The Day the Earth Stood Still is a science fiction classic; a thoughtful and thrilling cautionary tale with a meaningful message that still resonates to this day. It's a dangerous thing, attempting a remake of what many consider to be the preeminent "alien invasion" movie, but, with original ideas seemingly at a premium in Hollywood these days, it's apparently easier to update an old classic than come up with a new one. Just throw in a few A-list stars, tinker with the story so that it reflects modern concerns, and add heaping helpings of glorious eye candy and you've not only got yourself a movie; you've got yourself box-office gold. If only all things in life were so easy.
2008's Day the Earth Stood Still opens with a bit of foreshadowing, as a 1920's era explorer (a bearded Keanu Reeves) discovers a glowing orb in the arctic, makes physical contact with it, and then awakens hours later with a nasty welt on his hand and the orb now gone. We then jump forward to the present, where Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) is abruptly taken from her home by federal agents and rushed to a nearby operations center where she and other brilliant scientific minds have been assembled to deal with a potentially catastrophic collision between Earth and an approaching object. When said object - a giant, luminescent sphere - slows its descent, landing gracefully in Central Park, Helen is the first to greet its extra-terrestrial occupant, shaking hands just as a trigger happy NYPD sniper decides to shoot it.
The creature is rushed to a local lab where doctors attempt to save it, but, as they feebly work their way around the visitor's exoskeleton, its skin sloughs off, revealing a newly "born", rapidly growing human vessel within. Klaatu (Reeves), as he is called, asks to be taken to our leaders so that he may address the concerns of the myriad races he represents, but the Secretary of Defense (Kathy Bates) has other plans for Klaatu, and instructs Benson to drug the alien so that her goon squad can interrogate him. Benson, instead, injects Klaatu with a saline solution and tells him to run, which he eventually does.
Benson returns home to her stepson, Jacob (Jaden Smith), but it's not long before Klaatu summons her presence, and enlists her aid in tracking down one of his kind who has lived amongst us for over seventy years. This leads to an unintentionally hilarious scene in which Klaatu and his Asian counterpart, Mr. Wu (James Hong), have an extended exchange in Cantonese, where we learn the reason behind Klaatu's visit. He's here to save the Earth by ridding it of its most destructive and invasive species; man. Now it's up to Benson to prove to Klaatu that humanity can change before it's too late.
This new take on The Day the Earth Stood Still trades out the original's message of peace, love, and understanding for an oh-so-trendy eco-friendly vibe that, in and of itself, isn't such a bad thing. The real problem lay in its execution, as it's presented in such a clumsy and preachy manner that it would make Al Gore blush. Making matters worse is the inclusion of Jaden Smith's thoroughly annoying and completely unnecessary Jacob. He's obviously meant to serve as both a precocious foil for Klaatu as well as one of the inspirations behind the alien's last-minute (and sorely underdeveloped) epiphany, but his actions repeatedly defy logic and do nothing more than bog down an already convoluted story. Connelly does her best with the material she's given, and Reeves is certainly in his element as the emotionless alien, but Kathy Bates offers little more than a shrill caricature of a hawkish government stooge, while John Cleese is thoroughly wasted in his brief appearance as Professor Barnhardt - a pivotal character in the original film watered down to little more than a glorified cameo here.
So is there anything good about The Day the Earth Stood Still? Well it certainly looks pretty, I'll give them that. The special effects are quite good, and fans of Roland Emmerich-style disaster movies will no doubt enjoy the film's final act. I also enjoyed the new twist on the old Gort character, who is now a 50 foot mass of microscopic all-consuming nanites. Still, much like everything else in the film, his potential is lost to a script burdened by endless haranguing, hand-wringing, and wasted ideas.
The Day the Earth Stood Still lands on Blu-ray with a fantastic 1080p transfer. There's a tremendous amount of depth and dimension here that lends the image an almost three-dimensional quality, while the level of detail is, quite simply, astounding. The muted color palette boasts strong industrial blues and greys while velvety blacks show nary a hint of digital crush, grain, or artifacture. Fox, once again, delivers a pristine transfer that is the very definition of reference quality.
The DTS HD Master Audio track is a perfectly balanced treat, with booming lows and crisp highs, crystal clear dialogue, and a wonderfully immersive surround mix. There's a sequence when Benson first arrives at the operations base where radio chatter and activity surrounds her, and this is recreated using the satellite and rear speakers. The results are so effective - the individual tracks so expertly isolated - that I repeatedly found myself looking around the room in the direction from which the sounds emanated. It's just great stuff all around.
Fox really loads up this title with some great supplemental material, including a feature length commentary track with writer, David Scarpa, picture-in-picture accompaniment, and a host of HD making-of featurettes. There's also a nifty diversion in the "Build Your Own G.O.R.T." interactive feature that allows you to...well...build your own G.O.R.T from a selection of various heads and limbs. Other extras include deleted scenes, stills galleries, and trailers.
The coolest extra by far is the inclusion of the original The Day the Earth Stood Still. Previously released on Blu-ray at the time of the remake's theatrical release, this beautifully remastered version of the 1951 classic is just a joy to behold.
A third disc sports a digital copy of the film for playback on all of your portable viewing devices.
The Day the Earth Stood Still is a disappointing, misguided, and, at times, infuriating attempt to update an iconic film for a supposedly more enlightened modern audience. While it's certainly a visually impressive film, it lacks the heart and depth of character that makes the original such a beloved classic. The Blu-ray presentation is nothing short of superb, however, with a reference quality transfer, amazing audio, and a bounty of extras highlighted by the presence of the original film, itself - a bold choice seeing as how it's far superior than the film it's meant to supplement here.