Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Tedium of Propaganda

"Wounded Eye of Horus" in promo poster outside theater-
and the dumbest tagline ever.


Well, me and the missus and I trekked up to the frozen gateway of the New Jersey Skylands to see The Day the Earth Stood Still (finally). We caught a matinee while I was catching a breather from work. If you want to know why I don't write much about all of the latest movies, maybe the fact that it cost 17 bucks for two tickets to a matinee showing of a month-old movie will explain that. The only reason I didn't wait for it to come out on video is that a commenter here revealed it took place in NJ. Sadly, I was disappointed in the movie itself, which I very much wanted to like. Just 'cause I'm contrary like that.

As we've seen in the poster art, the story is rife with green suns, which turn out to be arks. It also features Jennifer Connelly, whom Jake has been looking at in depth. There's a Will Smith connection in his son Jaden, who is awkwardly cast as Jennifer Connelly's stepson. The light-skinned Jaden wouldn't have made more sense had he been JC's son with a dark-skinned father ( a la Micah in Heroes), and the explanation of that retcon took up valuable time at an inopportune time in the story. There was the requisite Horus symbolism with Smith's character- he is "stung" by insectoid nanobots, just as Horus was stung by scorpions sent by Set to the Marsh of Buto. Klaatu also sacrifices himself to save the earth, like any number of ancient fetility gods.

It turns out that parts of the film were shot in Downey, CA, where Karen Carpenter lived and died, which is a fascinating tie-in to the "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" synchs we looked at last month. The movie borrows liberally from The X-Files, in that Klaatu sheds his skin like a supersoldier, and he can heal like Jeremiah Smith. Gort is taken to Mount Weather, where Mulder discovered the exact date for alien colonization. And despite the New Jersey setting, most of the exteriors were shot in X-Files country (British Columbia*), which made me root for it, even if I were disappointed. There's even a nanobot subplot, which again ties back to X-Files mythology. And actress Lorena Gale appears briefly in both this and the new XF film.

You don't get any sense of New Jersey, as I mentioned before. The screenwriters don't seem very familiar with the state's topography (there's no I-67 here), and mislabel the Jersey Skylands as the Highlands (which is the coastal town where Kevin Smith grew up).

Plotwise, the film got off to a rollicking start and then ran out of gas, at least for me. Having Keanu Reeves walk around in the rain for 45 minutes doesn't make for nail-biting alien-invasion drama. As for the "message" of the film, I'm sure any alien race who had the wherewithall to get here would understand environmental science well enough to realize that the planet will kill us off itself if we ever become a serious threat to it (the so-called "Sixth Extinction," another X-Files tie-in). John Cleese's character seemed a missed opportunity as well, a pale shadow of Sam Jaffee's memorable turn in the original.

All of this is yet another object lesson in the tedium of propaganda, the futility of art created to advance a dubious political agenda. A better film would allow the audience to discover the urgency of Klaatu's mission without being hammered over the head with it. But a better film would also not exist simply to service corporate hypocrisy on environmental issues. Hypocrisy which only alienates (no pun intended) people from serious environmentalism.

Oh well, if you haven't seen it already, rent this for synch-hunting value. I'm sure you guys will catch stuff I missed (I will mention that the nanobot cloud reminded me of the angel of death scenario in Jack Kirby's Silver Star). I did get a personal synch out of it, though; I hadn't seen Keanu on the big screen since Constantine, and I never noticed before that he and I have identical scars on our upper lips.

Hey, I have to have something to show for my 17 bucks. Plus popcorn.

*British Columbia is also the home of the Langely School, which produced a haunting version of "Calling Occupants."