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The Day the Earth Fell Flat

The remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” starts out well.  Great pacing and nifty special effects.  The arrival of a giant orb in central park which disgorges a human-sized alien and a Colossus of Rhodes sized robot is quite impressive.  Of course, the evil earthlings take a shot at the alien, who, after some medical attention morphs into Keanu Reeves as Klaatu, an alien being here to “save the earth.”  What this means, we eventually find out, is that Klaatu is here to save the earth from humanity, which is, as always, on the “precipice” between preserving or destroying the planet.

In the original 1951 film, the threat to earth was nuclear war, a major concern at the time.  In this version, the problem is man himself, and although it’s never clearly stated, the obvious reference is to man-made climate change.  According to Klaatu, life-bearing planets are extremely rare, and man can’t be allowed to destroy this one, so well, um, we have to go.

Klaatu wishes to speak to the leaders of the planet, but he is obstructed by the US Secretary of Defense played by Kathy Bates, and a more or less inept bunch of FBI, CIA and Military types.  The secretary’s sin, which is fairly obvious in this film,  is that she’s arrogant.  She puts the USA ahead of the rest of the world (she must be a dirty Republican).

Research scientist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) helps Klaatu escape the feds while the robot (GORT) is examined by a team of NASA scientists who soon learn they’ve got much much more than they bargained for. GORT is basically the vehicle for humanity’s Biblical plague-type destruction.

Klaatu’s claim is that the “decision has been made” regarding Earth’s inhabitants, and without any evidence that the human race will change its evil anti-environmental ways, the decision can’t be rescinded.  I won’t tell you how the film wraps up, but you can probably guess.

The film is visually great, and the pacing is exciting in the beginning.  Things slow down quite a bit after Klaatu gets free of the G-men and the plot starts depending on interpersonal relationships.  They just don’t work in the context of the plot.  The biggest problem is Keanu Reeves’ Klaatu.  Granted, he’s supposed to be an alien, somewhat unfamiliar with earthman psychology, but even at that, his performance is so wooden and low key he drags the film down.

Benson’s stepson, played by Jaden Smith (Will Smith’s son), is irritatingly insolent to his stepmom through much of the film, and their rapprochment is sudden and pretty unconvincing.  Smith is probably a pretty talented young actor, but the script lets him down in this case. John Cleese, as a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, is added to the mix, and while his acting is a relief, he’s mainly there to reinforce the problem of man’s tampering with the proper functioning of the Earth.  At one point I could almost hear echoes of Al Gore saying “The debate is over.”

Added up, this “Earth” is a generally well-paced, but badly acted politically correct environmental guilt trip.  Man is bad and if we don’t change we’ll be wiped out.  It should have been more fun than this.  Or at least, more convincing.

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