Day The Earth Stood Still, The (UK - DVD R2)
Leigh is next up to review this film on DVD. Coming soon; his mum's review
Based upon the 1951 sci-fi classic of the same name, this version follows scientist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) as she is whisked away from her everyday life with her stepson (Jayden Smith) to consult the government on a top-secret incident, involving the arrival of a massive glowing sphere in Central Park, inhabited by a towering robot-like protector labelled Gort and an alien ambassador named Klaatu (Keanu Reeves), who takes up human form to communicate with the people of Earth and pass on a stern warning. When Klaatu is hampered by steadfast officials, he takes flight with Benson and her son as the fate of the world gradually becomes clear.
Of all the foolishly brave remakes of bona fide classics, this has to be rather near the top of the list. While the original is never going to be on my top ten list of movies, I have total respect for the piece. It's the kind of film they just don't make any more; highly allegorical, intelligent and talky, but never outstaying it's welcome, it comes from the age of grown up sci-fi before Star Wars boiled the genre down to outer space action movies. It would seem that these days, studios consider sci-fi too big budget to risk anything more than an action take on the genre, and the ones that attempt to take the more cerebral route are generally lower budget independent features that simply lack the funds to realise the vision required, such as Cypher. To be fair, The Day The Earth Stood Still is, for an hour at least, a rarity; it's a massively budgeted piece that's willing to take time telling a story that is a little more interesting than the usual ID4 route of the aliens blowing up international landmarks and the humans persevering by a little of the triumph of the spirit, and a lot of military firepower.
Despite the shift from the then relevant Cold War allegory of the original to the hot topic of the breakdown of the environment in this version, the film still makes an acceptable fist of raising issues in an adult yet fantastical setting. Unfortunately, with a massive budget at stake, the filmmakers appear to assume the audience won't accept a think piece as their Saturday night popcorn fodder, and reduce the film to that old chestnut, the chase movie. It's a shame that such an intriguing setup should have a dumbed down denouement, especially one that makes both the film's tone and pace at odds in the third act. It didn't work for The Invasion a year or so ago, and it still doesn't work here and now. All it does is alienate both audiences; those who enjoyed the intelligent storytelling will be left wondering where their film went, and those dazzled by the spectacular trailers will feel cheated by what the film was being sold as.
While the execution may be bungled, the nuts and bolts of the film are sturdy. Bearing in mind that he only has an Emily Rose and a Hellraiser: Inferno under his belt, Director Scott Derrickson helms with a steady hand in his first big studio feature. Although he does seem a little out of his horror comfort zone, especially in action sequences, the direction is confident and solid. The cast is also perfectly fine. Despite the fact that many people like to say that Klattu suits Keanu Reeves in response to his 'wooden' skills (conveniently forgetting he was pretty bloody good in The Gift and Devil's Advocate), the actor actually portrays the stoic creature well. Jennifer Connelly could read the telephone book if she liked, as long as I could get my eye candy, but I have to admit that just like her other big budget endeavours such as Hulk and Dark City, the actress seems lost amongst the expansive sets and bulging craft services. Robert Knepper is as great as ever, and John Cleese is perfectly fine in a rare dramatic role, although you get the feeling he's only in here because Billy Connoly was too busy on X Files to appear. Jayden Smith isn't too irritating as Connelly's stepson, but he's no Haley Joel Osmet, that's for sure.
The look of the film is really rather slick, with a cinematic palette that's buffed to a high sheen, and the special effects and CGI work look top drawer. Star of the show is Gort (but then again, hasn't he always been), and although he's a little larger and far more sleek than we remember him, his computer generated form strikes the appropriate figure, never looking less than convincing. Production values are strong, and the whole project really does deliver a high quality product. But that's the problem; while the film largely sticks to the tone and ethos of the classy, thoughtful original, the filmmakers lose their nerve in this time of release dates and opening weekend box office receipts, and water the film down to action sequences and CGI in an attempt to turn it into the next big blockbuster, and just another product.
In this day and age of Blu-Ray, it's easy to pick apart standard definition transfers, but I have to say, this is a fine transfer. The steely cinematography is very well represented, with lots of solid greens, blues and greys. When we do get bursts of colour within the palette, such as Gort's eyepiece beam, the effect is quietly startling. The image in general is buffed to a high sheen, with strong black levels, no noticeable artefacts, and little grain that isn't an intentional cinematography choice. The only problem I had with the image was that everything looks so polished, artificial elements such as CGI tanks tend to stand out from the practical scenery a little.
Gone are the days when standard definition blockbusters such as this were lavished with such luxuries as a DTS track, so we have to make do with the standard 5.1 Dolby Digital option. It's a sturdy track, serving both the quieter dialogue scenes and the more fantastical elements equally well. Dialogue is nice and clear, the score is never too intrusive, and surrounds usage is lively with elements such as the omnipresent thudding of military helicopters and so on. The track kicks things up a notch when Gort finally takes action, with serious activity giving all speakers something nice and loud to do, and the sub gets a decent workout. It's not the most mind-blowing track out there, but it's gets the job done.
The features that appear on this version are rather truncated when stacked up against the Blu-Ray version, but there's still some decent content on offer. First up is a rather dry audio commentary with screenwriter David Scarpa, who skirts over the filmmaking process in order to moan about what had to be excised from his previous drafts. Deleted scenes are up next, and are really only snippets from scenes that still remain in the movie, and are of little interest. ‘Re-Imagining ‘The Day’’ is a decent enough making of, with a lot of focus on SFX and casting, and a lot of love for the original movie. It's a decent feature, running at around thirty minutes, but it's one of those features that appear to be candid, but are still simply puff pieces. ‘Unleashing Gort’ focuses upon the design of the character, with a hell of a lot of time and money spent on reinventing the wheel before deciding to scrap everything and stay with a sixty year old design that was perfectly fine in the first place. ‘Watching the Skies: In Search of Extraterrestrial Life’ is the typical feature that tries to connect the movie concepts on real life scientific fact. ‘The Day the Earth was ‘Green’ looks at Fox's attempts to make their productions using totally green methods, much like the last X-Files movie. Last up is the ever pointless photo gallery, featuring images you can find by simply watching the movie and occasionally pressing pause.
While it's all well and good describing how disappointing this film is to fans of the original film, the uninitiated may glean a little more reward from this version. If you are indeed walking into the film blind, there is enough to warrant a cursory view. It's more studied and intelligent than the majority of similar films at this level of budget, and while it's not exactly a white knuckle ride for the first hour or so, it does deliver some slick entertainment, even if the film is unbalanced in pace. Not a patch on the original, but still worth a glance just as long as you don't expect the action movie that the trailers promised.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release.
Review by Leigh Riding
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 20th April 2009
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English HoH, Norwegian
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Re-Imagining ‘The Day’, Unleashing Gort, Watching the Skies: In Search of Extraterrestrial Life, The Day the Earth was ‘Green’, Audio Commentary with Screenwriter David Scarpa, Still Galleries
Easter Egg: No
Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Robert Knepper, Kathy Bates, Jayden Smith, John Cleese
Length: 103 minutes