The Day the Earth Stood Still (PG-13)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Cinemark 16 IMAX, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
When aliens come and want to blow us out of the galaxy because we're a waste of organic chemistry and we say, "Oh no, we're good. We're worth not killing," and the aliens decide to spare us so that we can amuse them, let's make sure we don't offer this movie up as an example of how entertaining we can be. Otherwise, we're totally doomed.
The original The Day the Earth Stood Still, back in 1951, was both about an alien who arrives and threatens to exterminate us unless we disarm our nuclear weapons, and a metaphor via that alien theme for the genuine threat of extinction via nuclear war. Likewise, this update is both about an alien who announces that we are scheduled for extermination because we're killing the biosphere and the innocent creatures who depend upon it, and simultaneously a metaphor for our destruction of the environment.
Or at least it thinks it is thusly metaphoric. But if so, it should feel more like Soylent Green or something, all boiling heat, dying oceans and starving people feeding on corpses. At the very least, it could throw a melting icecap our way.
Instead, this is The Day the Earth Barely Even Notices We're on the Brink of Doom, and Why Don't Those Damn Hippies Just Shut Up About Global Warming Already? Sure, the rioting people on the TVs in the background appear to have noticed that a big-ass alien swirly sphere has landed in New York's Central Park, but I'll be damned if there's any indication they understand why the aliens prefer to save the planet over us ... or any indication why the audience watching the film should understand it, either.
Nope, it's all widescreen TVs for those news reports and product placement for crap no one needs and rest stops at McDonald's. In a movie that showed any sign of self-awareness, I'd call all this particularly the McDonald's bit ironic, but if anyone here understands that rampant consumerism and a fast-food culture is part of the Earth-killing business, there's no sign of it.
Klaatu (Keanu Reeves), the ET at the beginning of the film, gets it: "Your problem is not technology. Your problem is you." So it would be nice if screenwriter David Scarpa or director Scott Derrickson got this, instead of becoming examples of it.
Plus, because the end of human civilization isn't enough, they have to throw in a wildly unnecessary subplot about a sad child? (The kid, played by Jaden Smith, is truly adorable, but still ...) Is his contentious relationship with his stepmother (Jennifer Connelly) meant to be representative of how unbelievably screwed up humanity has become? If that's the case, never fear: All we need is a good cry and a hug and maybe some McDonald's french fries. If only.
If this movie genuinely wanted to make us reconsider our ways, it would begin where it ends. I won't tell you what happens, but it's at once an awesome demonstration of the aliens' power and resolve and the start of the real story. It's the most extreme of ways out of the mess we've made of the planet, but that's what could have made for a truly gripping, truly dramatic science-fiction tale. The one we got is, alas, instantly forgettable, and completely useless if it had any hope of saving the Earth from us.