Friday, January 02, 2009

Film Review - The Day The Earth Stood Still

I went with my son to our local Cineworld to see “The day the Earth stood still”, a science fiction film. I haven't been to the flicks for a while, and every now and again I need another fix. I love science fiction which, for me, is the ultimate form of escapism. I like escapism; I need to escape every now and again to keep my insanity, so for me a good sci-fi is the ideal cinematic fix. We decided to go to the 9.15 showing on a Tuesday night for two reasons. The first is Tuesdays are cheaper, and as I break out into a cold sweat and descend into an out of control panic attack at the thought of spending any more money than I have to, Tuesday was the only logical choice. The second is that there would be fewer people in the cinema at that time, and less likelihood of my fix being degraded by distraction from others.

There were certainly fewer people in the cinema. We were viewing the film on “Screen 10”. When we walked in fifteen minutes before the performance was due to start, there was no one there. We wondered if we had made a mistake and checked our tickets. Yes, we were in the right screen at the right time, so no mistake there. The other reason we considered was that everyone else knew something about this film that we did not. I came to the obvious conclusion that the real reason was that this film, by its very nature, appealed to a higher level of intellect than the other dross showing at the same time which probably appealed more to the Sun reading lowest common denominator. As my son and I are of such a great intellectual stature that we can only really operate in a very limited social circle, it was clear that fellow followers of this film genre would be in the minority. Finally, three other couples entered the auditorium, all obviously on an intellectual par to ourselves. We settled down to the evening's offering.

Those who are of the same generation as me will probably know that The Day the Earth Stood Still is actually a remake of the original which hit the silver screen in 1951. While I have seen the original, I thought after seeing its latest incarnation it might be good to remind myself about the original by You-Tubing the original promotional trailer to try and get a bit of a comparison. First off, the alien space craft in the original is a flying saucer, pretty much what you would expect of the Zeitgeist of 1951. In the new version, its an impressive CGI (computer generated imagery) ethereal swirling sphere which looks a bit like a planet with beams of light shining from it. Also, the robot which stands guard over the spacecraft is truly gigantic and quite menacing.

Although the plot is basically the same, the detail of the story has been changed to bring it more in line with the early 21st century instead of the mid 20th. Also, its in colour – I bet you never saw that one coming! There is a message in the plot, in that mankind, in the opinion and intention of the aliens, should be destroyed because we are destroying the environment. The earth must be saved from us before we destroy the earth. In the 1951 version, we must be destroyed before we destroy the world with nuclear weapons. Given that the universe is so vast and the number of planets in the universe must be in the trillions it did make me wonder why any aliens would be particularly interested in our inconsequential speck of dust, unless of course, life is such a rare thing in the universe it must be conserved wherever possible and no matter how many light years you have to travel to do it. Maybe the aliens saw themselves as cosmic park rangers? Also, even if we do cause massive global warming with all the predicted disasters forecast by the gloomiest of soothsayers, one of the first casualties of such a catastrophe will be man himself. The fact is that we cannot destroy the planet, and the planet will always have the last laugh, so the aliens needn't worry. I did feel that the basic plot, though classic, is nonetheless rather corny, and needed a bit more of an air of mystery about it to keep you thinking and wondering after leaving the cinema. It needed a bit of what the film “2001: A Space Odyssey” had. I will never forget leaving the cinema after my first of 15 viewings of that film and listening to people muttering under their breaths that they never understood what it was all about. Of course, being an intellectual genius myself, and instantly tuned into that kind of thing, I understood it perfectly. I'm so modest.

The alien messenger , Klaatu, in the latest version is played by Keanu Reeves. He suites the part well, and acts in a semi-robotic inscrutable sort of way. He has all the charisma and personality of a castrated timber wolf who has lost all its timbers. Even so, there is something a little dark and unsettling about him, and its never really clear whether he is a threat or friend. Jennifer Connelly plays the part of Helen Benson, an astrobiologist who helps Klaatu along the path to his final decision deciding the fate of mankind. She comes across as extremely feisty and provides pleasant eye candy for the men, as no doubt, Reeves does for the women. Of course, Benson the astrobiologist has the easiest job in the world on a normal day, given that we haven't yet discovered any life anywhere else in the universe other than on our home world, so she doesn't exactly have much to study. I suppose her job is something akin to a flight safety officer on a kamikaze squadron.

Moving swiftly on, the CGI effects are quite outstanding and well translated to the screen. Some of the most impressive gee wizz moments come near the end of the film where millions of self replicating nano-bots are swarming around devouring like a manic plague of locusts everything human and of human origin. It put me a little in mind of another sci-fi movie based on a Stephen King story called “The Langoliers” where everything gets swallowed up by razor toothed globular creatures in a mysterious setting left adrift outside the normal flow of time, although in this story the devourers are swallowing up earth, time and space itself, but then, it is another story.

Finally, if you like science fiction films, and particularly if you like to do original and remake comparisons, go and see this film. It has enough action and visually impressive effects to keep you entertained and the attention grabbed. While the plot is a little lame, there is also the out of character intrigue of John Cleese playing the part of a mathematician. I found it difficult to take this seriously. While he was in deep intellectual discussion with Klaatu, there was a part of me smiling within which expected him at any moment to either exhibit a demonstration of silly walks, or start mentioning the war.

1 comment:

Andy Mule said...

I do so despise newspaper snobery! The Sun, The Times, The Sport, it's all the same bollocks, some are just more pretentious than others.