The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) (part 4 of 11)

We cut to an overhead shot and suddenly all the other scientists are 50 feet behind Helen. Yeah, let’s let her make friends with the hippogriff! She’s walking toward the figure, and everyone else is screaming at her and at the figure to stop advancing. Apparently they’re all too chickenshit to run up and yank her out of harm’s way (though you can hear people yelling at other people to pull her out, while still other people scream, “Do we engage??”). The upshot is everyone just watches helplessly as she approaches the sphere.

A hand, barely visible in the streaming white light, reaches out toward her, and she starts to reach toward it. Suddenly, someone spits cranberry sauce on her visor. Wait, no, some idiot shot the alien. We never find out who. You’d expect a shot of some corporal feverishly psyching himself up to fire and then shooting prematurely, but nope.

Caption contributed by Scooter

“UPS, I have this arm upgrade for Lindsay Lohan?”

Now the soldiers are yelling at each other to cease fire, so evidently the shot fired was against orders. But then, there’s nobody there giving orders, and a minute ago they were frantically asking each other whether they should fire, so who knows?

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The alien swoons into Helen’s arms and she shouts, “We need a medic!!” This of course adheres to the absolutely rigid Completely Dead Rule in science fiction, which says that you can shoot aliens all you want, but you can’t let wounded aliens die. Places a lot of pressure on your aim, I’d think. “Now, Jim, make sure you shoot this guy completely dead, cause otherwise, we’re going to have do everything possible to make sure he lives.”

Caption contributed by Scooter

I think he’s from the planet Oceanspray. Mmmm, Cran-klaatu!

The lights on the giant sphere flash ominously, and suddenly another figure emerges: a 30-foot-high, muscular [?], ebony Oscar statue with nothing on its face but a slit, which proceeds to light up. Everything goes dead—radios, artillery, light panels, car engines, everything—and the whole assemblage of scientists, soldiers, and cops is hit with an ear-splitting noise that has them writhing on the ground. For some reason, they even show the German Shepherd cowering and whimpering. That dog must have some agent to get all this face time.

The Oscar statue stomps up to Helen’s position, looks down, and reaches a hand toward her. Helen stares up at it in terror, but the alien in Helen’s arms makes some kind of silly bwort bwort bwort noises and the giant robot yanks its hand back. (The first time I saw this I didn’t catch that the alien had intervened, and so I thought that the robot had just capriciously changed its mind about smooshing Helen in its mighty grip, or whatever it was going to do.)

Caption contributed by Scooter

“Hold still. I just need to mind-meld with you.”

By the way, those bwort bwort bwort noises? That’s Keanu Reeves saying the famous line, “Klaatu barada nikto”, which was apparently inserted into the film at Reeves’s insistence. I feel good knowing I’m not alone in totally not even noticing it—there’s a whole article about it at Sci Fi Wire. It’s so digitally altered (and with a backwards version played on top of the forwards version) that it’s impossible to know it’s there unless you’ve read about it on the Internet and are determined to hear it by sheer act of faith. That’s how you separate the fanboys from the poseurs. “I heard klaatu barada nikto! The Voice of Keanu spoke to me, and I alone was witness!”

The robot steps back and assumes a relaxed position, its arms not quite at its side. Evidently it’s been working its lats too hard lately or something. Seriously, why would aliens that, as Klaatu hints later, look nothing like us make their giant robot look like a human bodybuilder? It’s got a total “bar body” too—all pecs and shoulders. Wait, did they send a gay giant robot for some reason? Maybe Klaatu’s superiors figured he’d get really bored on the trip to Earth.

The robot powers down, and the lights and engines come back on and all the humans get up off the ground.

Cut to a military hospital, where the alien is being rushed in a plastic coffin into a big isolation chamber. Michael, the Scientist Guy in Charge, is suddenly back in the movie, and Helen is also there, running alongside the gurney. I’d’ve thought she’d have been hauled off for debriefing already, but again, no one’s giving orders around here, so she’s just trotting alongside the alien as if she were the distraught wife. (Given that Helen looks a lot like Demi Moore here, I’m having a lot of Ghost flashbacks, which is a nice diversion from the banality of this movie.)

Caption contributed by Scooter

I hope they rinsed it out after using it for Bruce Banner.

They start trying to stabilize its condition (no one is wearing masks), only the medic is understandably not sure what to do. Helen and Michael figure its blood is red, which means hemoglobin (or cranberry sauce), so an IV is all right. But suddenly the alien is in cardiac arrest. They decide to defibrillate, basically for lack of a better option. Defibrillating somehow causes a massive electrical feedback that launches the medic across the room, but fortunately it works anyway. Typically for this movie, the medic is all, “What now? What now??” Even Michael looks confused and hesitant, and only Helen has the presence of mind to ask the obvious question: “Do you have a surgeon?”

Yes, they do. As Michael and Helen watch from outside the isolation chamber, the surgeon (with mask, finally) administers a local anesthetic and starts slicing into the gray outer layer, describing it as being like whale blubber. He takes a sample for analysis. (Remember this sample For Later.)

