Ever heard of The Asylum Home Entertainment Company? No? Been to a video store in the last five years or so? Oh, you have? Then you've seen their wares on the shelf, I guarantee it.
See, Asylum Home Entertainment are purveyors of crap dressed up like big-budget Hollywood films, films like Alien vs. Hunter (not to be confused with Alien vs. Predator) or Snakes on a Train (as opposed to Snakes on a Plane), and if the DVD of The Day The Earth Stopped hasn't lied to me, the trailers for the films The 18 Year Old Virgin (about a girl who can't give her virginity away… yeah, okay) and Sunday School Musical (putting the fun in fundamentalist dogma) are cheap imitations of similarly named major studio releases.
The Asylum is also responsible for one of the three War of the Worlds movies that appeared when Stephen Spielberg's War of the Worlds hit the screens, and to be honest, the low budget knock off from Asylum, H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds was the best of the three. It stuck closer to the Wells book than Spielberg's film, and wasn't so boring it would turn the human mind to pudding like the other cheap Direct to DVD special that hit the shelves at the same time.
The thing is, like the table of rain drenched "Gucci" bags at your local flea market, The Asylum doesn't even pretend that the title of the film on the box is the only coincidental similarity between their film and some other much bigger budget film. I mean, these movies are often frighteningly close to the material it apes, not in quality, but in plot elements and scenes. Worse, and probably helping major studios prepare legal documents is that The Asylum isn't parodying these other films, which would considered as a form of fair use (I'm no lawyer so I might be wrong), these films are played dead straight.
If, for example, Asylum Home Entertainment was to jump on the I Am Legend bandwagon, and release I Am Legendary, about the last man on Earth fighting off hordes of vampires; i.e. the same plot as the Will Smith film that cost 100 time as much to make, then there is the chance that some boob who really wants to see the Will Smith I Am Legend film will instead rent The Asylum's I Am Legendary starring Rodney Allen Rippy.
So far this doesn't sound like a problem, and in the real world it probably isn't, but to Fox it means that the stunningly low quality of I Am Legendary may dissuade you from seeing further Fox films or films starring Will Smith. Worse, because Fox owns the rights to the name and story by Richard Matheson, The Asylum is effectively plagiarizing the story and infringing on the trademark and about a dozen other legalese mumbo-jumbo bits. This isn't really a problem when you're dealing with works that are in the public domain like H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds, but it is a problem when you're offering inferior duplicates of trademarked products so as to confuse the consumer.
Thus, it's no wonder that 20th Century Fox, an actual film studio, sued The Asylum to keep The Day the Earth Stopped off the shelves of local video stores so as not to interfere with their "blockbuster" remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. You know, the pointless, idiotic, rejiggered Keanu Reeves one that exists solely as a pathetic cash grab for Fox because it's easier to dig up, lube, and fuck the dusty, mummified corpses of genre classics than it is to write a new story.
Ahem— where was I?
Oh yeah, Asylum Home Entertainment, right — I guess they won the court challenge because lining the "D" shelf of the new release section were about 20 copies of this stinkeroo all lined up and showing their Venus Flytrap-like goods to unwary potential viewers.
The box for The Day the Earth Stopped actually looks more like it was designed to rip off The Transformers, as it features a giant robot standing in the center of a cityscape. I am guessing this will allow The Asylum to rerelease this around some giant robot-themed film about to hit cinemas. Dmitry Badfilmova would be proud. I wasn't fooled though, I've been through this once before with Lions Gate's release of War of the Planets right around the time Spielberg's War of the Worlds hit the home video market. And, going by the images on the box I fully assumed it was a third-rate mecha-heavy crapfest more like Transformers. Oh how wrong I was.
The Day the Earth Stopped is actually almost a direct, Cliff's Notes retelling of the original The Day the Earth Stood Still. Whereas the new version of the quintessential 1950's flying saucer film is all about environmental bullshit (we'll destroy you pesky humans to save the trees and all their friends), The Day the Earth Stopped is all about some interstellar group introducing themselves to us with a threat to stop being assholes or they'll finish us off with their mighty arsenal of crappy CGI robots.
