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14 December 2008

Dropping by!

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL The original movie was released in 1951, "The Day the Earth Stood Still" begins somewhat promisingly, with microbiologist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) getting rousted from her home by a group of government agents, who are rushing to gather all the greatest scientific minds in the world. A flying object from outer space is going to hit Earth in just over an hour. Exciting don't you think? Things start to go downhill when a huge swirly ball lands and out walks spaceman Klaatu (Reeves) and his mechanical bodyguard, Gort. More than a half century has passed since the first "Day" came out, and the robot in this movie actually looks less convincing than it did during the Truman administration. Now Gort is basically a giant Academy Award statuette, painted pewter, with a one red shifting eye like the original "Knight Rider" car. As for Klaatu, his otherworldly powers fall somewhere between Mork and "E.T.," with "Happy Days" star Henry Winkler's mastery over appliances thrown in. (Klaatu doesn't pound his fist on a broken jukebox until it plays "Blueberry Hill," but he does hotwire a polygraph machine, Fonzie-style.) After Klaatu shows himself in human form, almost nothing interesting happens. There are many sequences where people bark orders in military command centers and political war rooms, but rousing action is scarce. The best visual effects sequence, involving the destruction of Giants Stadium in New York, is already in the trailer for the movie. And while there are many conversations between Klaatu and his human companions about the health of the planet, almost no specifics are discussed. It's as if Klaatu is simultaneously considering both the obliteration of our species and a run for political office. After watching this movie for 45 minutes or so, you may start to think that wiping out every human being on Earth isn't such a bad idea. It's a shame, because the acting and directing was what made the first "The Day the Earth Stood Still" great. The special effects, as impressive as they were for the time, complemented the film's message but didn't overwhelm it. In the remake, the story seems to be the third priority, behind visual splendor and product placement. (In one unintentionally hilarious scene, Klaatu's rendezvous with a second human-looking alien ... in a McDonald's.)

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