Movie review: “The Day the Earth Stood Still”

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.

6 thoughts on “Movie review: “The Day the Earth Stood Still”

  1. Nice review. I have to admit I liked the movie more than I thought I would, I thought the original was great. I thought the environmental aspect was a little beyond the concerns of aliens, but once I got past that it was enjoyable. In the original there was a time when earth stood still, all electric power stopped bring people to a stand still and showing the power of the aliens. In the new version there was no showing of power to get us to change. There was just a showing of power to destroy mankind then it was halted so we could change. For me the original was by far a more superior movie and story, even without all of the special effects.


    • Hi Monk –

      Thank you for making the comparison with the previous version – you’re fortunate to have seen the original. I haven’t seen it in our DVD rentals here, but I’ll ask around for it, I’m curious to see how it differs.

      And welcome! 🙂

  2. I am going to secure this movie for the weekend and watch…the news of Corazon Aquino death is very poignant what have wel really learned…I always listened to her as she spent her time on the world’s stage…Hope all goes well in the day…

    • Hey Bobz – I hope you enjoy the movie!

      We had a great walk around the Newlands Forest this morning, went down a couple of tracks we had never explored before, and found an extraordinary ruin of what looked like an ancient water mill or something. I’ll write about it later.

      Lots of love from all of us.

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