That's the short version. To describe the long version we need to spend a few minutes remembering a guy named C. Thomas Howell.
I know, you're thinking, "C. Thomas Howell? I remember that guy! Wasn't he in Karate Kid? No, no, wait, that was Ralph Macchio. Uh, wasn't he one of the kids in The Breakfast Club? Nope. Damn —" And you'd be correct, C. Thomas Howell wasn't any of those guys. He was, however, a popular teen actor back in the 1980s but came in just before the "Brat Pack" became famous. He, like Ralph Macchio, never fell into the orbit of John Hughes and rather than be typecast as some rich asshole angsty teen like the rest of Hughes' stable of teen actors. He worked in some of the better films of the 80s too, I mean, he was in E.T., he was Ponyboy in The Outsiders, he was the last white actor covered in blackface to make Soul Man — Okay, maybe that wasn't a good example — but the point I'm getting to is that C. Thomas Howell is a very good actor, and it's nice to see he's branching out into directing.
Admittedly if you spend any time at the IMBD and look over his director credentials you'll see a lot of "the worst movie I've ever seen" comments, but the only one I've seen is this one so I can't really judge. How does C.Thomas Howell handle the dual duties of leading man and director?
Read on my little minions, read on —
We begin with a horde of gray CGI robots, little teensy ones it appears, flying through space. Ahh, but these robots only look tiny in a Space Invaders sort of way because space is so huge and vast. Cut to a meteorite landing in the woods.
Walking away from the crash site (a spotlight and fog machine hidden behind some bushes) is a naked man and a naked woman. Meet Man (Bug Hall) and Woman (Sinead McCafferty).
Cut again to the city where some big shadowy robot thing appears behind the skyline of Los Angeles.
There, now the movie has officially opened.
Enter two GMC Suburban SUVs containing almost the entire cast of the film. They are some shadowy military outfit sent to investigate the meteorite and its possible occupants as a way of dealing with the giant robot standing around trying to look inconspicuous the center of downtown (it fails).
Leading out intrepid group of F-grade actors is Prewitt (Darren Dalton). He's a rough and tough leading man type who isn't quite smart enough or trusting enough to take anyone's word at face value, be they human or alien. He also wrote some of this crap, and executive produced it. He's got an Aide (Johnathan Sanders), and answers to a government spook-type guy named Sam (Cameron Bender), you can tell he's a government guy because he wears glasses and a suit. Finally, Prewitt is the boss of Myron (C. Thomas Howell).
Yes, at last, a film with a hero named Myron. Admittedly, it's Josh Myron, but we don't learn this until way later in the film so for the first hour or so you can imagine the nerdy kid getting his hair spit-flattened at the beginning of Van Halen's Hot for Teacher video and giggle.
The soldiers park in what appears to be a warehouse, and prepares to deal with the dual threat of whatever just fell out of the sky. There's much running around by the cast but not a whole lot of dialogue. We do learn that Myron's partner has to pee.
Look, if the script doesn't give you much to comment on, don't blame me.
Everyone rolls out for the crash site.
Hold on. Wait a minute. Hold everything.
There's a giant robot, taller than the surrounding buildings, standing in downtown LA. It's crisscrossed with spotlights. No one panics? No stream of refugees flees the city? There aren't news reports about this monstrosity? Oh wait, there are more, in other cities, and still no panic?
Stranger still, the best response we can muster is two Suburbans full of — these guys?
Does the President know about this? Congress? Someone other than Prewitt?
The robot actually looks pretty cool, if only it would do something. We watch a few more spotlights cross over it while it stands and that's it. This is a bad omen for those of us who would like a little robot fighting to go with our horrible acting and stupid script.
Because this is a film made by The Asylum, therefore you've pretty much seen approximately 30% of the digital effects budget just with the robot standing around. Oh sure, there will be some very minor other shots later, but like these they are mostly static. If you want robot battles, The Day the Earth Stopped offers you less action in its 1 million year running time than you'd see in a 30 second teaser trailer for Transformers. War of the Worlds was the same way and most of the action in that film came from the conversion between C. Thomas Howell's Herbert Gordon character and the Reverend. We aren't so lucky here because the script is as threadbare as my childhood Gobots twin bed sheet set.
