First off, I know I’m late on this. Frankly I didn’t want to go to the cinema to see Keanu “Woah” Reeves reprise his Johnny Mnemonic performance — which I could tell he was doing by the simple fact he was going to be wearing a suit — and thus have to pay for the privilege. Nor was I going to buy the DVD, as I already own a copy of Johnny Mnemonic. Somewhere. So I had to wait until it came out on pay-per-view.
If you don’t know the plot by now, then you’ve been living under a rock in a swamp. Alien comes to Earth and says that unless mankind changes its destructive ways then powers immeasurably superior to ours will wipe the species from the face of the planet. Faced with complete destruction and massively superior technology, someone has to change his mind about humanity’s right to live. It has been many, many years since I last saw the original, so I’m not position to make anal comparisons between the two and watched it as a film for its own sake. Up to a point.
We started off up a mountain somewhere in 1928. In this scene KR played a bearded mountaineer who finds a strange glowing sphere in the ice, and proceeds to poke at it with his ice axe. I mean, really. If you found a strange glowing sphere encased in ice would you poke at it with your ice axe?
Yeah. I probably would too.
“Oooh! He’s going to get abducted! How exciting!” I exclaimed, already thinking this is a much more satisfying explanation for a human alien than them growing one.
But no. Bright flash of light then beardy is waking up slightly puzzled and the sphere is gone. Not a lipless cow to be seen anywhere, either.
Skip to the present day and we meet our heroine. Hollywood has banned action girls from the movies, for some reason. This leaves most girls with the fate-worse-than-death of being a soppy screamer who faints at the sight of a beetle. Here we have avoided this by making her a biologist specialising in the sorts of bacteria that get off on making scientists say “WTF is that doing growing THERE?” Her personal drama, because we can’t be without personal drama, is provided by being the widow of a man who died serving in the army, leaving her with the care of his son by his previous wife, who doesn’t like her very much and wants nothing more than his daddy to come back. Yada yada.
The action begins by having a bunch of feds turn up at her door while she’s trying to persuade the kid to get off WoW and come eat dinner while he reminds her, in that precious way movie children have, that she’s not his mother.
It’s all very Crichton, and here was where my niggles started blowing up into full irritation. I detest the idea that any government in this day and age doesn’t have a contingency plan in place for something like this, as ridiculous as it seems. In The Andromeda Strain, which had exactly the same multi-disciplinary mobilisation, the scientists were at least aware that they might be called upon. They were thus prepared to get straight to work and were much more effective and efficient, rather than spending valuable minutes — and minutes were valuable in this film — faffing around stressed because they didn’t know what was happening.
I started becoming genuinely uncomfortable when they went to meet the sphere in Central Park. I’d really like to think that we wouldn’t, as a species, turn up to greet our first verified alien visitor with howitzers, tanks, snipers and rocket launchers, but upon reflection I suspect that we probably would. And yeah, we probably would shoot him as well. That many nervous people with guns, accidents are bound to happen.
After that the whole thing just derailed and it became downright silly. The giant robot was the best thing in the film, and I’m going to ignore the painful way they shoehorned an acronym in there to explain his name. The alien arrived in a spacesuit made of placenta, which fell off and allowed KR to reprise his Matrix adult foetus role, after which he did his emotionless cool act, making him look like an escapee from Equilibrium. That was fine in context. We are talking about a portrayal of inevitability and implacability, after all.
The major premise of the film is summarised in the scene where the kid asks Klaatu whether they should run or fight and Klaatu responds “Neither… There is nothing you can do.”
I didn’t think enough was made of this. I can tell they tried, but other than some feeble attempts to destroy the giant robot, they didn’t do anything that really hammered home just how powerless people were. That’s the part that should have been really scary. Here we are currently facing potential environmental disaster and we still can do something about it, if we get our act together. We are, as the Professor (John Cleese) said in the film, “standing on the precipice”. Right now we can still step back. I wanted to be shown how abjectly hopeless it will make us as a species feel when there is nothing we can do about it any more. When it’s too late.
