Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Day The Earth Stood Still

I think I can safely say that I've never seen a B-movie.  I've watched quite a few of the original series of Star Trek, Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica, but for me, that's where the history of science fiction begins.  However, our Lovefilm account needed to be topped up, so I threw a number of science fiction films into it, some of them based on Lovefilm's automated recommendations, and a few weeks ago, the remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still came through.  I should say now, to make it perfectly clear:  I haven't seen the original.




I was very pleasantly surprised with how quickly the story got moving.  After a couple of scene-setters, where we discovered the main characters' backgrounds in a very quick and efficient way, the story whisked us straight off to New York for the alien spaceship landing.  I am going to mention this now, as it grated on me as soon as I saw it:  the scientists are gathered around their screens, tracking an object coming in at one-tenth the speed of light.  I was pleased that arrival was imminent, but a quick mention that the object was slowing down - and slowing down dramatically - would have been helpful, otherwise by the time it had been detected, its arrival would have been less 'imminent' and more like 'immediate'.  One scientist asks another, "Where is it due to hit?"  Where do you think?  Have you not seen Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow or any of other myriad sci-fi blockbusters?  It's going to land in America, and probably New York.  Surprise, surprise, it's Manhattan.  This European viewer rolls his eyes and yawns with the lack of ingenuity.


Anyway, the film carries on, we get the dramatic landing in Central Park, and the arrival of the alien life form and his 60-foot-tall metallic one-eyed guardian.  I know I said I've never seen any B-movies before, but I have a good idea of what the genre looks like, and it looks like this!  It's either a soldier or a police officer, but some trigger-happy American (and this is an unfortunate stereotype that is widely recognised) shoots the alien as it attempts to make first contact, and we have a good start to a paranoia movie.  The alien invasion is met with alarm, fear and lots of military hardware, while the smaller, gooey alien is rushed off to hospital where it starts to adapt alarmingly.  I was reminded of the throwaway line in the original Back to the Future, "It's mutated into human form!" and that's about right here.  Keanu Reeves plays the alien invader with a high degree of cool detachment, and very quickly develops an air of 'weird' and non-human, despite looking decidedly human!


The story doesn't have a long and complicated story - I suspect that's typical of the B-movie genre - as the 60-foot-tall metallic one-eyed guardian is attacked, defends himself, and is later boxed up and lowered into a very convenient and very deep vertical tunnel (with adjacent test lab).  From here, the guardian dissolves into thousands of tiny metallic insects (I wonder if GI Joe's nanobots came from here) that are capable of destroying any material - from diamond and metal to people.  It becomes a race against time to prevent this deadly swarm from completely destroying life on Earth. 


All life, that is, except for a selection of fish and animal life (and presumably some plants) that have been attracted into huge watery glowing spheres - "arks", as the secretary for defence concludes.  The appearance of these glowing spheres makes for some impressive visual effects, as they turn up all over the globe, attracting and absorbing the local animal life, and ominously foreshadowing "the flood".  The flood - or the swarm, as it turns out - is also shown with some very impressive visuals, as a stadium disintegrates, and people start to get caught up in it.


The plot - or the story - is simple:  convince the alien that humankind is worth saving, and to this end, I particularly enjoyed the role of John Cleese's character.  The alien's line, "Close.  But no," made me smile, before the prerequisite wiping of strange characters and rewriting with chalk on a blackboard.  For me, this was one of the best character scenes, and sent the story on its way to its obvious conclusion.  I didn't much like the son character - thought he was a bit contrived and his resistance bordered on obstinate, although I did like his lines to the unfortunate police officer who tried to stop the alien, "Please don't hurt him...   I wasn't talking to you."


In the end, disaster is averted, mankind is saved from the brink, as the alien sets off a massive electro-magnetic pulse that disables the swarm, and, at the same time, stops all electronic devices from working.  I think the whole earth suffered the effects of the EMP; all watches and clocks stop, hence the title: "The Day The Earth Stood Still."  It was all a bit cheesy for me, a bit predictable and overly heavy on the, "mankind is capable of great kindness" sentiments.  Ever since I first heard the title for this film, many years ago, I envisaged a problem where the Earth stopped spinning, one side getting ever hotter, and one side ever colder.  This film didn't live up to that title, which was a shame, and didn't live up to its own high-paced start, and that was a disappointment.

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