The special ops teams take to the fog shrouded woods and find Man. Prewitt, for what it's worth (approximately nothing) spends his time coordinating the operation against the naked aliens by dripping water onto a bullet with an eye dropper. He does this because he needs to do something other than stand around like an idiot I guess.
The Special Ops guys chase Man down and, after a short battle, tranquilize him. A few minutes later in another part of the woods, Woman walks down the road with all her nakedness on display. She is located by none other than Myron and his partner, they assume she's drunk or something and take her into the truck with them then drive back to where Prewitt has Man subdued and laying across the back deck of his Suburban.
Neither Myron, nor his partner, put naked Man and naked Woman together and think they might have come on the same meteorite until Woman walks over and tries to revive Man. She is summarily tranquilized.
Okay, now we get to see some awesome robot hijinks right?
Nope. Watching giant, fifty-storey tall robots laying waste to civilization couldn't possibly be as much fun as watching Prewitt and his underlings spout idiotic dialogue at one another over some card tables festooned with old computer monitors, right?
Of course not!
We move inside the same warehouse where we started and Prewitt sets up his command post from which to wage the great war against the robots. Minor problem though, neither Man, nor Woman, will talk. Worse, anytime someone tries to pry information out of them with force they react by shooting some sort of electricity from their fingers.
The lightning effect isn't bad though it's inconsistently applied in the story. First Man and Woman are more than ready to blast anyone near them, then later they say things like "I can't get involved."
Anyway, we still don't really know what this giant robot, and as we learn in a moment, his 659 identical giant robot friends actually want. It's time for The Day the Earth Stopped to pilfer a scene from another alien invasion movie. This time they steal a scene from Independence Day, you know, the one where the chopper outfitted with a light rig flashes a complex series of lights at the alien craft to demonstrate that humans have intelligence. That scene, was actually sort of stolen from the granddaddy of all serious alien invasion movies, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, only that one used light and musical tones —
I'm getting off track aren't I. Okay, this time because it's Asylum Home Entertainment they can't afford a chopper, or a light rig, or more than two of our background actors. So, it's three guys dressed as soldiers sent out with a shoulder mounted light cannon thing. One of the escort shoulders shoots a few rounds at the giant robot to get its attention while the guy holding the light cannon shoots signals up at that we think is the robot's head.
The giant robot moves its arm slightly and blasts all three of the extras into astro-dust.
This event freaks out the Spec Ops team, naturally, but doesn't seem to alter the course of the film. Also, where is the rest of the military? This is sort of like Independence Day where, when a worldwide invasion occurs the only forces that anyone in the world can muster are air forces.
Ugh… Okay, back at the warehouse where the Special Ops team HQ is apparently located, Man and Woman are both separated and in their respective cells awaiting interrogation. Man, for what it's worth, is still sleeping off his tranquilization.
FYI, the warehouse from earlier in the film is the exact same building as the Special Ops HQ. On the DVD commentary (more about that train wreck later) we learn that with just a little work the studio could be made into a kick-ass set — Maybe so, but not in this movie.
I've seen more set decoration in elementary school plays about Arbor Day in which at least two first graders kids vomit from stage fright.
Now it's time for us to spend a few minutes watching Prewitt and Sam try and put 1 + 1 together and come up with some answers other than 2. FYI, they can't, but it takes over 20 minutes for them to realize it.
So, we alternate between interrogations of Man and Woman for a while in which neither of which say anything. There may be some sort of 24-esque/post 911/post-Abu Ghraib subtext here about when and if torture is ever acceptable policy, Sam wants the pair tortured until they talk, Prewitt, initially resists.
