May 18, 2017
The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) (part 6 of 11)
Meanwhile, Kathy Bates is apologizing to Klaatu because they “got off to a bad start.” She tells him they’re transferring him to a different facility, but he says, “I am leaving.” Why is it aliens can’t use contractions? Are they really such a hard concept? Or do aliens just think they’re declassé?
Kathy Bates, of course, says, “Fat chance”, or words to that effect. Klaatu observes he did nothing wrong, but Kathy Bates argues he invaded “our airspace” (America’s? Earth’s?) and his “automaton attacked our troops.” Klaatu says it acted only in defense—”it activates in the presence of violence.” Or, possibly, German Shepherds.
(Note from the future: It’s very weird watching this scene, knowing that Kathy Bates’s character, who is being painted with the darkest brushstrokes of unreasonable tyranny from the movie industry’s standard-issue don’t-trust-the-government Technicolor paintbox, is actually totally on target here. As it turns out, Klaatu is the one concealing an unpleasant agenda for his own purposes. And yet, we’re still supposed to cheer Helen in this scene, who is acting with what can only be described as naïveté, and later to smile warmly when Kathy Bates grows a heart. This movie wants to have its cake and annihilate it with cool licorice nanobot bugs, too.)
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Helen is called in to administer the “sedative”, which she does. But Kathy Bates conveniently turns away once it’s done, allowing Helen to whisper to Klaatu, “Run!” Now, Kathy Bates is still standing only two feet away, but, being a government official, Kathy Bates hears what she wants to hear and disregards the rest, oh la la la la la-la la.
Helen is escorted out by three huge soldiers (now they don’t trust her?); they exit the room they were in, which turns out to be one of several of those loaf-shaped military temporary buildings, which in turn are revealed to have been erected in a high school gym, complete with basketball hoops and those folded-up accordion-style wooden bleachers [?]. Wait, I thought they were on a military base near Manhattan. Where the hell are we? They identified the random fort we were at in Jersey earlier, and not this place? Is this supposed to be still on that base, only we’re supposed to believe they didn’t have an infirmary, and erected a field hospital in the gym? Okay, whatever. If I start getting derailed by things that don’t make sense in this movie, I’ll be finishing this recap at the Sunny Vista Retirement Home.
Klaatu is now being transported into a big subterranean chamber that looks like it was converted over from long-term parking. He’s strapped to a wheelchair being rolled in by Dimply Sneery Flash Gordon Gray Man Fail #1, who slaps some polygraph electrodes on his temples and then leaves. At the table sits a Tech Sp00k—one of those bloodless geeks that shadowy government agencies hire to push buttons and attach wires to things, like the diarrhea guy in Mission Impossible. Tech Sp00k is played by David Richmond-Peck, whose seeming familiarity to me was explained by the fact that he’s a Vancouver-based actor, which means he’s been in every TV show I watch.
For some reason, Richmond-Peck elected to convey emotional disengagement by mimicking the vocal cadences of HAL 9000. Attention, director: In scenes with Keanu Reeves, letting the other actors also give their lines in flat monotones is a really bad idea. Granted, Keanu can’t help it, but you have to work around him. It’s your job to make sure vocal inflection makes it into the movie somehow!
After a series of control questions (“Are you currently in a seated position?” “Will there ever be a Bill & Ted 3?”), Tech Sp00k asks if Klaatu knows of an impending attack on Earth. Klaatu’s response: “You should let me go.” Objection! Witness did not answer the question! Tech Sp00k starts to repeat the question, but his polygraph spazzes out and then electrocutes him—which, bizarrely, causes the Tech Sp00k to fall backwards in his chair and then rise back to the vertical like a zombie. Klaatu, now in control, asks Zombie Tech Sp00k the way out, and he answers in an even flatter monotone than before. The last question:
Klaatu: What size is that suit?
Zombie Tech Sp00k: 42 long.
Klaatu: Take it off!
Zombie Tech Sp00k: 42 long.
Klaatu: Take it off!
Woo-hoo! Slashers who love emotionally uninflected sex pairings, start your engines!
A series of effects shots ensue in which we zoom into Klaatu’s eyeballs to see all of the various sp00ks in the hallways, the earpieces in their ears, and the surveillance cameras observing them. This goes on for some time, overexplaining what’s about to happen, which is that Klaatu uses the base’s security network to fry the sp00ks’ brains with his mind. I think we’re supposed to think that he’s doing this through the polygraph electrodes attached to his temples, but I find it really hard to believe that, given the extreme sensitivity of the information being collected, the polygraph is hooked up to the network server.
When we come back from the brain-barbecue, Klaatu is now wearing the Zombie Tech Sp00k’s suit, but still has the electrodes on. He looks up and all the lights in the building start flickering. Klaxons start going off, and Helen, sitting at a little desk in the lab, takes this as her cue to bail. On her way out she manages to grab a vial of Klaatu Placenta (ewwwwwwwww!!) and shove it in her jacket pocket.
Klaatu looks down at Zombie Tech Sp00k, who’s wearing an undershirt and boxers. (This tells us, for those who are interested, that for the rest of the movie Klaatu is going commando.) As a final gift to the slashers, Klaatu says, “I am leaving you now,” and Zombie Tech Sp00k wails, “Noooo!!” But Klaatu is determined. He peels the electrodes off his temples, which for some reason causes Zombie Tech Sp00k to collapse in a heap onto the table [??]. Evidently Klaatu was keeping Zombie Tech Sp00k alive through the electrodes. Okaaay. I’d like to see the physics of that, if you don’t mind.
Klaatu and Helen (separately) leave the base, walking past all the sp00ks, who are too busy getting their brains fried to stop them.
