At the risk of incurring the wrath of fans of the original 1951 version of 'The Day the Earth Stood Still,' I will say that the film, while indisputably a classic of the sci-fi genre, could still have been fertile ground for a remake. It's allegory, once potent, certainly could be updated for a modern age, and its effects have long been dated. So it was not with outrage that I greeted the news of 2008's 'The Day the Earth Stood Still,' as it seemed as if, potentially, this could be one of the few Hollywood remakes that, while not exactly inspired, could at least prove to be a perfectly respectable update.
Then I saw the movie.
'The Day the Earth Stood Still' is, alas, another "re-imagining" that misfires. It takes the core concept of the original film, messes about with most of the story, and fails to translate much of the magic. It is poorly cast, flatly directed, and oddly, only updates some of the effects but leaves others grossly nostalgic. I don't know if it's a complete disaster -- I guess I was borderline entertained -- but this is not exactly the example you'd want to hold up as to how to do a remake right.
The set-up for 'The Day the Earth Stood Still,' 2008-style, is more or less the same as the original, but that's about all that's retained. As this version begins, we meet an Arctic adventurer (Keanu Reeves), who promptly has an accident and has a bit of his DNA swiped by an alien race. Flash cut to Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), a widow who lives with her multiracial son Jacob (Jaden Smith). After a single scene of wafer-thin familial set-up, Helen is whisked off by the government to help stop a sudden invasion by aliens. A giant robot-thing appears (let's call him Gort), and in typical American haste to blow up what we don't understand, our military fires some missiles at it. Before you can say, "Major pissed-off alien invasion!", Keanu is now reborn as Klaatu, a superior alien that kidnaps Helen and Jacob to make his escape. As the plot unfolds, Helen will learn the true nature of Klaatu's visit, and will go from the kidnapped, to the rescuer, with the world in hot pursuit.
'The Day the Earth Stood Still' would like to think it's success depends on its twists and turns and surprises, so I won't reveal any of them here. But suffice to say that even if you haven't seen the original, you'll probably be able to figure them out well before the characters do. And the plot really doesn't matter anyway, because this new version of 'The Day the Earth Stood Still' is less concerned with technology, cosmic ideas or even cool alien attack action. No, this is another one of those treacly family films posing as pseudo-sci-fi, meaning what the story really cares about is the rift in Helen and Jacob's relationship, which we know right away will be healed (thanks to Gort and Klaatu, of course) by film's end. Unlike the 1951 original, or such classics as '2001' or 'Close Encounters,' the 2008 'The Day the Earth Stood Still' is more half-hearted, Spielberg-lite emotion dressed up with CGI and laser blasts.
This remake was directed by Scott Derrickson (who previously helmed the slightly underrated 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose'), subbing for the late Robert Wise. In Derrickson's hands, 'The Day the Earth Stood Still' is barely passable as average action but lacks anything close to the majesty and and sense of awe of Wise's original. Sure, the 1951 version is retro and perhaps kinda silly, but there was a real feeling that the filmmakers, and the audiences of the time, stood in earnest astonishment before the ideas inherent in the story. Not so in the remake, which once again trots out lots of CGI and mindless destruction, and even tacks a totally lame green-friendly theme onto Klaatu's plan that would make even Al Gore gag. By the time the film resorts to a swarm of metallic bug-things that are devouring the Earth, I just kinda groaned.
To be fair, and even though I thought the changes to the story were dopey and the characters rote, I was mildly engaged through some of film. The script takes plenty of time to unfold, slowly revealing to us Klaatu's plan, and these moments have some suspense. I also have to applaud Connelly and little Smith (son of Will and Jada Pinkett), who both invest themselves fully into their characters. (Reeves is, well, Reeves, doing an even more monosyllabic version of Neo from 'The Matrix' films -- if that's possible.) Unfortunately, this isn't enough to save 'The Day the Earth Stood Still.' As cool as it is to see an old-school Gort back on the screen and looking almost exactly the same, the mix of old and new doesn't gel. 'The Day the Earth Stood Still' wants to pay homage to the original and still be something new, but can't seem to find the balance. It just kinda throws a bunch of stuff onto the screen, hoping it will stick. It's not absolutely awful, but it sure could have been a whole lot better.
Fox has produced an excellent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.39:1) for 'The Day the Earth Stood Still.' I may not have loved the movie, but I can't deny how impressive this transfer is.
'The Day the Earth Stood Still' looks as expensive as its budget. The widescreen compositions are razor-sharp, with reference-quality detail. Rarely is there a scene that couldn't pass for demo material, and the sense of depth and three-dimensionality is terrific. Colors are sometimes muted or tweaked, but reproduced perfectly with clarity and stability. Blacks are deep, and contrast evenly-balanced across the entire grayscale. Shadow delineation is also first-rate. Some CGI shots may look a little more indistinct, but that's indicative of today's special effects. The encode is also spot-on, and I noticed no visible edge enhancement or motion artifacts. Five-star stuff.
This DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit) is also superb. This is a show-stopper for any home theater.
Dynamics really threw me for a loop. Low bass extension is as deep as I've ever heard. Clarity and depth across the entire spectrum is exceptional. The mix makes great use of contrasts, with the booming action no less well-designed than the quietest scenes, with every word intelligible thanks to perfectly-balanced dialogue. Surrounds are frequently engaged and pummeling. The arrival of Gort, or the final scenes of destruction, are whoppers -- a fully 360-degree soundfield is created. Sure, the movie this soundtrack accompanies doesn't deserve a mix this good, but close your eyes and you'll be hard-pressed to find a better audio presentation on Blu-ray.
Fox has really pulled out all the stops for 'The Day the Earth Stood Still' on Blu-ray. This is a three-disc set filled with many extras and Digital Copy. Of course, the best part is that you get the original 1951 version of 'The Day the Earth Stood Still' on the third disc, but hey, this is still a comprehensive package. All video-based extras are in 1080, too.
'The Day the Earth Stood Still' is just not very good. It's certainly more modern, and with better special effects, than the classic 1951 original, but it lacks a compelling narrative and memorable characters. It's all mechanics and no charm. This Blu-ray is top-notch, however -- fantastic video and audio, and plenty of extras. It's still saying something that the best extra here is the complete 1951 film version (in high-def, no less), which, I guess, makes the 2008 version the coaster of this set. Worth a rent, but stick with the original.