However, once it's learned that the giant robots, called Megaliths in this movie for some unknown reason since megalith means giant rock, begin performing their assigned function, that is, firing a laser into the core of the Earth to slow and eventually stop the rotation of the core throwing our orbit out of whack and —
What the fuck? This is the robots' function? Having these giant robots just stand around shooting lasers into the ground is idiotic. It's like driving a column of tanks into the town square and using them to kill everyone by making bad loans to the townsfolk and driving down the commodity prices that the town relies on for ready money.
But — but, it's a tank?!? Why doesn't it do anything? Is it going to shoot down our houses with a volley of cannon shot? It's just idling there. Low interest adjustable rate loans?! WHERE DO I SIGN!!
Why even have robots in this stupid movie at all?
Okay, it's time to get to the meat of this idiocy. Now that the robots have killed the three signal guys with the light cannon and started their core-slowing attack, it's time for Woman or Man to say something, anything, to get things in motion.
Rather than, say, talk to Prewitt, Woman starts reading and speaking out the thoughts of Myron who happens to be alone and on guard duty. Oh, and they've outfitted Woman with a bra and clothes. Can't have her running around naked for the whole movie (not that I'd have minded).
Okay, so she's reading Myron's thoughts and he's thinking she looks like Angelina Jolie.
Woman, for what it's worth, is played by Sinneade McCafferty and she's fortune enough to look sort of like Nigella Lawson. I think I've said in other reviews that I hate The Food Network. That hatred does not keep me from DVR-ing any of the Nigella Lawson shows where she licks things off her fingers, nor should it prevent you from doing the same. Sineade McCarfferty also stars in another magnum opus for The Asylum, Street Racers, which is either a knockoff of the Fast and the Furious movies, or a knock off of Speed Racer.
I can't imagine how The Asylum would ape the Wachowski's Speed Racer but I'm keen to find out.
Maybe Sinead plays Trixie. Maybe she plays Chim Chim. At any rate she can play with my Chim Chim anytime she likes. She's also the least sucky actor in this movie, which in this film is like being recognized as the healthiest streetwalker in town because you only have Chlamydia.
Woman and Myron start to talk. She slowly sort of synchronizes with his thought patterns and finally explains that her name can't be pronounced easily with human mouths (which she appears to have, in all fairness) but it translates to something like "Sky."
Thus, Woman is now known as Sky. Man though, he never gets a name other than Man. Poor, poor Man.
Anyway. Sky explains the entire plot of the movie to Myron. She's an alien rep, so is Man, they've come to assess whether humanity should be saved or blasted into astro-dust, and she makes it Myron's job to find her an example of humanity's kindness and good nature. Otherwise, when sundown happens, it's pffft, goodbye humanity.
A note here about C. Thomas Howell's face. Uh, what the hell happened to you man. You're less than 3 years older than me and yet you look like a guy who hangs around Tom Sizemore and makes bathtub methamphetamines, like maybe The Asylum paid for your directors talents with an unlimited supply of Everclear and Slim Jims.
Anyway, Myron tries to explain to Prewitt that Woman's name is Sky and she's come here with a mission. By now Prewitt knows what the Megaliths are up to and doesn't really care all that much for Myron's raving antics (neither did we in the audience) and decides it's time to torture her.
This leads to a fight between Myron and Prewitt where you can see C. Thomas Howell, remember, he's the director, signaling how the fight will progress. He loses and is fired from his job as Special Ops guy. Sky gets tranquilized again.
Myron is about to leave and notices that someone has left the keys in one of the Suburbans and so he steals one of the trucks and speeds away.
Back inside H.Q. Sam calls Prewitt out to the card tables and computer monitors that make up the control room so they can watch exactly 3 F-22 interceptors attack the robot that dominates the downtown skyline. All three CGI planes are shot down. Again though, the Robot doesn't really do anything. A little panel opens on its shoulder and from that a death ray emanates. The planes explode. Big whoop.
Meanwhile Myron speeds away (We actually cut away to show this).
Now, a B2 bomber screams overhead somewhere. It drops an atomic bomb on the robot and nothing happens. I am not sure but I think this is meant to actually take place in downtown LA, but if so the city doesn't evaporate and as far as the movie is concerned, the robot doesn't, like, neutralize the blast or anything. It just happens.
