Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 14, 2010)
Remakes always veer into tricky territory, and that seems especially true when filmmakers attempt to redo a classic. This became the case with 2008’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, a reworking of the 1951 original. Pretty much any re-imaging of that flick would inspire howls from fans, but the decision to cast Keanu Reeves as the lead character multiplied those complaints.
When the material fits his limited skills, I think Reeves can be effective, and I thought the source material of Day had potential to receive an update that might succeed on its own. I didn’t necessarily think a remake would improve on the Robert Wise edition, but I felt it might create something interesting in its own right.
So much for the power of positive thinking, as the 2008 Day provides an eminently forgettable remake. It provides a similar story. It appears that a meteor will strike the Earth and kill millions. To the amazement of all involved, however, it turns out that this is an alien spacecraft that lands in the middle of New York’s Central Park.
The troops mobilize to surround it, and after a few hours, the door opens and an alien emerges. Scientist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) approaches the space monkey, but a soldier with an itchy trigger finger shoots the creature. The authorities rush it to receive medical treatment; while they attempt to help the alien, they learn that the being’s body is actually an organic spacesuit.
From this apparatus, Klaatu (Reeves) emerges. Klaatu demands to speak to all the representatives of the Earth governments, but political opposition makes this difficult. Klaatu escapes and entreats Helen to assist with his mission. She agrees and attempts to convince Klaatu to abort a potential alien invasion intended to save the Earth – at the expense of the humans.
Some may bemoan the film’s somewhat heavy-handed environmental theme, but I can’t criticize Day for that. After all, the original wasn’t exactly subtle in the way it got into its Cold War topics. The filmmakers had a choice: they could drop the “message” side of things entirely, or they could update that side with something more appropriate for 2008. The environmental bits don’t exactly sizzle, but at least they allow the film an attempt at depth.
I’ve read a mix of fan complaints about Day, and many don’t make sense to me. A lot of the criticisms attack choices that also appear in the original film, which all of the unhappy parties revere. That seems awfully illogical to me; don’t slam a movie because it remains faithful to its source, especially when you think that source could do no wrong.
Indeed, the biggest problems with Day tend to occur when it goes “off book”; its changes from the 1951 film are usually the ones that work the least well. The movie has an interesting perspective and theme, but its execution seems lackluster at best. Actually, it starts pretty well. It boasts a tense Independence Day opening and seems like it might be able to update the original in a satisfying way.
Unfortunately, it goes downhill once Klaatu gets shot and never manages to recover. We’re forced to sit through too many illogical/nonsensical elements. Actually, even before his wounding, the film suffers from head-scratchers. With the military out in force, why do they allow Helen to just wander up to Klaatu? Later, why is the polygraph reader left completely alone and unmonitored as he tests Klaatu? Why do they trust Helen to get the medication used to sedate Klaatu?
To allow the plot to move along, of course. But that’s not a satisfactory reason for various events. When devices distract you from the root story, that means they don’t work. Plenty of these occur during Day and they harm the final product.
Speaking of which, in the original, Helen’s son was little more than a plot device, but he served a good purpose as he allowed Klaatu to learn more about humans. In the remake, Helen’s stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith) lacks the same reason to exist, and he creates substantial distractions. Sure, the original’s Billy was just a bland piece of motivation, but he never hurt the film.
The same can’t be said for Jacob. He exists to create artificial drama that could easily be generated in another manner, and he proves to be a genuine annoyance. I thought Smith fared well in The Pursuit of Happyness, but here he finds himself firmly stuck in “brat mode”. He’s such an annoying little twerp that we grow to loathe every sight of him. I wouldn’t mind the fact the film doesn’t need him if he wasn’t so damned irritating all of the time.
Smith isn’t the flick’s biggest problem, though. Indeed, none of the actors can be viewed as the movie’s greatest issue. Day falters simply because it’s really pretty boring. After that good opening sequence, it never gets into a groove. Oh, the occasional action piece gives us a minor jolt, but nothing manages to offer much of a kick. This isn’t a bad movie – it’s just a dull one.
The Day the Earth Stood Still appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this double-layered Blu-ray Disc. While I thought much of the film looked great, a few elements seemed a bit lackluster.