Now we get an establishing shot of the Pulaski Skyway looking toward Newark, so at least I have some idea where we are now. We get a few seconds of Klaatu walking down an industrial railway, then we cut to Kathy Bates ordering a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse, and doghouse in New Jersey. Get every arm of the government looking for him! Use every surveillance satellite, every drone aircraft, every freeway camera! Wake up 11,000 people!
Kyle Chandler tries valiantly to get a line in about the media getting hold of this, but Kathy Bates plows over him with instructions to use an escaped-convict cover story. Meanwhile, Klaatu walks placidly into Newark Penn station, which is roiling with angry commuters, and glances up placidly at the departures board. All the New Jersey Transit trains are marked DELAYED.
Klaatu remains totally unobserved, even after he placidly uses his powers to steal a tuna salad sandwich from a vending machine. Unobserved, that is, except for the One-Kid-Who-Sees-the-Magic-and-Won’t-Be-Believed, which is right up there with the Gratuitous Stuffed Toy in the list of Lazy Sci-Fi/Fantasy Moviemaking Clichès. Klaatu and the One Kid just stare wordlessly at each other, until the mom hauls him away. Man, every time I see one of these kids, I wait for the off-screen mom to shout “Haven’t I told you not to lie?” and slap the kid silly.
A fight is breaking out nearby, because some idiot stole some other idiot’s train ticket. Commuter Idiot yanks his ticket back, but then randomly has a heart attack and crumples to the ground right in front of Klaatu, whereupon the Thief Idiot retrieves the ticket, even as the transit police run up to help the injured man. Klaatu watches all of this placidly, eating his sandwich, no doubt counting down in his head to when all these morons will be space dust and he can finally head back home and spend the weekend watching the Alien Porn Channel.
Then Klaatu gets distracted by a television report up on the train station monitors, where a reporter says that religions around the world are reacting to the arrival of the Central Park sphere as “apocalyptic.” Right, it’s a spaceship, that must mean the end of the world! Look, it’s right here in the Book of Revelation—giant palantirs and muscular Oscar statues! Seriously, I’m starting to come around to Klaatu’s point of view.
Oh, and I just realized that all this news coverage is yet another instance of the unavoidable Hey! Turn on the TV! Rule, which stipulates that if you’re a movie character, everything on television is about you. This applies even to the endless amounts of recycled TV news footage being watched by Helen and Jacob periodically, since they’re getting sucked into Klaatu’s life for the entire film.
Then Klaatu gets distracted again by a strange feeling in his chest, which turns out to be his gunshot wound opening up. He goes to the washroom and sees that he’s bleeding through his shirt, under his jacket. He has time to realize his forehead is damp with sweat before collapsing onto the bathroom floor. Look, buddy, the men’s room at Newark Penn Station is not a floor you want to be lying on. Believe me, I know.
More canned news footage of world leaders objecting to America’s secretive handling of the crisis. It turns out the news is now being watched by Jacob, who’s telling the just-arrived Helen that he’s home because school is canceled “on account of the aliens—they say it’s an invasion.” Wait, the schools just told all these little kids the planet was being invaded? And to just run home and watch it on TV? How stupid are—okay, okay, Sunny Vista, right right right.
Helen denies it’s an invasion, and of course stepchild-from-Hell Jacob questions her denial. The phone rings and Helen tells Jacob not to get it, but he does anyway, apparently out of pure malice. You don’t want me to answer phones, Helen? Ha! Watch me answer the freaking phone! Bwahahahaha!
It turns out to be Newark Penn Station, telling her that her “patient” is there. Helen takes a minute to realize who this must be. When she gets there, she finds the New Jersey Transit Police substation at Penn Station is mobbed with furious shouting commuters, who are all screaming at the cops behind the desk.
So the cops are more than happy to unload onto Helen the wounded guy in the suit sitting in the corner—you know, the guy who looks exactly like the escaped convict that’s supposed to be all over the news. “He’s your problem now!” shouts a cop over the throng, blissfully unaware that Klaatu will shortly become everyone’s problem.
As they’re walking back to her car, through huge crowds of stranded commuters, Helen asks him what’s up.
Helen: I took a huge risk back at the hospital. Did I make a mistake? Are you a friend to us?
Klaatu: [after a slight pause] I am a friend to the Earth.
Klaatu: [after a slight pause] I am a friend to the Earth.
Helen takes this as a “yes”, which is seriously dense, because if that isn’t an evasive answer, I’ve never heard one. She has a kid and she can’t tell when she’s being fed a half-truth? No wonder she can’t control him.
Klaatu gets in on the passenger side and notices Jacob in the back seat. He says “Hello” stiffly, and Jacob says “hi” with his lip curled in disdain. This should work out well. Helen and Klaatu will be saddled with Jacob for the rest of the movie, which I’m assuming means that Mrs. Kravitz has had enough of Jacob the Menace and wouldn’t watch him any more. (Actually, during the phone call from the station, Helen was watching incredulously through the window as her neighbors frantically packed up the car and bolted, and that might have been the Kravitzes. Though the main function of that particular visual was to remind me again of Independence Day.)
Klaatu somehow knows that Helen has Klaatu Placenta in her pocket. She hands over the vial and he uses a finger to smear Klaatu Placenta all over his chest wound (EEEWWWWWW!!!), which magically causes the wound to vanish—stitches and all [!!]. He even bogarts the Klaatu Placenta, dropping it in his pocket. Hey, get your own Klaatu Placenta, dude!
Jacob, seeing all of this from behind, frowns, clearly pegging this stranger Helen just picked up from the train station as a freak. So at least the kid isn’t a total idiot.