The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) (part 11 of 11)
Jacob and Klaatu are in a military cemetery, with rows of small white tombstones. Jacob runs ahead to quickly tidy what, of course, turns out to be his dad’s grave. He then turns to Klaatu with a look of excited expectation. He figures Klaatu can resurrect him the way he did the trooper. Okay, Jacob, priorities! Your dad won’t be too grateful for being brought back from the dead if he’s eaten alive by Annihilation Nanobots ten minutes later.
Klaatu says there are some things he can’t do, and he’s sorry. Jacob begs him, so Klaatu gives him a big line about how nothing ever truly dies, because the universe wastes nothing. We are all… starstuff! Jacob, however, isn’t buying what Klaatu is selling and tells him to go away.
Helen finds Jacob crying at his dad’s grave and takes him into her arms. “It’s not fair,” Jacob sobs into her shoulder. “He left me alone!” Helen tells him he’s not alone, and he didn’t leave him. “I see him in you all the time,” she says. “Sometimes it’s hard for me to bear.” This is such a touching, emotional scene that I’m really trying hard not to notice how she jumps back and forth between touching his left cheek with her left hand and touching his right check with her right hand, as the movie cuts from his coverage to her coverage. In fact, I’m not even going to mention it. I’m nice that way.
They realize they both miss his dad, and tearfully apologize to each other before diving in for another hug. Klaatu, meanwhile, has been watching all this intently, and now he walks toward them and says, “There’s another side to you. I feel it now.” Which is great. Nevermind that Old Chinese One of Them Alien Guy tried to tell you this ages ago back at Mickey D’s. Sometimes it takes a Weepy Jennifer Connelly Hug to really make things happen.
And in fact, I have to say, in portraying this sudden onset of hope in reaction to Klaatu’s words here, Jennifer Connelly musters her entire being and somehow manages to radiate it from her glistening eyes, and just for this moment, she is so beautiful I’d very nearly cross the line for her. So, that’s some serious mojo she’s got going.
They’re distracted by the nanobot cloud, which has been artlessly composited into the sky behind Klaatu and is apparently tearing though Jersey toward New York. Helen asks if he can stop it, and Klaatu says, “I don’t know. It would come at a price. To you and your way of life.” As long as that price isn’t giving Sinbad another sitcom, I’m good.
Helen says he knows now that we can change, and asks him to try to stop it. He agrees, and says, again, “I must get back to the city.”
Cut to Kathy Bates in the command center, which is now empty. Take the afternoon off, everyone! Enjoy the apocalypse! She’s on the phone arguing with President Wussier-than-Bill-Pullman, trying to convince him that further military action will make things worse, and that they have a chance to open a dialogue with the alien. Wow, she’s saying exactly the opposite of what she said at the beginning of the movie! John Cleese was right, the prospect of the end of life as we know it can cause a defense secretary to consider not finding new ways to kill people. Well, it would be pointless anyway, what with everyone being already dead and all.
President Not-Appearing-in-this-Film ignores her entreaties and orders her to do… something. She reluctantly agrees.
Looks like New York sent everyone home, too, though they left Times Square plugged in. If a Wicked billboard lights up in Times Square and there’s no one there to see it, does it advertise? Michael’s SUV roars up empty avenues and barrels through a flimsy wooden checkpoint, causing hummvees to peel off after “the suspect” in hot pursuit. (Of course, if they’d wanted an effective checkpoint they could have blocked the road with the hummvees, but checkpoints exist in movies mainly to be plowed through recklessly at high speed, thereby giving employment to the special sub-union of Leap-Aside Stunt Extras.)
Then the hummvees receive orders to let them through, and they fall back. So was that… totally pointless?
They drive right up to where the sphere is in Central Park, but there are no soldiers—the park has been cleared. Helen is spooked by this and tells Michael to stop the car, but it’s too late: the order that President One-Last-Futile-Gesture gave to Kathy Bates was for a final airstrike against the sphere. This means the military let Klaatu through in the hopes that he would be blown up in the airstrike. They partially get their wish, inasmuch as Michael’s SUV is thrown by one of the explosions, and rolls crunchily over three or four times.
Kathy Bates, who just very nearly sealed humanity’s doom by almost killing the post-Weepy-Jennifer-Connelly-Hug Klaatu, watches the satellite feed on a monitor and closes her eyes sadly. The swirly sphere is, naturally, unharmed, and the annihilation cloud sweeps into Manhattan from Jersey, causing us to finally care. Look, all I’m saying is, some days, Jersey could use a few Annihilation Nanobots, know what I mean?
Michael is apparently dead from the crash, but the others are miraculously okay. (For the moment, anyway. Armageddon’s coming, remember?) Klaatu says they have to get to the sphere, but the Annihilation Nanobots are already swarming all over the park, cutting them off. The three of them run to a nearby pedestrian underpass (the same one, supposedly, that the heroes of Cloverfield hid in at the end of their movie—remember that if you find yourself in Central Park the next time Manhattan is being destroyed). Klaatu says he can’t keep them out for long.
Jacob’s nose is bleeding. He touches his lip and calls out, “Mom!” and then collapses into her arms. I’m gonna cry. Klaatu says the Annihilation Nanobots are inside him and he’s dying. Helen tells Klaatu to help Jacob, even as she realizes her nose is bleeding, too. I’m confused. The nanobots are everywhere, Klaatu can’t get to the sphere, it’s too late after all and they’re all going to get eaten alive anyway. What exactly is the point of preventing Jacob from dying at this point?
