friendlier PG-13 rating), but boringly borrow elements from two of Fox Studio’s other films: the fantastic X-Men 2, and the disappointing X-Men 3 (the sound of the GORT bugs is almost identical to the sound of Professor X’s mental attacks, while the way they decommission things looks almost identical to Jean Grey’s telekinetic attacks.) These nightmare visions also seem to exist more for the stereotypical landmark destruction that has gone along with the alien invasion genre since the beginning, rather than any story driven sense of dread. The digital effects are spectacular, but titillate in an almost pornographic fashion, which is fine, but not in-keeping with the more serious aspirations of either the original film or (supposedly) this remake.
There is one scene that promises a potentially wondrous exploration of alien encounters, something that could stand up as a modern 2001 or Close Encounters of the Third Kind. As the alien sphere lands in Central Park the entire screen is enveloped in lights and smoke, and with wonder and awe Jennifer Connelly approaches the whitest light. Though the original film actually features a greater shock when Klatuu is shot by a frightened soldier, digital technology allows for a much more frightening and spectacular follow up to the shot, as a truly giant GORT, not some poor sap in a silver suit, emerges and bears down on Connelly. The camera angles are immediate, the effect itself is eerily otherworldly while still paying direct homage to the original effect, and the overall composition is both scary and somewhat beautiful. The rest of the film never lives up to this single scene.
The disappointment extends to the cast, which is way above average, and really should’ve been used to a better effect. Keanu is actually pretty perfect for the role, but it’s a role we’ve all seen him play about a million times. Jennifer Connelly is given a few decent emotive moments, but one suspects she knows she’s making entirely average entertainment based on her rather detached performance. John Hamm— who’s quite prominent in the trailers, but is on screen for maybe a total of ten minutes—and Kathy Bates are totally wasted as the broadest possible character types found in the genre, the super-empathic scientist, and the rough around the edges government type that will learn her lesson by film’s end. This leaves us with Jaden Smith, who has nothing on freak child actors like Dakota Fanning, does a half decent job with a pretty detestable character, but can’t overcome the basic problems of being a bratty kid. The only cast member that appears to be having any fun is Robert Knepper, who brings some comedic pulp to his unnamed army colonel, and the only cast member that steps above and beyond the call is John Cleese, who eschews comedy for genuine pathos, even if he’s only in the film for about five minutes.
Derrickson and cinematographer David Tattersall go for a very clean look with the film, which I found somewhat boring, but they do something interesting with the colours which I’m not sure I’ve seen before in a big budget movie. The whole film is not tinted aqua or turquoise, but blue and green, somehow at the same time. It’s hard to describe, but is clear in some lighting schemes which actually separates the two shades into separate beams. It’s cool, and genuinely otherworldly, and in 1080p it’s easy to absorb. The more natural colours, like flesh tones and grey buildings, are also well represented, but never what I’d call ‘natural’.
There’s a lot of diffused light flowing from sometimes entirely unknown sources, and the diffusion doesn’t lead to the crispest hi-def representation, but the lack of noise and compression is definitively beyond standard definition. There are no major errors to report throughout the transfer. Even the occasional doubling effect on some edges (usually flesh tones) appears to have more to do with the lighting schemes than digital compression. The image clarity does give away a few effects including a surprisingly flat New York City backdrop, and a few pre-special effects set ups that are clearly digitally recreated. The big effects moments—i.e. nano-GORT’s dissections—are pretty spectacular in their detail, and because they’re in slow motion we have plenty of time to appreciate them.
Klatuu and GORT often seem to attack with sound, including the aforementioned X-Men 2 effect, and other forms of digital dissonance. There are also less aggressive surround sound attacks like troubled crowds, booming space sphere landings, and fighting army equipment. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is just about perfect, cleanly and clearly balancing these overwhelming effects, even handed dialogue, and equally boisterous and subtle musical score. Composer Tyler Bates, who is quickly becoming one of the premier composers in modern filmmaking, despite his low budget roots, mostly goes through the motions this time, but does manage a few enigmatic cues. The biggest missed opportunity is a total lack of Theremin, the strange electronic instrument that made its movie debut in the original film.
