“The Day The Earth Stood Still” Film Review - Amazing IMAX Experience

“The Day The Earth Stood Still” stars Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly; directed by Scott Derrickson, written by David ScarpaReeves portrays Klaatu, an alien whose arrival on our planet triggers a global upheaval. As governments and scientists race to unravel the mystery behind the visitor’s appearance, a woman ( Connelly) and her young stepson ( Smith) get caught up in his mission – and come to understand the ramifications of Klaatu calling himself a “friend to the Earth.” The movie is a re-imagining of a 1951 Robert Wise film.  But again and again and again I was asked not to mention that, so I won’t. 

The Lights Fade

I’ve seen two movies in IMAX in the past: Martin Scorsese’s Stone’s documentary “Shine A Light” and “The Dark Knight”.  Needless to say, they both strike hard competition.  What makes IMAX so unique is the perspective that the screen comfortably fills your entire viewing range.  I’d image this presentation is best for an event film.  Action, thriller; movies starring big movie stars like Keanu Reeves.

But as it began, “The Day The Earth Stood Still” proves to be many things.  At its heart, a story that tries very hard to deliver a strong message.

An alien named Klaatu ( Reeves) is sent to Earth to determine whether or not the planet is worth saving.  He arrives amid a surprisingly underwhelming action sequence and Dr. Helen Benson ( Connelly) quickly meets him in a brave, outgoing gesture of reason and humanity.  What happens in the moments following cast an unfortunate mold.

Of course the military and government try to enforce plans of their own.  As you can probably guess, their intentions are not pure and Reeve’s Klaatu isn’t eager to obey.  The alien shows off his sharply-tuned powers, of which our defenses are useless to.

The alien invasion begins

A short period of time later, Reeves is meeting with an un-assuming Earth spokesperson of sorts who gives a weary verdict that Reeves must obey.  The next un-spooling has Reeves running from the cops, meeting various people while escorted by Connelly and her adopted son played by Jaden Smith; and the execution of his verdict taking full scale over the planet.

As the movie manual reads, in the end Reeves experiences a different feel on Earth that his spokesperson didn’t mention and it might just be enough to change his mind.

Peeling the Layers

There are many good ideas, which come up in this project.  The biggest problem is that they’re never fully addressed or solved.  They’re simply highlighted, then breezed over.  This includes story, casting, and visuals.

The Revered Keanu Reeves

Yes, we all know the gossip.  No one has anything nice to say about Keanu.  Well I ask you this.   Can putting your face on a poster make the movie a box office success?  Have you starred in huge blockbusters, revolutionary trilogies and helped breath-taking, inspired directors get their unique visions made?  No?  Didn’t think so.  Buy your ticket, s’down and enjoy.  Simply out, Keanu Reeves is infinitely watchable. Magnetic, intuitive.  His presence adds a weight to not just the role, but the scale of the story.  Considering it’s Earth, that means a lot.

Jennifer Connelly tends to win Oscars for bringing humanity to her roles.  Opposite dry, brilliant, crazy mathematician Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind”, here she brings the world’s humanity to alien Reeves.  She is more than competent, but certainly not stretching.

Jennifer Connelly with Reeves

Jaden Smith is trying to crawl out from his Dad’s shadow ( Oscar nominee, box office sensation Will Smith).  Kudos to writer David Scarpa for not allowing the son to be “Just another kid role.”  He has texture, concerns and plenty to do.  Problem is, Smith doesn’t have the juice or experience to make it work.  Not yet.

What bothers me most is when characters who should be wise and insightful act ignorant.  This is Kathy Bates’ poison.  She plays Chief of Staff Regina Jackson and makes one global blunder after another.  ‘Twas a preview as if Sarah Palin had been elected.  

Excellent TV actors Jon Hamm (Mad Men) and Robert Knepper (Prison Break) are woefully under-used.  It’s not their stories and they do fine jobs in the work, but both made me wish I was watching their television show rather than this movie.

Newcomer Jaden Smith with Reeves

The best scene of the film sums up the theme of the entire story .  It features Reeves at the home of Nobel Laureate Professor Barnhardt (John Cleese). While waiting for Cleese to join him, Reeves begins solving an extremely complex mathematical equation on a nearby chalkboard.  Cleese arrives mid-progress.  Rather than resorting to drama or violence, Cleese walks over and joins him.  Together, these two evolved beings respond to each other sharing mutual respect.  Their chemistry is perfect.

The direct following scene where Reeves and Cleese converse is the best-written pages of the script.  Kudos again to Mr. Scarpa.  He captures the wisdom we needed to find earlier and not only predicts a happy ending, but logical reasoning behind it. Keanu is unhappy with how humans are treating Earth.  Cleese explains that all beings destroy their possessions until they’re forced to desperately save it in order to save themselves.  And that, in effect, is the message worth spreading – all around the Earth.

For a big budget action movie, the effects are surprisingly spare.  More dialogue than big booms and the booms lack the panache of your average tentpole.  One wonders what the communication was between Derrickson and second unit director/ former stuntman Doug Coleman.  

The Next Bryan Singer?

When I was first introduced to Scott Derrickson, he came across as the next Bryan Singer.  A young-ish, idealistic director with strong storytelling skills.  His previous directing work was character-based with high-caliber actors ( Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson).  This excited me about “ The Day The Earth Stood Still”.  I wanted to see a strong character-based director work with Keanu and deliver something more than a holiday tent-pole movie.

Director Scott Derrickson with Reeves

When you take a second look at Derrickson’s work, you also see writing credits in the B-movie horror world.  One wonders who had a tighter grip on the keyboard, Derrickson or Scarpa.  I hope ScarpaDerrickson proclaims he made a commercial film, a “popcorm movie with some interesting ideas.”  In that statement, he’s accurate.  I wish he had taken the budget and the star power at his hands and just cranked it to an 11.  Moreso, I hope the movie makes the money it deserves and allows Mr. Derrickson his next try to crank it all the way up.

David Scarpa has penned the re-imagining.  I’m biased, I’m a fan.  His previous work includes “The Last Castle”, which I thought was under-rated. Strong characters and inspired moments including Robert Redford and Mark Ruffalo. The Day The Earth Stood Still’s dialogue varies from clunky exposition, to shmaltzy feelings.  It excelts adding texture to the supporting clans and allows paint –by-number a little too often.

At the end of the day, see this movie because its intentions are in the right place.  It’s a diet version of “ Wall-E” that certainly doesn’t come close, but comfortably rests in its shadow.

“The Day The Earth Stood Still” opens December 12 nationwide.   For more information on the movie, please visit its website:www.thedaytheearthstoodstillmovie.com

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