Posted: 12/31/2008


The Day The Earth Stood Still


by Dianne Lawrence

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The original 1951 version of the Day the Earth Stood Still, was considered by Arthur C. Clarke and the American Film Institute to be among the top ten best Science Fiction films of all time. It was also selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. The fact that I’ve never seen the original may explain my willingness to go out on a limb and refuse to join the chorus of naysayers snipping away at this perfectly enjoyable film.

In the original film there is concern among alien civilizations with our planets nuclear proliferation and how it would potentially affect them. In this re-imagined version, ably directed by Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose), the issue is the human threat to the life of the planet. Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) is an alien sent as an emissary, along with a fearsome protector robot sidekick, to try to reason with us. He makes the point that humans will destroy the earth then consequently die off themselves. Now if humans were taken out of the equation…at least the planet would survive. Klaatu, willing to discuss the problem first, lands in Central Park in a huge luminescent sphere and like some Divine visitor, emerges from a field of light to greet an array of military trucks, soldiers and appropriate specialists. Among them our heroine, biologist Helen Benson, (Jennifer Connelly) is compelled to move toward the light and reach out to the alien hand emerging from it. Of course before he can say “take me to your leaders” some fool, jittery trigger finger takes him down and he falls into Helen’s arms. Merely wounded, Klaatu is rushed to the Military hospital where Kathy Bates, playing an “I’m in charge here!” Secretary of Defense, demands to know what he intends to do with “our” planet. Klaatu looks at her with a sobering, slightly curious gaze and calmly asks, “Your planet?” Mr. Reeves plays the alien with just the right amount of determined purpose, curiosity and detached alien sensibility. When he looks at you there is a tangible sense of alien presence.

The film follows his journey after he has escaped from the hospital. He discusses business with a fellow alien (James Hong) who has been living among us. Are they worth saving? Klaatu meets with a leading physicist, Professor Barnhardt (John Cleese) who gives Klaatu reason to think twice about carrying out any mission to destroy the human race. Riding shotgun is Helen and her adopted troubled son Jacob (Jaden Smith). Klaatu watches their difficult relationship work through to emotional connection. All of this informs his ultimate decision.

The Matrix it isn’t but it is a decent and engaging campfire tale that explores a question that’s as legitimate now as it was in 1951. If you look at our current relationship with this rare and remarkable one of kind place….we are behaving like a cancer. Cells gone crazy, multiplying out of balance and eating our host to death. We are really troublesome guests. Should we really be allowed to stay? Although I didn’t find myself as moved by the answers as Klaatu seemed to be, this second attempt to bring this relevant question to mass attention, was well worth the effort.

Dianne Lawrence is an artist, writer, and film critic living in Hollywood. You can learn more about her works here.

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