Extras begin with a few different Bonus View options including storyboards, pre-viz, and production art, which is also available through the ‘Klatuu’s Unseen Artifacts’ menu, and under the various still galleries. Fox’s interactive mode doesn’t include the same on-screen controls as Universal’s, which I think is a slight detriment. The interactive extras are completed by a ‘Build Your Own GORT’ option, which isn’t a whole lot of fun, honestly.
The PiP extras are augmented with a solo commentary track featuring screenwriter David Scarpa, who makes the huge mistake of describing a much more interesting opening sequence right off the bat. It sets the tone for the rest of his track. Scarpa only really hints at the film’s production problems, but I gathered that there were issues with the studio making late changes, budget limitations, and the writers’ strike, though the writer also seems proud of some of the film’s weaker elements as well. On top of this he delves into his intended subtext, which is all relatively interesting, but I believe entirely missed in the actual film. Scarpa is sort of scene specific in his approach, leading to huge expanses of silence, but he speaks with real focus that is appreciated.
Next are three deleted/extended scenes. These scenes are presented in HD video, with what appears to be finished set audio, but only Dolby Surround sound. Despite the film’s seemingly overcut status, low run time, and weak plot, there are less than two minutes of deletions here.
‘Re-Imagining the Day’ is a decent, thirty-minute making-of featurette that doesn’t fulfil to many EPK stereotypes, even if the tone is relatively fluffy. Things start with a brief discussion about the original film, and why it was ripe for remaking, then move on to pre-production, casting, production, changing things up when Keanu came onto the project, the colour pallet, some of the practical effects and stunts, and digital effects. Comparisons between the two movies are consistent, and serviceable. I hate to break it to the filmmakers, but the ‘little-grey-man’ as a spacesuit was already done in Fire in the Sky. They seem so proud of themselves.
‘Unleashing GORT’ is a look at the design and production of Klatuu’s robotic protector. The character went through a lot of changes, some abstract, some over-detailed, some organic, some bipedal, others positively Gigerian. Generally speaking this brief, fourteen-minute featurette is more interesting than the broader making-of featurette that precedes it. The design illustrations can be found in the PiP extras, and some are used for the ‘Build Your Own GORT’ extra.
‘Watching the Skies: In Search of Extraterrestrial Life’ looks at the realistic and scientific possibilities of life on other planets. It’s a Cliff’s Notes version of a pretty complex issue (it only runs about twenty-three minutes), but it covers the important facts of the case, and explains things in layman’s, but not idiotic terms. Still, pretty informative, pretty cool, and more intriguing than anything presented in the real film. When can we get a new realistic and intelligent extraterrestrial movie, and why don’t they make any money?
‘The Day the Earth was Green’ is an excuse for Fox Studios to heartily pat themselves on the back for putting money into a movie with a green message, and producing it using green means. I am impressed, and there is a hope that other studios will follow some of these zero carbon leads, but I’m just sceptical enough to think it’s a marketing move.
The first disc extras come to an end with three image galleries (Concept Art, Storyboards, and Production Photos), the original theatrical trailer, and trailers for other Fox releases.
The coolest extra is the original film, presented on a 1080p Blu-ray disc. This is identical to the already released Blu-ray, minus all those cool extras, so fans will still want to keep their original discs. See my review of that disc here. Also included is a third disc with a digital copy of the new film.
The Day the Earth Stood Still isn’t a failure because it’s a remake, it’s a failure because it doesn’t make good choices. The look is intriguing, and early scenes promise something special, but there’s zero pay off. The Blu-ray is bereft of any real audio or visual problems, as expected, and has a pretty nice selection of extras, including a hi-def copy of the original film.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Release Date: 7th April 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS 5.1 French, DTS 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, and Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, Bonus View Options, Klaatu's Unseen Artifacts, Build Your Own GORT, Deleted Scenes, Re-Imagining the Day, Unleashing GORT, Watching the Skies, The Day the Earth Was Green, Galleries, Digital Copy, Original 1951 Movie
Easter Egg: No
Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jaden Smith, John Cleese
Genre: Action and Sci-Fi
Length: 104 minutes
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