|The Day the Earth Stood Still|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Friday, 12 December 2008 09:00|
Director: Scott DerricksonIn 1951, we had a close encounter with an extra-terrestrial. He brought ill tidings, threatening to extinguish the human race if they continued their hostile ways. Evidently, someone thinks we weren’t listening, because 57 years later Scott Derrickson (who?) turns up with a computer and tells the story all over again. Naturally, things need a little tweaking – an update here, a pixel there – and the result is a much more modern piece.
2008. The world is still turning. Into the world comes Klaatu (Reeves), an alien with an important message for the world. Descending upon us in a swirling sphere of CGI, he is promptly shot in the chest. Good old human hospitality. Once under the knife, David Scarpa’s screenplay reveals its first gem, fleshing out a foreign creature with placental tissue and a genuinely disturbing birth sequence. But with this inspired introduction of the familiar unfamiliar (if you will) comes a back story: Klaatu’s appearance is apparently taken from an ice climber’s DNA, who happens to look like Neo from The Matrix. Because we were all wondering about that.
And so Cardboard Reeves tries to deliver his environmentally-friendly message. Can he speak to the world’s leaders? No. But he can talk to Secretary of State Regina Jackson (Bates). She speaks for the President, you know. Unsurprisingly, it turns out the President’s favourite word is interrogation. In one of the film’s coolest scenes, Klaatu undergoes a lie detector test (conducted by Mark Kermode and Jerry Springer’s love child): “Are you aware of an impending attack on the planet Earth?” “You should let me go” – it all sounds so awesome. They've even kept in Gort, the towering murderous robot.
But there’s trouble in paradise: with every tinker, Scarpa tailors himself a right mess. In the older version, when the planet actually did stand still, the philosophy was debated between Klaatu and a young boy. Here, we get the single mum and child – Dr Helen Benson (Connelly) and Jacob (Smith) – but none of the original’s intelligence. And no emotional engagement either (although it seems cruel to lampoon Hollywood's prize doped-up cut-out for lacking in expression); Robert Wise's classic had Klaatu assume the allegorical pseudonym Mr Carpenter. Now he just assumes the air of a plank.
Derickson takes us on a journey into Independence Day territory. Here is a strange place; G.O.R.T is now an acronym (and 50 times bigger), rubbish nano-robots can consume all materials and, perhaps most disturbingly, John Cleese is a Nobel Prize-winning professor. Can he convince Klaatu that the Earth needs saving? Or will someone manage to forge a meaningful bond with our sedated lead wardrobe? As the processors ramp up their power, toppling towns and exploding helicopters, the answer is left blowing in the wind. And it’s one that has a bit of a whiff to it. Keep your nose held for long enough, though, and you can at least enjoy the pretty orbs.
A message film without a clear message, this disaster movie just about avoids disaster. Just.