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The Day the Earth Stood Still Not Terrible But Still Pretty Puzzling

The Day the Earth Stood Still
Directed by Scott Derrickson
Written by David Scarpa from the 1951 screenplay by Edmund H. North
Fox, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of those movies that is fairly watchable despite the overwhelmingly negative reviews that accompanied the film’s release this weekend.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to sing its praises, but there are much worse movies that get released in a given year that somehow get at least half the critics on its side.  This one is running at about 1 in 5.

It’s a similar story: Earthlings have been bad and they must be destroyed by a higher-minded race.  In the beginning of Still we see a 1920s man (Keanu Reeves) discover an orb in the Himalayas, who subsequently gets changed by it.  Fast forward to the present, where astrobiologist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) is doing some boring old teaching before getting called by a mysterious government voice telling her that she’ll be “briefed en route,” to somewhere classified.  She leaves her annoying stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith) to get briefed, along with all the other Best Scientists in the Country, about a potential asteroid hitting Manhattan.

There are a lot of annoying bits of dialogue here in the meantime, probably the most annoying being, “What are the chances of an asteroid hitting Manhattan?” and someone replying earnestly, “Astronomical!” not stopping to think that the chances of an asteroid hitting any specific place is the exact same as anywhere else.

Well, the asteroid isn’t an asteroid, it’s an orb containing alien life, and it lands in Central Park.  The military and scientists all surround it and of course, once the alien comes out, someone dumbly shoots it.  This brings out a big robot, who shuts down all the technology in the area to give the alien some medicine, and then inexplicably, without a bridge scene, we’re supposed to believe this big robot with all these powers has just allowed the violent consortium to whisk its alien away to a secret observatory in order to perform surgery and ask questions.  Leading all of this is the Secretary of Defense Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates), who is reliably dunderheaded when it comes to common sense.

The alien is Klaatu (Reeves), and he’s trying to get used to his human body.  Eventually he breaks free from the holding area and teams up with Benson and her kid, who continues to be annoying and whiny.  Klaatu is here to get a report from an undercover alien, Mr. Wu (James Hong) to see if the humans deserve to keep the planet.  After Wu’s report, it doesn’t look good, but all Klaatu needs to see is proof that humans can change.  He gets some wise words from a Nobel Peace Prize winner (John Cleese), but still isn’t quite convinced.  Soon, a plague of tiny locusts will come to make all life disappear…and apparently also road signs.

Of course, it’s hard to imagine what Klaatu, after observing the planet’s satellite transmissions for so long, could possibly see that would make him change his mind, and it’s not really a satisfactory answer.  But the movie does have some pretty neat moments and decent discussion.  It’s not completely ridiculous and nonstop terrible, so if someone drug you into this you could reasonably sit there without squirming too much.

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