Wednesday, April 29, 2009

DVD Review: The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008)

Written by T. Michael Testi


The Day The Earth Stood Still three-disk edition is the latest release of the 2008 version of the classic 1951 movie of the same name. This version comes with a copy of the original black and white, a copy of the 2008 remake, and a version that can be loaded to personal players and computers.

The basic story line of the 2008 version is the same as the original. A humanoid alien visitor named Klaatu comes to earth with a warning that he must give to all of the earth's leaders. The warning is that if we don't change, it could result in the earth the human race being eliminated. Much of the situation that occurred in the original version occurs in the remake, including Klaatu being shot, taken into custody, and escaping to move among the earthlings.

Beyond this, the representations of the two stories are drastically different. In fact this could be called a tale of two movies. The original classic is well done, has a great cast including Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, and Lock Martin. The storyline is well thought out and there is the right balance of acting, tension, and realism to make it believable. The quality of the video and the sound are re-mastered very well for a film more than 55 years old.

The 2008 version, which stars Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, John Cleese, and Jaden Smith, is not so good. I can't quite decide if it is meant to be a political statement, to sell products, or a vehicle to show how many special effects can be done in a single movie. One thing I can say is that it is a mess

First, the acting was substandard. To me Reeves is an actor who, in the right role like Matrix, or Speed, can be very good. In a bad role such as here, he is flat and uninspiring. It was to the point of it being painful to watch. Connelly is good, but her role as a scientist/step mother to an even more annoying child (more on this in a minute) is nothing near as good as Neal's role in the original. This has more to do with the role itself than Connelly's acting abilities.

Jaden Smith's character was downright horrible. He plays Connelly's stepson, who is constantly complaining, whining, and rude. His father was killed in the war, and this is clearly a political statement about George Bush's wars. They even go on to make the point that he wasn't a soldier but only a builder. The child is constantly doing things that causes everyone trouble. It was one of those roles that made me want to scream at the screen. He is nothing like the endearing child in the original.
Another problem I had concerns product placement. It seems like every five minutes there was an advertisement for a product like Apple, Honda, Coke and all sorts of logos. There is even a five minute segment filmed in a McDonalds. It was ridiculous.

Then there is the whole global warming thing. In the original, the reason for the aliens' visit was because we had atomic technology which could threaten to kill off humanity if left unchecked. In this remake, they come because we have created global warming? They claim that there are few planets that can support life and we are ruining this one. Hello! Does anyone not think that wiping three billion humans off the planet won't have some consequences to the ecosystem?

The final problem was with the special effects. It is obvious that the producer and director did not understand the original. Beyond the great story and acting, the reason the original worked so well was the combination of limited the special effects and the power of the story itself. Yes, the effects they had available in 1951 were limited, but they used just enough to drive the story. Here the special effects take control at the expense of the story. While some were done quite well, there were just too many and without purpose.

There are a lot of bonus features that come with the DVD set, including "Klaatu's Unseen Artifacts," "Build Your Own GORT," "Deleted Scenes," "Re-Imagining the Day," "Unleashing GORT," "Watching the Skies—In Search of Extraterrestrial Life," "The Day the Earth was  Green," and, "Audio Commentary by Writer David Scarpa."

Bottom line is that The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008) is a movie that I could not wait to end. Even if there had been no original with which to compare it, this would have been a bad movie. I can accept a movie, even if it is political, as long as it is entertaining. I can't if it is annoying, preachy, and it tries to take on a classic. The one redeeming quality of this edition is that you do get a copy of the original. If you look at the rest of the disks as bonus features, it makes it an acceptable deal. I give it two stars.


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Monday, April 27, 2009

Book Review: The Story Of AC/DC: Let There Be Rock, 2nd Edition by Susan Masino

Written by T. Michael Testi


With the release of their first album in eight years, there was bound to be a resurgence of interest in AC/DC and their 30-plus year history. In The Story Of AC/DC: Let There Be Rock , author Susan Masino updates her biography and documents the band's history which began in Sydney, Australia in the early 1970s all the way through the new Black Ice album, released October 2008.

While The Story Of AC/DC was first published in 2006, it has been updated to include what the band has been doing in the last three years. Masino first met the band during their first American tour in 1977. Over the years she has remained in contact with them and interviewed them many times.

The book begins with the story of the Young's, who were actually born in Scotland, and their move to Australia under the Assisted Passage Scheme of 1947 which, because of job scarcity, allowed them to move for a nominal fee. The book follows their rise first in Australia - and then the world.

First, what I liked about the book is that it is very well researched, and the author is very knowledgeable about the band. As with any good book on a topic like this, there much insight that is to be gained from its reading.

One of the things that I had previously known included the fact that Malcolm and Angus Young's older brother George first broke on to the music charts with "Friday on my Mind," which hit number 16 in the U.S. charts and number 6 in the U.K. What I didn't know was the impact it was to have on AC/DC.

Another is that Angus Young, the one in the school boy knickers' gyrating around the stage, is a teetotaler. He has never touched anything stronger than a cigarette. The book also includes background on how the whole schoolboy thing came about and some of the other colorful costumes that were tried before he settled on this one.

There are a lot of good tidbits about the band, the history, and other insights into one of the most popular hard rock bands of all time. There are also a lot of pictures of the band throughout this time and this version also comes with a CD that includes interviews with each member. This even includes the late Bon Scott, with the interview was done in 1977.

The main thing that I had a problem with in The Story Of AC/DC is that throughout there are what I call cut-outs. This is where the author inserts comments by using italics. This seems to break the flow of thought. I wish that she would have incorporated these pieces of information as part of the dialog of the general book. It sometimes seems that she is first fan, then biographer.

Outside of that, I found it to be a good read. The book covers pretty much every aspect of the band's history. I do think that you will get a good appreciation for the band and the fact that they had to work hard to get where they got to and even then, life dealt them blows that could have done in lesser bands. If you want to learn more about the life and times of AC/DC then The Story Of AC/DC: Let There Be Rock 2nd Edition is a good place to start.