The Red Right Hand

12.12.08 is...

Scott Derrickson

Keanu Reeves
Jennifer Connelly
Jaden Smith
Kathy Bates

I love the 1951 original The Day The Earth Stood Still; it's brilliant, harrowing and extremely entertaining. The very first sample on my debut podcast (despite being a bit of a floundering mess) was a quote from that very film. The story and lessons are as relevant now as they were then. Surely now is the perfect time for a remake or reimagining (even a belated real-time sequel would work) of this modern classic? Unfortunately, no, it's not; because despite our world being in the ideal condition for external intervention (there's no hidden message there, I just think people are dumb and need a giant slap from someone or something other than ourselves - mankind is too easy to ignore) to shake people out of apathy, some people simply do not know how such a meeting would unfold.

The plot is incredibly simple and since the fifties has been recycled over and over by countless others; alien comes down from space, nobody knows what he/she/it wants, we kill it, it comes back to life, innocent human befriends it, it comes to destroy the world then changes its mind 'cause mankind's so bloody wonderful... but is it too late? Playing the alien, Klaatu, we have the emotionless pole that is Keanu Reeves - believe it or not, that's supposed to be a compliment. His interpretation of the visitor is cold and heartless, in stark contrast to Michael Rennie's calculating yet charming portrayal. Many people are going to fault this but to be honest, it makes a sort of perfect sense to me. Then we have Jennifer Connelly playing Helen Benson, who is no longer a simple secretary but an astrobiological scientist... or something like that. And finally Jaden Smith who doesn't think the visitor is a cooky but all-round-swell guy (like his 1951 counterpart) but a threat that needs to be exterminated quickly. The various changes to the characters and their back stories failed to irritate me and, again, made sense for this reimagining; however, the plot did not. The original film had one clear message, a parental force came down and did it's best to say, "If you two don't stop fighting I'll take your toys away... and then I'll kill you all." It was rife with religious symbolism - that worked perfectly - but ended on such a haunting note.

This version does not focus on mankind's hatred for one another but their viral nature and the destruction being caused to the planet they reside on. In one poignant scene, Klaatu explains to the Secretary Of Defence [Bates] that there are only a few planets in the universe that can house life and how it would be irresponsible to allow one species to destroy such a rarity - hence the outside intervention. Due to the budgetary constraints of the original, we never really see the full destructive force of the destructive robot, named GORT, we were just made aware that he would wreck up the place if Klaatu was not returned. Derrickson's GORT not only has a purpose but a very specific function: No.1 Protect Klaatu No.2 Break down into millions of tiny little insect-like nanobots that replicate on consuming... well, anything really. Again, with the religious symbolism at work, the whole thing looks like a plague of locusts sweeping across the globe. It was all neatly done but then there was the ending.

**Spoilers here, kiddies**
What is it about the final act that big-fx screenwriters just can't get their heads around? Why do we have so much build up, such powerful potential only to have it dashed away by a piss-poor ending!? Recent examples such as War Of The Worlds and I Am Legend suffered in the exact same way; decent visual effects, superb set-up, annoying ending. It's not fair! The 1951 version ended with Benson stopping GORT, Klaatu being returned and before leaving Earth, delivering one final message: "It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder." It was bloody perfect! Creepy and wholly daunting and yet this one ends with Klaatu stopping everything and buggering off. He explains that we can't keep living the way we are and like an idiot he believed our lie. The world's power shuts down - no more electricity, no more oil, nothing. Roll Credits. ROLL BLOODY CREDITS!? You're ending it there!? You can't do that. The world would break down into social chaos, we're not going to change our act just because some extra-terrestrial bailed us out at the last minute. It's like telling off a disobedient child, threatening it with something and then not carrying out the punishment; invariably the kid won't learn anything except that if it cries enough you'll let it go. So irritating! And it is for this reason that I have chosen to kick the rating down. It's exactly the same as War Of The Worlds; take a brilliant premise and ruin it because you couldn't properly round off the characters you created.

From the articles and interviews I read in the run-up to this film's release, it's clear that all involved knew what they were trying for. Derrickson got the original, he understood and loved it and came up with a good way to modernise the plot and yet it just didn't click. The ending felt far too rushed and the finale far too conveniently wrapped up. As the film ended and the inappropriately suspenseful score (should have been sullen and moody) echoed throughout the partly empty screening room, I had this odd premonition of audiences everywhere puzzled and outraged by an unsatisfying ending, buzzing with questions, queries and complaints. For the big holiday release, this film is not going to impress many.

Release Date:
12th December 2008

The Scene To Look Out For:
Somewhat unlike me, I'm not entirely sure if I have an outstanding scene. I did enjoy Reeves' first interaction with the humans, as he talked aloud to himself, "This body feels alien to me; it will take some getting used to." There was also a very subtle Klaatu Barada Nikto and other nods to the original but I'll spare you that long list. Other than that, I wasn't really blown back by anything in particular.

Notable Characters:
Other than our leads there are very few supporting characters. Professor Bernhardt makes a brief appearance, played rather well by John Cleese but other than that, there's little to mention. So, that leaves Reeves, Connelly, Smith and Bates. Yeah, they all acted as well as each other but there was nothing outstanding, just a host of expected expressions and predictable dispositions.

Highlighted Quote:
"Your Professor was right; only at the precipice do we change"

In A Few Words:
"A very disappointing reimagining, largely thanks to the final act; bit of a non-event really"

Total Score:

Matthew Stogdon