For the most part, sharpness appeared terrific. However, fine detail was slightly lacking in some wide shots. Although these were minor, they meant that the delineation wasn’t quite as consistent as I’d like. I noticed no issues with shimmering or jagged edges, and edge haloes were minor at worst. Source flaws remained absent. A few shots seemed a smidgen grainy but otherwise the movie didn’t suffer from any distractions.
As one might expect from a sci-fi flick like this, Day provided a somewhat stylized palette. Colors tended toward a silvery-blue tint, though they weren’t overwhelming in their orientation. Overall, the hues appeared well-rendered and distinctive. Blacks showed good depth and darkness, while shadows usually were solid. A few shots seemed slightly dense, but those occurred infrequently. Though most of the movie provided terrific visuals, the occasional lapses dropped it to “B” level.
No inconsistencies affected the excellent DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Day. With a variety of action and ambient elements, the audio brought the events to life in fine fashion. Military sequences added the greatest punch, but the various “sci-fi” bits connected to Klaatu and the alien contributed an involving sense of atmosphere.
The pieces used all five speakers to great advantage. I especially liked the “Gort swarm” toward the end of the flick, as that sequence fleshed out the channels in an engrossing manner. Quieter scenes contributed good breadth and smoothness as well. All of this meant the audio filled out the spectrum in a nice manner.
Sound quality satisfied. Speech was natural and concise, without edginess or other issues. Music demonstrated good range and clarity as well. Effects worked the best of the bunch, as they were consistently dynamic and vivid. All in all, this was an active and engaging soundtrack.
When we move to the set’s extras, we open with an audio commentary from screenwriter David Scarpa. He provides a running, screen-specific look at the adaptation of the source material and various influences, cast and characters, story issues, rewrites, and narrative concerns.
My only complaint about this commentary relates to the amount of dead air it presents. Scarpa often fades away, and this leaves us with a lot of empty real estate. Still, when he does speak, he provides very good information about the film. We learn a lot about its particular challenges in this frustrating but nonetheless rewarding chat.
Exclusive to the Blu-ray release, Klaatu’s Unseen Artifacts provides a “picture-in-picture” display. Placed in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, this presents a few visual elements throughout the film. It starts with an unfilmed opening sequence and also features visual effects progressions, concept art, production photos, and pre-viz elements.
At best, these seem moderately interesting. No real gems appear, as “Artifacts” provides a mix of decent behind the scenes bits, most of which also appear elsewhere on the disc. It’s a workable presentation but not better than that.
Three deleted scenes fill a total of one minute, 53 seconds. These include “Equipment Is Issued to the Scientists” (0:18), “Helen and Granier Discuss the Shot” (0:21), “Extended Version of Klaatu Being Wheeled Down the Hallway” (1:14). The first two are so brief that they add little and aren’t missed from the final product. “Hallway” also contributes nothing; it just makes the movie progress at an even slower pace.
The Blu-ray Edition also boasts some In-Movie Features. During the film, these let you easily access Scarpa’s commentary, pre-viz and special effects footage and stills, or storyboards. This feature works acceptably well, though it’s distracting to watch the movie with either of the two picture-in-picture features activated, as the images take up a lot of the screen. Still, they’re efficient ways to check out this material. (Note that the “blue button” option – the one with pre-viz/effects info – seems to be identical to “Klaatu’s Unseen Artifacts.)
Four featurettes follow. Re-Imagining The Day goes for 30 minutes, five seconds and provides notes from Scarpa, producers Gregory Goodman, Paul Harris Boardman and Erwin Stoff, author/film historian Paul M. Sammon, director Scott Derrickson, Robert Wise biographer Frank Thompson, visual effects supervisor Jeffrey Okun, character designer Aaron Sims, special effects coordinator Tony Lazarowich, production designer David Brisbin, director of photography David Tattersall, camera operator Stephen S. Campanelli, stunt coordinator JJ Makaro, Weta Digital VFX supervisor R. Christopher White, and actors Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, John Cleese and Jaden Smith. “Re-Imagining” looks at aspects of the original film and issues related to its remake. It also covers Derrickson’s take on the material, changes from the original, cast and performances, character and visual design, sets and locations, camerawork, stunts and effects,
“Re-Imagining” falls firmly in the promotional domain, but that doesn’t mean it leaves out any useful content. The comparisons between the two films provide the most interesting moments, as we get some nice thoughts about the rationale behind the changes. While “Re-Imaging” never really sizzles, it works pretty well.