Klaatu holds both of their wrists and we see tiny bulges moving under their skin toward him as he draws the nanobots into himself. So if these things are big enough to see as tiny bumps under the skin, shouldn’t drawing them through the flesh of your forearm hurt? A lot?
After pulling out all their bugs, Klaatu makes one last pronouncement: “Your professor was right. At the precipice, we change.” He stands up and, sharing a last glance over his shoulder with Helen, walks out into the howling nanobot cloud toward certain doom. The nanobots tear at his clothes and body (though much slower than they tore apart an entire semi half an hour ago).
Klaatu stumbles to his knees, but he manages to make it to the sphere and place his hand against it, and just as his physical, human form is destroyed (you can actually see it melting away if you watch carefully), the sphere sends out a massive electromagnetic pulse and all the nanobots die, showering to the Earth in inert billions. Are dead silicon-hybrid bugs good for the topsoil?
In the command center, Kathy Bates watches as everything goes dark. Neon signs in Tokyo go out. Then San Francisco goes dark, section by section. The lights on the Golden Gate Bridge go off, and all the cars on it die. Best of all, a row of radio telescope dishes power down by dropping their heads, zzrrrrmmmmmm, like contrite puppies. Really? Doesn’t a radio telescope stay naturally in one fixed place (I would hope), requiring power to move its dish around? If a radio telescope suddenly loses power, does it really drop its head like that?
Power stations die. A bullet train slides to a halt in the middle of nowhere. An oil well stops pumping. Okay, we get it. You don’t need to show us every single form of industrial technology shutting down!
Now I guess (the movie doesn’t explain) what happened is that the level of EMP necessary to kill off the alien technology (the nanobots) also unavoidably killed off all human technology as well. Oops. Is New Bern still there? Do they have any windmills left lying around?
And we get one last parade of Highly Visible International Landmarks. In London (the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben! Red double-decker buses! Black, hearse-like taxis! Funny-looking wool hats!), people stand in the street next to their stopped cars, clearly thinking, “What now?” Across from the darkened Sydney Opera House, silhouetted people stand in the dark and probably think, “What now?” (Look, movie, thanks for showing the Sydney Opera House, but I’m still waiting for the Taj Mahal! I can wait all day if necessary!) At some shipyard somewhere, huge cargo ships lie askew, and the movie audience thinks, “What now? Are they done showing World Vignettes yet?” At an automobile factory, the assembly line is all stopped and everything. Okay, movie. We get it!
Somewhere on a military base, Kathy Bates opens the blinds and basks in sunlight, as if that were somehow a new experience for her. She checks her (analog) watch, and that’s dead too. Okay! WE GET IT!
Wait, what did the EMP kill in her analog watch? The battery? Don’t tell me that stuff like gears won’t work anymore.
Back in half-destroyed New York, Helen and Jacob walk hand-in-hand over to the swirly sphere. The sphere starts to lift off, and Helen says, “It’s leaving.” But Jacob says, “No. He‘s leaving!” Aww, Helen passed her adorable blind naïveté onto her stepson. Isn’t that sweet?
The swirly sphere ascends and flies out into space, leaving the ravaged Earth behind, where seven billion people made fully dependent on a highly technological supply chain over the course of several generations have now been plunged into a barbarous, nightmare dark age sure to inaugurate a millennium of murder, brutality, and misery. But… Jaden Smith called Jennifer Connelly “Mom”! So that counts as a happy ending, r-right?
There’s a part of me that wants to not be too hard on this movie (now that I’ve spent 19,867 words gleefully trashing it, that is). The last fifteen minutes come very close to working. John Cleese is great in it (and should play more subdued roles like this), and at key moments Jennifer Connelly is radiant. The visuals (apart from the overuse of stock news footage) are pretty good; The visual effects were done in part by Weta, the company that did The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia films.
Conceptually, this movie isn’t about saving the planet, but about saving humanity, which is probably more important; Klaatu’s aliens aside, the Earth is a very, very large, very, very old celestial object and can probably take care of itself even if we manage to destroy ourselves in the post-ice-cap-melting flood that’s coming, and what we really need to focus on is trying not to poison things so much that we doom our own grandchildren to a hideous sterile death. So that part of it is cool.
As entertainment, though, the problem with this movie isn’t the bummer dying-Earth scenario, or the not-as-optimistic-as-it-sounds message that if things get really, really, really bad, we have it in us to muster the resolve to not be quite as self-destructive as we normally are. The central, unavoidable problem is that Keanu Reeves, after years of constantly being ridiculed as a flat, emotionally inarticulate actor, chose this project to hide and/or leverage his shortcomings by playing a flat, emotionally inarticulate character. Seems perfect, right?
This clever plan, alas, is an utter failure, because playing a character without emotions still requires acting. Imagine what a real actor could have done with this role. Imagine what, say, Heath Ledger might have done—keeping his face still, giving away nothing, yet telling us in the audience volumes with a glance here, a gesture there. There are some interesting moments, and even some interesting ideas, but ultimately The Day the Earth Stood Still ignores its source material while copying too much from others, and has at its core a glassy-eyed cipher.
On the other hand, Keanu’s next project is playing the lead in the live-action version of the surreal Japanese bounty hunter animè Cowboy Bebop, and attempting to envision that actually causes my mind to sprain. I’m sure that after watching that performance, I’ll be looking back on this movie with something akin to teary-eyed nostalgia.
Stay tuned for more Razzie Contenders, coming soon! And check out the other recaps in this series: The Love Guru by Ed Harris, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale by Ryan Lohner, 10,000 B.C. by Jessica Ritchey, The Hottie & the Nottie by Albert!