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Stars: Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury, Ben Mendelsohn, Lara Robinson, Nadia Townsend, Danielle Carter, Alan Hopgood, D.G. Maloney

Director: Alex Proyas

The special effects heavy but intellectually shallow remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still failed to draw crowds, while The Happening, M Night Shyamalan’s disastrous venture into science-fiction, never happened in any significant way.

Nobody is likely to claim Proyas’ vivid blend of disaster movie, spectacle and Nostradamus-style predictions, neatly infused with an unsettling amount of the supernatural, is a genre “masterpiece”. But, thanks to the direction, plus an absorbing screenplay and the leading performances, it is considerably more involving and entertaining and remains in the memory much longer than most recent science-fiction offerings.

Where it beats The Day the Earth Stood Still and Shyamalan’s pretentious bore hands down is that Proyas skillfully combines great spectacle (and nowadays you really only need to comment on the quality or otherwise of special effects in those unfortunate cases when they are patently awful) and rousing action with a genuinely intriguing storyline, casting Cage (with one of his best hairpieces in recent films) as a professor who gets to see a document covered in numbers created by a young pupil and buried 50 years previously in a school time capsule. Improbable, perhaps, but Cage manages to decipher the figures and discovers the apparent future fate of Mankind – which isn’t a pleasant one. And, fulfilling the classic “Only you, Dick Daring" situation he finds himself in, he sets out to save the world…

The pace is good, the visual highlights – notably a truly terrifying plane crash – are impressively done, without overshadowing the key characters, and potent suspense is never allowed to evaporate. Byrne holds her own against the spectacle and two excellent Australian child actors Canterbury and Robinson (Knowing was filmed Down Under) add to the drama.

Alan Frank

USA 2009. UK Distributor: E1 Films. Colour.
121 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 03 Apr 2009