For a look at the iconic robot, we head to the 13-minute and 52-second Unleashing Gort. It features Derrickson, Scarpa, Sims, Okun, Stoff, and Weta Digital senior VFX supervisor Joe Letteri. As expected, the program examines the design and implementation of the remake’s Gort. It does so in an efficient manner that explores the various options well.
We examine concepts behind the film’s concept in Watching the Skies: In Search of Extraterrestrial Life. It lasts 23 minutes, eight seconds and provides info from SETI Institute senior astronomer Seth Shostak, Planetary Society associate director Charlene Anderson, Planetary Society Director of Projects Dr. Bruce Betts, Ministry of Defense (1985-2006) representative Nick Pope, author Alfred Lambremont Webre, Skeptic Magazine publisher Dr. Michael Shermer, and Caltech theoretical physicist Sean Carroll. “Skies” examines the prospects of life on other planets and the attempts to locate it. With little time at its disposal, “Skies” must offer a simple overview of the efforts, but it gives us an intriguing glimpse at the subject anyway.
The Day the Earth Was “Green” fills 14 minutes, four seconds with notes from Okun, Stoff, Brisbin, Goodman, CTP Media Consulting’s Matthew Cooper and David Beck, unit production manager Warren Carr, production coordinator Bliss McDonald, location manager Ann Goobie, costume designer Tish Monaghan, background costume set supervisor Jeffrey Fayle, construction coordinator Doug Hardwick, costume dyer Lily Yuen, set designer Peter Ochotta, and chef David Lee. The program looks at the production’s efforts to make as little impact on the environment as possible. Some parts of the program provide interesting glimpses of these methods, but most of the show just feels self-congratulatory.
Another Blu-ray exclusive, you get to Build Your Own Gort. It allows you to choose a few different aspects of the Gort’s look and then assembles the finished product. It’s quite dull.
In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer, we find a collection of Still Galleries. These break down into three areas: “Concept Art” (254 screens), “Storyboards” (too many to count) and “Production Photos” (441). We get an insane amount of still here. The “Storyboards” area appears to cover the entire film; I gave up when I hit the 500th frame and we’d barely made a dent in the flick.
The enormous number of stills becomes both a positive and a negative. On the good side, I sure can’t claim the disc’s producers left us hanging; we get tons and tons of material here. However, the format makes viewing these elements awkward. Each area includes so many stills that it takes forever to weed through them all, and if you want to access a specific spot in the future, good luck with that. I’d hate to have to spend an hour working through the storyboards just to re-examine the end of the film.
So some additional subsections would’ve been great. I do like much of the content, though only the storyboards area consistently shines. A lot of the concept art feels like variations on a theme; we see many minor alterations of Gort and pre-Keanu Klaatu, so don’t expect much unique material. Though production photos are good when they go behind the scenes, most of them just show stills from the film. We find scads of images here, but they’re not always worth the effort it takes to view them.
A few more stills appear in the Gort Art Contest Winners domain. This presents four drawings that re-imagine Gort for the 21st century. Some go farther from the 1951 source than others, and one looks a lot like the final product.
A few ads open the disc. We get promos for X-Men Origins: Wolveine, Quantum of Solace, Taken and Australia.
Disc Two proves incredibly valuable because it features the original 1951 version of Day. In fact, Disc Two gives us the same Special Edition released back in December 2008. Rather than repeat information, just click on this link to find out what the 1951 movie’s Blu-ray contains.
(Note that this disc is the reason the set’s extras get an “A+”. Heck, I gave the 1951 release an “A” for supplements on its own, so the bonus bits found on the 2008 disc easily boost this to an “A+”. If I just judged the 2008 disc, it’d get a “B” for extras.)
Finally, a third disc provides a Digital Copy of the 2008 film. This allows you to easily transfer the flick to your computer or portable viewing device. It doesn’t do anything for me, but your mileage may vary, as they say.
Fans of the original Day the Earth Stood Still greeted its 2008 remake with outrage. I’d like to join them but the new version is just so darned dull that I can’t muster the energy; I don’t care enough about this film to feel real emotion toward it. The Blu-ray provides generally good picture, excellent audio, and a reasonably informative set of extras. It also contains the original 1951 movie, which is a pretty terrific bonus. I can’t complain about this release, but the movie itself if a snoozer.