And so we come
to the apocalypse once more - cinemagoers are now so blasé about the end of the world that even if aliens zapped Earth's landmarks tomorrow, we'd simply shrug and blog about how Michael Bay did it better. This latest space invader, a refit of the seminal '50s eco-fable, suffers from comparisons to bigger, louder and cleverer sci-fi spectacles. The result is a movie which doesn't know whether it wants to be Independence Day or An Inconvenient Truth
, and in compromising, falls somewhere between the two - lacking the balls to blow shit up in style and the brains to tackle a hot-button topic.
Things get off to a promising start. Earth's biggest boffins, including Jennifer Connelly's astrobiologist Dr. Helen Benson, are rounded up and shipped out to Central Park, where a gigantic glowing green sphere has descended. Enter Klaatu (Reeves), an alien mediator from another world who, after being promptly shot on arrival, warns the people of Earth that they're killing the planet. Alongside him is his seemingly indestructible robot buddy, quickly nicknamed Gort, who stands guard over the sphere and swats away the US military's feeble attempts to take him down.
It's this interesting set-up that initially intrigues, channelling the same vibe that Robert Zemeckis struck with the vastly underrated Contact - science fiction played out as fact. Reeves, reprising his blank slate role from The Matrix, is a great fit for alien missionary Klaatu - hardly a stretch for a man who struggles to display human emotions at the best of times. When the character is played as ambiguous, the story works - who is this strange creature, and what does he want? Sadly, when Klaatu starts banging the Al Gore drum and goes all Greenpeace, the plot runs out of steam.
Sci-fi ponderer then quickly descends into bland chase movie, with the action inexplicably moving into a misty forest for a good thirty minutes towards the disappointing (anti)climax. Characters turn into cardboard cliches; Kathy Bates as a government asshole who won't listen to reason; Jon Hamm's scientist whose deadly warnings go unheeded; Robert Knepper as a military commander barking impotent orders; Will Smith Jr. as the fresh-faced kid who shows us all the way. Connelly, who tries so hard to bring warmth to an otherwise dour and miserable affair, can only plead for the fate of the planet with her puppy-dog eyes - apparently that's enough.
Rule one in the 'Sci-Fi Apocalypse' handbook: have an ending worth waiting for. Here, the world ends with a whimper, not a bang. Sure, there are scenes of large-scale destruction - don't worry, they're the ones that you've already seen in the trailers - but they're nothing more than token additions to keep the ADD-afflicted audiences happy. The movie's insulting ending breaks all of its own rules, throwing in a deus ex machina for good measure. All of the anticipation and excitement from the engaging first half is wasted, and there isn't a 'Klaatu Barada Nikto' in sight.
There are brief moments of quality - few and far between, but there all the same. Gort remains as iconic a character in his new design as he did in his dildo-esque '50s outing; Klaatu's meeting with a colleague under the Golden Arches raises a smile (one of the less intrusive product placements, believe it or not); while the idea that his people are assembling some sort of alien ark is an interesting concept but one that's ultimately ignored in the rush towards a cloying finale. Writer David Scarpa has to take the blame: the script is frill-free and gaps in the screenplay see scenes jolt from day to night and back again in quick succession.
The Day The Earth Stood Still 2008 is not nearly as offensive or soulless as most horror remakes, then, but it is a missed opportunity for sure - you'll leave the cinema not enlightened or entertained, but wondering just how mankind's last stand could wind up being so fatally underwhelming. Oh well, there's always next apocalypse.