Monday, January 12, 2009

Standing Up for "Stands Still"

I’m almost hesitant to put up this post. For it seems that I am in the minority on this one. Many did not like this movie and critics slammed it. But I will say so: I enjoyed the new version of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

My thoughts on remakes have been posted before. In general, I am against them. But there are times when it makes sense. Well, this re-do is one I consider worthy, if not necessary.

The acting has been slammed. I won’t tell you it shined. All I will say that it does the job. And I think Keanu’s trademark coldness and blasé worked rather well as a disinterested alien.

It’s cited as heavy-handed and preachy. It’s said to drag, to stand still itself.

Hold off on your tomatoes when I address those last two issues:
Do you remember the original movie at all? It’s very much the same.

It had been quite a long time since I'd seen the 1951 version. So Bart and I watched it a month or so before the release of the new movie. Yes, we enjoyed it. But let’s be honest, isn’t it also a bit slow in places? By slow I don’t mean uninteresting. Just not as wham-bam as other alien encounter flicks tend to be. Maybe those put off by the pacing of the 2008 movie fueled their own initial dislike of remaking it, or their unwillingness to see the merits of the movie. And to those who bitch about how beat-you-over-the-head-with-the-message the new movie had been, again, I say: Re-watch the first one. A man comes down from the sky with a degree of magical powers and says, “Hey! Be nice to each other, or else!” He is then hunted down, killed, brought back to life, gives a final warning and ascends back into the heavens. If you can’t see how heavy-handed and steeped in lore that is, then keep thinking until it hits you.

What makes the new version good, for me, are the shifts made in the story. Here, the alien Klaatu is not made out to be a Christ figure. Yet, they do not throw out the Biblical connection. They merely trade it for another. Instead he is akin to Noah, gathering species of the Earth to rescue them from our horrendous treatment of the environment. Maybe people are sick of hearing about this issue, I don’t know. But tiresome or not, it does not lessen the message or danger one bit. If anything, being as blasé about it as some claim Reeves to be is precisely what's wrong with us. Likewise, the film does not entirely dispose of the original film’s warning either. Violent reaction and general stupidity is still rampant. (Yes, they again shoot the alien visitor without asking questions first.) And you know what? The way I see it - since the “original” Klaatu’s message STILL needs to be delivered 57 years after having heard it, then we DO have a problem.

One of the aspects of the new film I liked is how uncomfortable it made me feel. Alien invasion movies are a dime a dozen. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve come to be jaded by the prospect. It’s no longer “scary” on screen. Well, I can honestly say watching this movie I felt threatened. The sense of terror shone through for me like never before in a space attack movie. I felt uneasy, trapped and worried. I like to think that those who saw the original movie felt the same way at their viewing. So I enjoyed this new flick’s ability to bring on that same sense of wonder and fear which is sorely lacking in these kinds of movies. A creeping horror instead of a yawning thrill.

Gort. We all love Gort. And dare I say it, I liked the new Gort much better. First of all, talk about threatening - he’s huge! I’m not sure how large he is, but I want to say he’s at least fifteen feet tall. However big, this menacing metal man is magnified majestically. And thanks to CGI, when his eye-slit closes the effect is much more satisfying - and disturbing. Instead of being able to see a ridge where the slat slides down , the seam dissolves entirely, producing a faceless terror. And as I mentioned in this post, I read there had been an attempt to re-design the famous robot sentinel, only to discover deviation just did not work. Gort is Gort and must be. He’s just the same with the minor tweaks (as stated) but sleeker, not like a guy in a clunky silver suit.

The new film had also been critiqued for the fact that Klaatu is not necessarily a peaceful fellow, here to issue his warning. He’s really here to destroy us. Some claim this to be too far off course from the original. But again, I site the fact that we are STILL a war-mongering people. Maybe we deserve it. (Take that with a great big grain of salt.) Also, the method with which the annihilation occurs has been laughed at and despised. I’d been quite surprised by it… if not creeped out. And it, too, harkened to the Biblical touch of the first film. I liked the synthesis of Nature and Technology. It added to the “humans are primitive and subject to forces” aspect while playing up the otherwise lost creepiness of old infestation movies.

But one aspect, above all, is what I truly enjoyed about the movie. The shifting of a particular event. I’m not going to spoil it for you. But I will say that I deem it brilliant. Yes, brilliant. It packs quite a punch. A real impact. In fact, the re-placement and its consequences alone make this movie a remake to be reckoned with…and I am quite pleased with the results.

Finally, a remake that has a purpose. That’s pretty rare.
Maybe you are laughing at me. But if you are doing so without having seen both films, then have a look at each and then tell me that this rewrite isn’t worth it. If you have seen both and still don’t like the 2008 version, do have another think about the actual re-written elements I mentioned and how poignant they truly are. And if you still don't agree with me, that's fine, too. As my mother says, "That's why there's chocolate and vanilla."

Lastly, consider that the original is not so at all! It is also a re-do, of sorts. It's based on Farewell to the Master, by Harry Bates. Even the 1951 The Day the Earth Stood Still is quite different. You can read about the original story here.

Bravo to writer David Scarpa! And bravo to all who worked on this movie.


Danielle Mari said...

Mmmm....just gonna hafta take your word on this one! Glad you had fun, though!


Peter said...

Well, at least I'm not totally alone on this one. A server at a restaurant we frequent liked it, too. As did a co-worker of Lage.

I feel a little better. :)