12/12/08

The Day the Earth Stood Still: Two Green Thumbs Up

Let me make this clear from the start: I'm no lover of tree-hugging. We must preserve the habitability of our planet, yes, but there's a point at which conservation becomes insanity. When you start looking beyond the natural order to say that killing for food is wrong when there's no possible way you can eat without killing... that's insane. However, if you completely overlook the natural order to say that littering and nuclear or bio-hazardous waste has no effect when dropped wherever the heck you wanna drop it... that's also wrong. Even redneck Christians should be able to understand that God appointed us as stewards of the Earth in order to preserve it in a habitable condition.

Ok, that's out of the way... let's talk about the movie. But first: the original movie. Now, I'm no fan of comparing a remake to its original. It's bad enough that the remake is taking criticism for merely existing without having to take jab after jab about why it's not EXACTLY like the one that's already been made. Every movie should be taken for its own merit no matter what had come before it. However, in this case I think it's suitable to make some very notable comparisons. Also, here's fair warning: this might contain a few minor spoilers, but I will leave enough out that you will still enjoy some surprises.

The original movie was about humanity making war. Released and set in 1951, tensions were rising in the wake of WWII and an imminent Cold War. In this case, the alien, Klaatu, was coming to warn Earth that if they didn't stop fighting amongst each other and making war between nations an intergalactic government had decided that it would solve all of Earth's problems by wiping out the warring parties: all of humanity.

In the updated version, Klaatu has a similar message of warning, but it's not about war... it's about the environment. The cryptic statement in the trailer now makes sense: "If the Earth dies, you [humans] die. If you [humans] die, the Earth survives." Klaatu goes on to explain in the movie that there are only a handful of life-supporting planets in the cosmos and the intergalactic government to which he belongs cannot afford to lose "this one" (Earth) because of the mistakes of a single species.

Now, I'm not at all taking issue with the classic version. It contains a very valid message that rings true even today. But for the sake of the story, it does kind of make you wonder how the intergalactic government can get away with being that hypocritical. In order to keep humanity from wiping each other out, they're going to wipe humanity out...? Well, ok, Klaatu does explain in the original that his government doesn't want such an aggressive species to grow to make war on them. Still, they're taking quite an aggressive action themselves. The message is clear and remains in tact, but the story seems to lack some coherence.

In this updated version, the interplanetary society is being quite logical in their decision to wipe out mankind. In order to preserve a precious commodity, the life-supporting planet Earth, it must eliminate the threat to its existence: us. Where the original has a touching, albeit incoherent, story with a potent message, the update fills in the gap by making sense out of the aliens' decisions while preserving a story that is just as potent and meaningful.

But here's where most of the viewers are going to take issue: does the story get lost in the flash, glamor, and pizazz of the CG effects and action sequences? I'm inclined to say no, but in order to understand why, this is where you really have to take the movie exactly for what it is and forget everything you know about the original one. There comes a point in the story where it is explained that there is a very good reason for there to be all this global catastrophe and panic. In the original movie, Klaatu generates a sort of EM pulse that stops all electricity everywhere in the world. That's the point at which the Earth stands still. It was meant in that movie as a sign of his sincerity that the planet is indeed at stake. In the new movie it's made clear that the only sign that is ever going to shake humanity out of its indifference is something catastrophic. I won't say anything more about that, but I will say to lovers of the original movie that Klaatu's benevolence is kept in tact. Stopping electricity was meant as a harmless sign, and Klaatu remains just as ready to save humanity's life in this new version. All that to say this: if humanity needs a jolt in the pants to kick them out of their Earth-shattering ways, the only way to do that is to make it seem like their world is really coming to an end, and the only way to do that is with a lot of flash, glamor and pizazz of CG effects and action sequences.

There is so much more I'd like to say about this movie and so much more comparisons I'd like to make to the original, but I can't go much further without spoiling some key elements of the storyline. Suffice it to say that this update of the beloved classic gains my approval. It fits for today just as well as the original fit for its day and I think the story was executed flawlessly. Since the day I first saw the trailer I contended that Keanu Reeves was perfect for the part, and that remains my opinion. This is a different Klaatu for a different time, but Keanu gives him just the right combination of human and alien. Just try to refrain from making any comments about the Matrix when he hacks into security mainframe. That's just tacky.