Back at HQ Sky is awake now and begins feeding images to Myron via some psychic link. Also at this time Sam has had Man hooked up to a drip of sodium pentathol and he begins to explain that he was just the guy who drove Sky to Earth and that he's meant to help her but not interfere in human affairs. He's more like an observer than an actual participant, but, that said, Sky is right the robots are going to destroy the world if humanity doesn't get its act together by sundown. He helps Sky amplify her thoughts and get them to Myron.
We play flashback theater for a minute so Myron and Sky can share flashbacks of events at which neither were present.
Myron turns the truck around and speeds back to the rescue. Meanwhile, all the power in the world appears to go out, we learn this by watching a CGI cut scene. In the original The Day the Earth Stood Still this power sapping event made perfect sense because it was meant to demonstrate the level of power that Klaatu's alien friends had. Better, he had told the world over the radio that it was going to happen and there was nothing that anyone on Earth could do to stop it. The world went powerless for 24 hours, which managed to get humanity's attention.
Here though there is no worldwide declaration, there is no threat it just happens, so it's pointless. I can see if this, atop the 666 robots landing in major cities and firing their lasers into the ground increased worldwide panic, but it doesn't at least not as far as the movie has shown us. Even in LA there are no news reports, no people running, nothing. I mean, even in the most budget deprived Godzilla movies of the 1970s, Toho managed to work in a couple of crowds fleeing the cities scenes to give the story a sense of scope.
Here we get nothing.
Jeez, seven pages of this — Okay, let's wrap things up then.
Myron rescues Sky and steals her away. Outside he isn't sure where to find examples of where humanity has succeeded but decides that the best guy to ask is the local priest. We get a few minutes of goofy pseudo fundamentalist dogma about how faith in God is some redeeming quality as we drive around the same two warehouse buildings for ten minutes and talk. In the midst of this a guy leaps into the hood of the truck and demands that they give it to him because it's the only one with power in Los Angeles.
Myron begs Sky to do her lightning finger thing but she refuses. The guy drives off.
Myron and Sky start walking around the same warehouse set we saw earlier. This time they discuss what makes humanity special. I can't remember the details of the conversation because it was pointless and stupid.
Finally we arrive at a small room decorated like a church. We know it's a church because it has a couple of pews and some lit candles. Don't look for any religious iconography though because there isn't any. Sky asks one of the parishioners where the priest is and she tells him that Father Whatever is off tending to the sick at a makeshift hospital.
Sky asks what the significance of the church is and the same girls says it's the place where she and her faithful friends talk to God and that in times of adversity it makes them feel comfortable to be inside.
Ugh, who writes this dreck? Oh, right, the guy who pays Prewitt. What's up with him at this point in the movie anyway?
Back at Spec Ops HQ Prewitt and a gaggle of men storm off to find Myron in the other Suburban.
Meanwhile Sam has an in depth discussion with Man and learns that are only a few hours left before humanity gets its comeuppance. However, there's a chance that Sky could tell the robots not to stop the rotation of the core if she finds examples of human worth.
This is getting so fucking tedious already —
Back in town, Myron sees the stolen truck prowling around the side streets, not hard since they've shot all the exteriors for this part in the same one block radius and chase it down. They take the truck back, I can't remember how, honestly at this point I was staring angrily at the clock and counting the moments of my life that The Day the Earth Stopped had stolen. The point is, they get the truck back and as they drive an even more down and out former teen idol actor leaps into the movie.
Everyone say hello to Judd Nelson, who waves his arms and begs them to help get his pregnant wife to the hospital where she can deliver their baby. See, with no power the car won't start and with no car they can't drive.
Why is Judd Nelson in this movie? Is it possible that the stunning star power of C. Thomas Howell isn't enough to drive a direct to DVD extravaganza? Did he appear here as a favor to an old friend? Perhaps because he had a late fee at the library, or a single day's pay would allow him to spend another month in the splendor to which he's become accustomed, blowing strangers for quarters on Hollywood Boulevard?
