The Day the Earth Stood Still
3-Disc Special Edition Blu-ray
Directed by Scott Derrickson
Starring Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jaden Smith, John Cleese
Fox Home Entertainment
Release date: April 7, 2009
Of all the science fiction films made in the 1950s, I have three favorites: Them!, Forbidden Planet, and The Day The Earth Stood Still. Each was seminal in its way, showing the movie-going public more of what the genre was capable. Forbidden Planet had astounding special effects, an all-electronic score, and a plot taken from Shakespeare. Them! carried both an ecological message and provided genuine suspense. The Day The Earth Stood Still was a brave message film, dealing with anti-Communist paranoia and questions of nuclear disarmament. Without these films, there would have been no Star Trek, no Star Wars, no Alien.
I therefore viewed the 2008 re-make of The Day The Earth Stood Still with some… hesitation. True, the film has a fine cast in Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, and Kathy Bates. With all the problems that have moved to the forefront of our minds in the last 10 years (terrorism, global warming, and warrant-less wire tapping), there is also a lot fertile ground for an update. Yet, this is Hollywood we’re talking about. The summer tent pole movie is much more about effects than plot and commentary. I think that Hollywood can blend both types of elements very effectively (see: The Dark Knight), but those movies are rare… just like the original version of The Day The Earth Stood Still was a rare film in its day.
The movie was both as good and bad as I thought it might be. Structurally, it’s an effects-driven mess, compared to the original. Empress Eve laid out most of the reasons why after she saw the film back in January: a lot of effort is expended bringing scientists into the picture only to have them quickly fade into the background, the government ignores the wishes of a visiting alien diplomat when he arrives in a ship that can travel between the stars without even thinking the he might be able to turn the planet into a burnt cinder, that alien diplomat learns enough about humanity to save the human race by spending 36 hours on the run with a child and his step-mother in Northern New Jersey, and the title now refers to the fact that electricity and technology no longer work as a part of the salvation. Aside from a few shining moments of originality by a scientist played by John Cleese, the movie presents a lot of uninspired human behavior — it’s all bureaucratic group-think…. which would be a great thing for a movie to be about, under other circumstances. Instead, the plot elements form a link between a lot of very bright shiny, CGI effects sequences, which are pretty breath taking. Overall, I’d call the effort earnest and well-meaning, but kind of dull.
The Blu-ray extras on Disc 1 in this three-disc set generally underline where the heads of the film makers are. While there is a reasonable commentary track by screenwriter David Scarpa that can be turned on and off at any point with the Blu-ray Green key, much of the opening part of the commentary is spent discussing an alternate F/X-driven beginning to the film. This sort of feeling is amplified by the Picture-in-Picture extras available using the Blue and Yellow keys: pre-visualization alternates for the CGI effects shots and storyboard art for the human action (getting these last two to work properly with my OPPO BDP-83 Blu-ray player took a little fiddling with the player Setup). The total impression: it’s all about the action, baby. It’s about Reeves and Connelly and Jaden Smith being the pretty faces to lure your eyes to the screen and the special effects sequences to keep them there. There are the obligatory “making of” featurettes, talking about how the film was made, the greatness of the original film, and the sincerity of everyone involved in the re-make. That’s all sideshow, though, as is the copy of the film that can be loaded onto your computer on Disc 2.
There is one extra in this three disc set that is really worth having though. Disc 3 is a Blu-ray version of the original film! It’s a pretty spare setup — no commentary, extras, or much in the way of audio or video setup choices — but it’s the whole film in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio with a remastered English audio track. Given all that’s been said about The Day The Earth Stood still over the years, it probably would not have been hard to find some documentary commentary about the film, but I’ll take it as a freebie none the less. Watch Discs 1 or 2 in this set if you want, but definitely catch Disc 3. You’ll get a flavor for the makers of the new version of The Day The Earth Stood Still were looking for, and how badly their effort missed the mark.