Unleashing a self-replicating mass of matter-eating artificial locusts just didn’t do it for me. Wasn’t exactly environmentally friendly, either.
As it is, the film went something like this:
Jacob: Ure not mai mom. I hates U!
Dr Helen Benson: Put your computer DOWN and eat your dinner, FFS.
American Military: Dr Helen Benson U must cum with us and leev horribl child behind cos we say so and we has motorsickles with flashy lites.
Dr Helen Benson: Oh. OK.
American Military: Now U help us meets visitor from owter space.
Dr Helen Benson: Kewl.
American Military: Noes!!!!11!! Ebul alien cum to eats us! Shoot it! Now! Kwicks!
Giant robot: DESTROY DESTROY DESTROY. LOL.
Klaatu: FFS. I’m not even out of my spacesuit yet. Quit it, Gort. Just… Give me a minute. FFS. We’re off to a great start already. Way to go making me think you guys have the potential to be nice.
Dr Helen Benson: Medic!
American Military: U R ebul alien cums to eat us. We am be interrugating U nows.
Klaatu: I think not. FFS. I just want to speak to the UN. What is it with you people?
American Military: Aieeee! He has used speshul ebul alien powahs to eats our branes thru the wiring!
Klaatu: I got the box. Damn straight. Now to get me to the UN. Aha! Here I have found what appears to be a transport hub. My word. How vicious and violent this race is. The sooner we’ve got rid of them the better. Oh. I appear to be bleeding and unwell.
Dr Helen Benson (answering phone): Yes? You have found the alien cough I mean my patient? I’ll be right there.
Klaatu:Your race is vicious and violent and destructive and must die. I am here to kill you all so that the bunny rabbits and the polar bears can live in peace. You must act as my chauffeur because, although I am excellent, I do not possess a driving licence.
Dr Helen Benson: Oh. OK. But we’re really not that bad. I shall introduce you to my professor, who is also excellent, and has a Nobel prize for being excellent, and he will show you how wrong you are by being excellent.
Professor: See my excellent maths! Listen to excellent Bach through my most excellent sound system.
Klaatu: Your math is promising and Bach is indeed most excellent.
Jacob: U is nasteh ebul alien and ai call army on U Bcoz that’s what Dad wud do and Dad was like JEBUS.
Klaatu: FFS. I thought we were getting somewhere. No, that’s it. You’re all going to die.
Giant robot (turning into artifical locust plague): DESTROY DESTROY DESTROY. LOL.
Dr Helen Benson: Noes! I has been kidnapped from the alien by the military in an ironic subversion of the alien abduction experience. No rly.
Jacob: I am be all alone in woods and am scared. Can U help me ebul alien who isn’t so ebul eny moar?
Klaatu: Kids, eh?
American Military: We gots nuthin. U try, Dr Helen Benson. Heer is Ur fone.
Jacob: I kno! We can meet at Dad’s grave and alien can bring him back to life with his alien powah, just like Jebus!
Klaatu: Look, kid. He’s not just dead, he’s worm food. He has been recycled, FFS.
Dr Helen Benson: Oh, poor baby! Here I shall hug you and make you feel better.
Jacob: Mom! I luvs you!
Klaatu: It would appear I was mistaken about the nature of humanity. If this child can hug the woman who cares for him, then perhaps their world leaders will not blow the living shit out of each other with nukes and will cap carbon emissions to stop polar ice melt. I must stop my giant robot locust plague, all because this child embraced this woman.
Rest of world: Yay! Say it. Say it! SAY IT! WTF? He didn’t say it! Even Bruce Campbell said it in Army Of Darkness! We spent the last 100 minutes waiting for him to say it and all we get is a lousy EMP? FFS. The only real consequence is that we’ll need to reboot everything and our watches have stopped. What’s that supposed to teach us? Hey, Klaatu! You SUCK.
Still. Could have been worse. It was better than Sunshine. It didn’t make me want to gouge my eyes out with a rusty nail.