The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) (part 7 of 11)
Cut to a military base, where an army colonel with a hellaciously fake Southern accent is announcing orders for a mission. This is Robert Knepper, whom fans of the now-defunct FOX series Prison Break will know as T-Bag, and who a long time ago was Wyatt Miller in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Haven” (The One Where Lwaxana Forces Deanna to Marry).
This section is Rilly Dumb, so here’s the super-encapsulated version: The robot is still just standing there in Central Park showing off its wingspan, and the government (i.e., Kathy Bates) is getting unnerved by it, for no good reason. So despite having been told that the robot reacts to violence, the army tries to blow it up using sidewinder missiles fired from drone aircraft. Hilarity ensues!
Meanwhile, Helen’s car is the only car on her side of the freeway; the other side is jammed with cars. But… but… but they’re on the Jersey Turnpike. (I know this for certain, because a sign shows us they’re approaching the Grover Cleveland Service Area, which I happen to remember is near Exit 12 in Woodbridge. Look, if you’ve lived in Jersey, you know the Pike, okay?) They were in Newark; Woodbridge is south of Newark on the Pike; so they are traveling south, away from New York City. But the movie is trying to show people fleeing New York and other major cities (something that figures in the news reports that pop up occasionally), which should mean that all the New York evacuees should be going south, on Helen’s side. Unless—maybe all these people are fleeing New Brunswick? Well, I could understand that. I lived there for five years, and that was more than enough, glowy alien sphere or no.
Li’l Jacob is perplexed:
Helen: They didn’t come here to hurt us.
Jacob: Well, they should kill ’em anyway. Just to be sure.
Wow, and Klaatu is right there! That’s some kind of cold dramatic irony. Jacob says that’s what his dad would’ve done, which we know is true from a certain previous summer blockbuster movie. Helen disagrees, but Jacob says he knew his dad longer than her. For some reason, Jacob asks the freaky stranger in the passenger seat what he thinks, but Klaatu says ominously that neither running nor fighting is any use. Or at least it would be ominous, if it weren’t Keanu Reeves saying the line with his patented please-pass-the-sugar delivery.
Klaatu directs them off the highway. There’s kind of a funny moment as they arrive at their destination, which is shown by the reflection of two golden arches sliding up over the windshield like the title for Entourage. Helen (speaking for the audience) says, “McDonald’s?!” Hey, when in Rome, right, Klaatu?
Jacob gets out to go to the bathroom, giving Klaatu a chance to ask Helen about his dad. Turns out he was in the army, he was an engineer, he died over there a year ago, blah blah blah. Helen asks Klaatu again why he came. “I came to save the Earth”, Klaatu says blandly.
“From what?” Helen asks, but at that very moment, Klaatu sees his contact, Old Chinese Guy, roll up in a cab, and he jumps out of the car. Look, Helen, here’s a quarter. Buy a clue!
Inside the McDonald’s (we must, in fact, be at the fabled Grover Cleveland Service Area itself—so that sign on the highway wasn’t random!), Klaatu sits down with Old Chinese Guy, while Number One Grandson delivers his grandpa’s coffee and then sits some distance away with Helen and Jacob, out of earshot.
Curious what our movie characters are eating at McDonald’s? Let’s see. Klaatu: nothing. He knows better. Old Chinese Guy: coffee (with sugar). Coffee with sugar means he’s comfortable and relaxed. Helen: coffee. Black coffee means she’s nervous and goal-oriented. Number One Grandson: nothing. Supernumeraries don’t get lunch vouchers. Jacob: Hamburger, small fries, small soda. Helpful in establishing character, but otherwise a waste of a good plug, I’m thinking.
Helen hesitantly asks Number One Grandson if he’s one of “them”, but the grandson is confused by this, so she waves it away.
Meanwhile, Old Chinese One of Them Guy and Klaatu have a conversation. The bad news is, it’s in Chinese, and the only Mandarin I know is xie xie, which is “thank you”. The good news is, the Chinese is subtitled. The bad news is, the Chinese on my copy, which I, er, obtained though, um, indirect means, is subtitled in Russian. Yeah, not so very helpful. So, I’m good up through where Old Chinese Alien thanks Number One Grandson for the coffee. After that I’m toast—at least until Keanu Reeves gets tired of awkwardly wrapping his mouth around Chinese dialog and switches back to awkwardly wrapping his mouth around English dialog.
While they’re still speaking Chinese, Old Chinese Guy looks over at Helen, and Klaatu turns to look at her as well. Helen stares back at them, bewildered. Then Old Chinese Guy and Klaatu go back to talking. My guess is that Old Chinese Alien is making some trenchant observation about how hanging out with Helen might lead Klaatu to understand that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in Klaatu’s philosophy. Either that, or Old Chinese Guy is congratulating Klaatu on the nice bit of crumpet he’s found. It could be either one.
Fortunately, the filmmakers know that American audiences won’t read subtitles even if they’re in English, so the gist of the conversation is conveyed after Keanu gives up on the Chinese. Essentially, Old Chinese Guy is an alien who got sent ahead. He may have been a kind of mentor to Klaatu (“you yourself called them a destructive race”). But either way, over time he came to like it here and to love humans, so he’s not going back—even though he knows that if he stays, he’ll die. That’s it. My guess is Old Chinese Alien was thrilled when he was finally able to taste lemons, and just won’t give that up.
Old Chinese Alien, by the way, is played by James Hong, who’s been in everything and yet has deftly managed to avoid being in a fully Boothed movie (he was in Tango & Cash, which has been Agonized—and that almost, but not quite, makes him a Repeat Offender).
Old Chinese Alien says he has come to feel lucky, now that it’s ending, to have lived a life as a human. In response, Keanu Reeves stares at him absolutely blankly, as if his brain had been temporarily disconnected so that the plumbers could get behind it to work on the hot water heater.