Finally, we have a week with only one new film in it: a chance for me to stretch my legs, extemporise, riff a little, get my hands dirty. Yeah, I’ve been looking forward to this, to prove I can be a real film critic and write erudite and cultured prose; place a film in its wider social, political and cultural context; discuss mise-en-scène and diegetic register, all the while providing a riveting (and undeniably “correct”) perspective on the film’s merits and qualities. Cool.
Unfortunately, the film that stands alone this week is the Keanu Reeves remake of the 1951 classic The Day the Earth Stood Still and frankly its hardly worth the bother. The original film was a pulp parable playing on the nuclear paranoia of “duck and cover” America: an alien lands in Central Park to tell us that he’s going to destroy the human race because we don’t deserve to live (we are warlike, brutal and selfish creatures you see, and the earth is too precious to be left in our care). But, the stern humanoid alien Klaatu softens on contact with a human child and realises that our capacity for change makes us worth persevering with. Naïve but satisfying.
The new version keeps the guts of the story intact (ecological doom and homeland security make up the new paranoia) while overblowing everything else to giant size. Reeves deadpans his way through as Klaatu (sensibly staying well within the limits of his range) and he’s joined by the mid-market star power of Jennifer Connelly, “Mad Men“ ‘s ‘Don Draper’ himself (the unfortunately named Jon Hamm), Kathy Bates and a miscast John Cleese. Kid duty is done by Will Smith’s little boy Jaden who made such an impression in last year’s The Pursuit of Happyness.
I had high hopes for this, based on some evocative trailers, but the reality is a disappointment. The plotting is messy and inconclusive and the effects look murky and rushed. The whole thing looks like someone lost confidence half way through shooting, then decided to cut the budget in half and hope for the best.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 17 December, 2008.