Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #11

Re: The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

Really enjoyed your review of the Day the Earth Stood Still remake. Well, perhaps enjoy is too strong a word. Although I love the original and was disappointed to hear that they were remaking it, I wanted them to do a good job with it. I went into the theater with low expectations. Coming out, I didn’t care much for the film, to tell the truth. However, I didn’t think it was a bad movie at all. To the contrary, I have seen much worse! I was only disappointed that it wasn’t a great movie. However, I usually deepen and expound on my views of films within the next few days or even hours after watching the film, and so my respect for the remake has actually grown just in the few hours after I watched it.

The film never really digs deep enough to give us a worthwhile message, saving nature or changing our behavior toward each other. I would have been happy with an all-out effect fest or an in-depth story. But I got a film that tried to be too many things at once.

As to your review, I must admit, your review is fair, but your rating seems a little harsh to me. You gave it a 2½ out of 4. Now, the film did lack in some artistic repects, but I would have thought what effects and action they had in the film were really, really well done (albeit underused) and would have merited the film at least a 3-3½ star rating. I was wondering, how did you judge the artistic/entertainment value of this film?

My star rating, or artistic–entertainment value rating, is intended to work pretty much the same way as, say, Roger Ebert’s. You could say it represents a quick index of (a) how well I think the filmmakers achieved what they set out to do, and (b) how well I think this succeeds in satisfying the reasonable expectations of the target audience.

Like Ebert, I use three stars as a baseline for a “good” or successful film. The Day the Earth Stood Still got 2½ stars, which I consider borderline (Ebert calls 2½ stars “borderline negative”; I use the rating a little more ambiguously).

What makes a film “good,” or successful at achieving what it set out to do, is relative to the genre, context, style and ambitions of the film. This does involve such technical elements as direction, production values, acting and so forth, but it also includes the total achievement of the film in engaging or not engaging the audience on the level of story, characters, theme and so forth.

In that respect, Day the Earth Stood Still strikes me as, at best, a borderline film. It sets out to be an intelligent, exciting action/sci-fi tale inspired by the 1951 original but offering an updated message of environmental stewardship rather than international cooperation. Some aspects of this story and how it is told, both from a human perspective as an a speculative tale of an alien visitation, work very well. But in other respects, some noted in your own email, the movie fails. It’s not the disaster some harsh reviews have unjustly made it out to be, but in the end it doesn’t really work. 2½ stars is my way of indicating this.

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