I haven’t reviewed any movies since last year July, but I thought I’d give it a go again. So here is my first review of 2009.
“The Day the Earth Stood Still” (Wikipedia article) is a 2008 remake of a science fiction movie that was originally shot in 1951. This was the time of the Cold War, when the proliferation of nuclear weapons was threatening the Earth and humankind with extinction. The 2008 version of the movie, however, focuses on the environmental degradation of the planet and the innately destructive tendencies of human beings. It is based on the short story “Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates (1940), and is directed by Scott Derrickson.
The plot is straightforward:
When astronomers discover that an object from beyond our galaxy is about to land on earth, several scientists in fields of research relating to extra terrestrial life forms are taken into federal custody in order to study the phenomenon and to advise the US government on what should be done. The central question is: Are these beings coming in peace, or do they intend to invade the Earth and destroy us?
Shortly afterwards, a gigantic glowing sphere does indeed land in Central Park, New York, and out of it emerge two aliens. One, named Klaatu (played by Keanu Reeves), takes on a human form, whereas the other, whom the scientists on Earth name GORT, an acronym for Genetically Organized Robotic Technology, is a huge robot with a single laser eye, who has the power to destroy the entire planet by transforming itself into a terrifying swarm of locust-like nanobots that roars across the land like a hurricane.
One of the scientists, Helen Benson (played by Jennifer Connolly, whom I always remember from the 1986 fantasy film Labyrinth), befriends Klaatu, and helps him to escape from the secure government facility.
He tells her that the Earth is one of the few planets in the universe with the optimal conditions to sustain human life, and that he is here because the destructive actions of humankind have brought the Earth to a tipping point. He explains that he has to find out whether humankind will be able to change, before the Earth can no longer support human life; if they are not able to change, his task is to eradicate them.
Meanwhile, numerous spheres, all smaller than the giant one in Central Park, land in various parts of the globe; they are there to take all kinds of animal species to safety, like a kind of Noah’s Ark.
It is up to Helen to change Klaatu’s mind, and to convince him that human beings can change, and that our more loving, nurturing and compassionate side can win, even if it is only at the last minute, literally on the brink of planetary disaster. Of course, it doesn’t help that the entire military might of the world has now been unleashed in order to attack and destroy GORT and the spheres…
I thought it was an excellent movie (although the critics did not agree), because it is particularly relevant at this time, when we really don’t know how much more damage the Earth can handle.
But I also thought the ending was rather too abrupt – I want to know what happened AFTER the day the earth stood still! I want to know what lessons humankind has learned from this alien encounter, if any. Or whether we have gone back to our old destructive ways.