Caption contributed by Scooter

Oprah’s latest liposuction yielded enough fat to run a whole fleet of vehicles.

Slicing deep, the surgeon discovers to his surprise that the interior is all familiar, human anatomy. Even as he extracts the bullet, the gray external layer starts sluicing off in big fatty clumps (ewww). They remove a few gallons of gloppy gray stuff to reveal a pale, super-skinny, Keanu Reeves-shaped object within. Hey, my life-sized Constantine action figure finally arrived!

Caption contributed by Scooter

What the—? Who greenlit Powder 2?!

Now the alien is back in the isolation coffin. Helen, like a good wife, comes in to check on him and notices his eyes are moving—”He’s dreaming!” Of electric sheep? Suddenly the alien wakes up and starts freaking out, thrashing around inside the plastic coffin [?]. Michael runs in and suggests Helen speak to it, since it’s looking at her.

Helen: My name is Doctor Helen Benson. We’re trying to help you. You have nothing to fear from us.
Klaatu: [for it is he] Help you. Nothing to fear.

These are Keanu Reeves’s first lines, by the way, 30 minutes into the movie, even though he appears in the very first scene. I can only assume that this means the director knew what he had to work with, and kept Keanu from talking for as long as possible.

Now I think this scene is here to help set up the Big Misunderstanding that motivates Helen for the next half hour or so, which is that she thinks Klaatu is here to help humanity. (Later, Klaatu very cynically preserves this misunderstanding for as long as he can, for his own purposes—mostly because he needs a chauffeur.) In this scene, Helen hears “help you… nothing to fear” from Klaatu, and at some level files it away under his motivations, when in fact, of course, he’s disoriented and just parroting what Helen is saying. If you want to be really negative, you can wonder whether Klaatu is fully alert here and is already setting Helen up to be the patsy, cleverly feeding her what she wants to hear. But one thing’s for sure—you’ll get no help deciding that from Keanu Reeves’s performance.

Cut to the Canned News Footage Channel, which is showing reports of financial panic and mass exoduses from major cities as people around the world react hysterically to the events in Central Park. Was there no one who went, “Spaceship? Gray-goop-covered alien? Killer Oscar statue? Cool!” Honestly, I thought we humans were more jaded than is.

Caption contributed by Scooter

Financial collapse forces newspapers to reuse 20-year-old headlines!

An establishing shot of yet another helicopter transport gives way to an in-flight briefing led by Kathy Bates [!], whom we find out much later is the Secretary of Defense and who is therefore the first actual government leader to appear in the movie. (Actually, that’s not quite true—the preceding news report contained canned footage of Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel of Germany, and Pope Benedict XVI, who in a bit of Hollywood insanity get as-themselves credits at the end of the movie. Well, I wouldn’t want to cross Putin’s agent, would you?)

The president and vice president have been packed off to separate, secure locations, she explains, and… that’s pretty much all you’ll hear about them in this movie. Geez, at least Bill Pullman went to Area 51 himself, and even got in a fighter jet and battled the aliens in person. So this president is wussier than… Bill Pullman?

So, Kathy Bates is essentially Surrogate President for the rest of the movie, making me wonder just how “secure” those locations are, and whether the president will be allowed out at any point. Perhaps she just wants him to finish his novel.

Also in this airborne briefing is Kyle Chandler, whom some of you will know from Early Edition, others from Homefront, probably most of you from Friday Night Lights, and a tiny, tiny population of freaks from What About Joan? (What? I like Joan Cusack. So sue me.)

What is Kyle Chandler doing in this movie? Well, I have no idea what his actual job is supposed to be, but he’s essentially got the thankless role of contracting sudden-onset Myopic Assholitude. And you know what happens to Myopic Assholes in movies like these.

Caption contributed by Scooter

“The paper didn’t say anything about this!”

Exposition in this scene reveals that numerous smaller spheres have landed around the world, and an American defense communications satellite is out of commision. Kathy Bates intuits that access to the DOD mainframe via the missing satellite was what allowed the aliens to disable our missile defense (remember that?), in the process allowing them to upload everything about us.

“The fact that they chose to disable our defenses”, Kathy Bates says darkly, “tells us something about their intentions.” What, that they want to live? Given that we tried shooting them with missiles (unsuccessfully) and guns (successfully) without the slightest provocation, wouldn’t any alien with half a brain want to disable our defenses before landing on Earth?

Mark "Scooter" Wilson

Mark is a history guy, a graphics guy, a guy for whom wryly cynical assessments of popular culture are the scallion cream cheese on the toasted everything bagel of life. He spends his time teaching modern history at Brooklyn College, pondering the ancient Romans at the CUNY Graduate Center, and conjuring maps and illustrations for ungrateful bankers at various Manhattan monoliths. Readers are welcome to guess at reasons why he’s nicknamed Scooter, with the proviso that all such submissions are guaranteed to be rather more interesting than the truth. Mark lives in the Midwood section of Brooklyn with a happy-go-lucky, flop-eared dog named Chiyo who is probably, at this very moment, waiting patiently for her walkies.

Multi-Part Article: The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

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