Only he knows this, and only we who watch know that he's in The Day the Earth Stopped.
Charlie's wife Lisa (Reiko Kaneshio) struggles with childbirth aren't made any better when Prewitt and his Spec Ops pals show up force Myron into a car chase.
Myron careens, and by that I mean drives very carefully, into the same warehouse set we saw at the very beginning and pulls down the garage door as Prewitt and his men cruise by outside. Amazingly this works at keeping the Spec Ops team outside until such time as the script requires them to enter.
Lisa dies giving birth to a lovely, clean, and dry 6 month old infant.
Both Charlie and Myron attempt CPR but it is to no avail. Lisa is dead.
Or is she? Sky finally intervenes in something and using the powers of stealing scenes from other movies, in this case Powder, and brings Lisa back to life.
Myron and Sky run off. She's learned from this lesson that humanity indeed is worth saving so she has to get back to the pod and call off the Megaliths.
This is repeated by Man who is still in custody. I can't really remember what the hells happens with Man after this point. My brain usually isn't like a sieve but there's so little to this movie to hold onto that I can barely remember the ending, and I only watched it on Friday night. I am pretty sure that Man and Sam have words about what's more important, standing around interrogating Man or spending the last few hours alive with his wife and kid. Sam decides on the later.
Okay, the big wrap-up now —
1. Myron and Sky race into downtown LA and not the woods where the pods are.
2. The Spec Ops team finds an alternate way into the warehouse where Charlie tells them that the only people there are he, his wife Lisa, and their baby daughter Sky.
3. Big McLargehuge's eyes roll so far back he can see his own pre-frontal lobes.
4. Myron and Sky are on the warehouse roof when confronted by Prewitt.
5. Sky and Myron and Prewitt join forces.
6. Sky stuns the Spec Ops team and our gang makes their escape.
7. Sky, Myron, and Prewitt race to the feet of the Megalith and as Sky runs towards the CGI foot of it, she's shot by the Spec Ops guys.
8. Myron carries her to the robot, who turns and blows up the Spec Ops guys.
9. Myron and Prewitt watch the robot take Sky in through a CGI port on its foot and almost immediately blast off for space with 665 robot friends.
10. Roll credits.
11. Stuff sharpest Transformer toy available, sideways, up rectum and repeat Klaatu Barada Nikto until bleeding stops.
There are worse thing you can rent than The Day the Earth Stopped, for example, the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still or virtually any remake of a classic science fiction property. Seriously, think about it and try to list those remakes that equal or exceed their originals in quality. You can't because none of them do.
Yet, that doesn't mean you should run out and support terrible cheap-ass fake knock offs the same way you wouldn't run out and knowingly buy a counterfeit Gucci handbag, or bootleg movie, or C. Thomas Howell mannequin constructed entirely out of pre-chewwed mesquite barbeque flavored Slim Jims, these would be stupid purchases that perpetuate the idea that inferiority is somehow worth celebrating. It's not! It bloody well isn't! Because no matter how many copies of The Day the Earth Stopped, or Speed Drivers, or Sunday School Musical, you buy, they aren't ever going to make a decent film! Any money they make from a surprise hit will be put into more cheap and shitty knock offs.
Oh, I was going to talk about directing, right. Well there isn't much to say really. C. Thomas Howell seems to spring from the same directing school as Shim Hyung Rae when it comes to setting up and framing actors, and from the Edward D. Wood Jr. school when it comes to having actors recite stupid dialogue. In all fairness The Day the Earth Stopped looked exactly like a Sci Fi Channel Original Movie, except this one has Sinead McCafferty all naked in the first ten or fifteen minutes. No problem Sci Fi can just pixelate that all out, really, it's no trouble at all. They'll probably run it as a weekend double feature with Mansquito.
This DVD comes in "original" widescreen, with two audio settings, 2.0 amd 5.1 Dolby. It also offers a brain dead commentary track with the 1st assistant director and the special effects coordinator who, rather than bring any information at all about the making of the film to the listener, talk about how much fun they had on the set.
Klaatu — Barada — Go Fuck Yourself.