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Don't make me open my visor...!
Sometimes I think people write movie reviews just to dust off film lingo like "mise en scene" or "milieu" without getting bitch slapped, and/or to heap clever abuse upon filmmakers and actors rather than offer any real analysis and criticism. Given, it is frequently in the nature of most online film reviews to be negative--due to the anonymity of the criticism, and because the contrarian antithesis to the filmmaker's thesis allows a faux 'creative' indulgence for non- filmmakers--and the abuse just piles on. This is especially true of classic remakes.
Having read a number of reviews here of this 2008 remake of "The Day the Earth Stood Still," I see this predictably playing itself out again. If Gort were here, he'd open his visor and put an end to this vigilantism, or maybe unleash some nasty nanites into cyberspace to curb that most-aggressive of intergalactic species: the amateur film critic. Left to their own ferocity, they would subdue the world.
I too was excited at the prospect of seeing this film remade. Then, having read some early reviews, I was expecting an apocalyptic melt-down of a disappointment. But I still went to the theater and now, having watched it during its premier general release here in the US, I was pleasantly surprised at what a really excellent remake this was. It's no easy task to take a superb classic like this one and reintroduce it to audiences, and I think it speaks volumes about the gutsiness of the director and producers to pull this off.
The point of remakes is never to make "better" films than the originals. (All films are locked to their times, even "timeless" ones.) Rather, the point is to uproot the salient qualities of the original story and then cultivate them for present-day audiences. Sometimes--in fact, often- -what develops bears little resemblance to the original, as well it should. Whereas the original "Day" was largely about the Cold War, this newer version is about our planet and what we are doing to it. And frankly, it's message is more important than ever.
The majority of criticism against the film here at IMDb is that it was either not like the original, or that it was too similar. And while this may look like "criticism," it is overly simplistic and does not challenge us--nor filmmakers--to dig for something more valuable. It is fascinating that three recent films with an environmental message ("Inconvenient Truth," "The Happening," and this one) have been gang-raped by corporate media critics. Besides the obvious insult to kleptocratic sponsors, could it be that relocating antagonists from the familiar realm of monsters, ghosts and silver-suited spacemen is just too unsettling for our twenty-first century psyches? If so, then this is one of the redeeming qualities of this remake: it forces audiences to rethink just who the bad guy(s) are. Walt Kelly, whose 1970 poster for Earth Day stated, "We have met the enemy and it is us," readily comes to mind.
To the point: ignore all the naysayers out there who whine that this version is "not like the original," or that is "trying too hard to be like the original." Go see this remake of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" with an open, unbiased mind, and enjoy it. No, it won't tell you what to think about the questions it unleashes, but it will provide a most satisfying movie-going experience and give you a very great deal to think upon. My one complaint (and the only reason I won't give it ten stars): the last two lines in the film!
Hands-down, the best sci-fi film of the 1990s
To accurately and honestly review science-fiction, you must recall what science-fiction IS: namely, a story that develops from what is scientifically possible, not IMpossible. (The latter would be science-fantasy.) "Contact," derived from the novel of the same name by Carl Sagan, conjectures one possible scenario of how a first-contact with extraterrestrials might develop. Sagan's original story is entirely based upon hard science and is devoid of the sorts of fantastic elements that characterize 98% of the "science-fiction" genre these days. Given this, Zemeckis' delivery of a story that is true to Sagan's original AND that represents a plausible, scientifically based story is extraordinary. Most directors cannot handle genuine science fiction, either because they must reconcile the story to the science, and/or because they refuse to yoke their creative muse in any way to the real world--it's much easier to make everything up. In addition to delivering a bona fide, sic-fi landmark film, "Contact" also thematically engages the viewer--an experience that is missing from almost every science- fiction/fantasy film produced these days. To my way of thinking, there are only five sci-films films that have ever fully engaged audiences in a thematic sense: "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951 version) "Forbidden Planet," "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Solaris" (1972 version) and "Contact." A sci-fi film of this caliber comes along about every ten years or so...if we're lucky. Meanwhile, it's sad that so many critics derided this film, largely because they compared it to films within the fantasy genre. Most likely, "Contact" will ride out the bad reviews and be vindicated in the long haul as a very superior work.
Zemeckis' one and only flaw in the making of this film was his digital integration of President Bill Clinton archival footage ("the president") with the actors; Zemeckis should be dragged through the streets by wild horses for this infraction. What was he thinking...?! It dates what is otherwise a timeless storyline. This aside, the film is chock-full of wonderment and leaves the viewer with a sense of having shared in something profound and deep. Acting is superb throughout, full of pathos and energy. Even Jodie Foster, who--true to her history- -overacts again in this film, gets off scot-free because it accords with the passionate, driven character of the geeky protagonist, Elleanor Arroway. The digital effects (besides the flawed, "Forrest Gump"-inspired digital insertions of Bill Clinton) are truly memorable, and "Contact"'s score by Alan Silvestri is easily one of the best 2-3 film scores of his career.
The combined virtues of remaining mostly true to Carl Sagan's novel, cinematic engagement of profound, timeless themes (humanity's relationship to the cosmos, religious versus scientific testament, the nature of belief) and masterful detailing easily make this the finest science-fiction film of the 1990s. No other science-fiction film of that decade even comes close. Meanwhile, science-fantasy fans should look elsewhere.