A needless remake of a true cinema classic, Scott Derrickson’s The Day the Earth Stood Still feels restrained by the structure of a film it can’t possibly live up to.
A shame, too, because there’s a lot of good work to be found here: slickly produced, tense and even scary at times, the film really works in fits and spurts, especially the first half hour or so, and Keanu Reeves is well-cast as alien Klaatu.
But the original 1951 film was perfect; as this remake becomes, essentially, an effects-laden disaster movie and changes everything around, it becomes all too apparent that they never should have conceived it as a remake in the first place.
Shortly after an object headed for a crash-collision with earth is discovered, a team of top scientists is gathered to plan for impact. This includes biologist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), who leaves her young stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith, Will’s son) with neighbors when a government escort comes to pick her up.
Of course, the object slows down before landing in New York City’s Central Park amidst a military presence. Out of a large orb steps alien Klaatu, and before he can utter a word he’s shot by an edgy sharpshooter. Next comes huge, hulking robotic Gort, who sends everyone writhing in pain with a shrieking sonic wave.
Klaatu is taken to a hospital and operated on by a surgeon, who pulls Keanu Reeves out of a living spacesuit (during an unnecessary prologue, a mountain-climbing human Reeves comes into contact with an alien orb).
He picks up some English, requests a meeting with the UN, and is denied by Defense Secretary Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates), who has taken control of the country while the president and vice president have taken cover. So far, so good, and a reasonable approximation of the original. But the original had too much dialogue and too few special effects, so this rest of this film has little resemblance.
The anti-nuclear message of the original is updated to a geo-friendly one, but things go off course when the aliens decide to save the Earth by destroying it. Enter a biblical plague of micro-robot locusts, some funny logic, and the fate of the world (or what’s left of it) will come down to the love of a mother and her stepson.
Ice cold and emotionless, Reeves is perfect as a robotic alien Klaatu, though it must be noted that he certainly isn’t playing the logical, humanistic Klaatu from the original film that Michael Rennie so effectively portrayed.
But Reeves can deliver lines with complete detachment like no other, and he’s almost frightening here. Of course, when the movie wants him to convey emotion it runs into a huge problem.
This is foreshadowed by a scene where Klaatu meets an older alien (played by James Wong) who recommends the destruction of the earth, but wants to stick around and be blown to pieces with everyone else because humanity has grown on him. I really hoped the film wouldn’t take Reeves’ character there, but it was inevitable.
The original film’s classic phrase “klaatu barada nikto” is uttered once here, by robot Gort after Klaatu is shot early on. Like much of the rest of the remake, it’s an example of something taken from the original, shorn of all significance, and retained only for novelty value.
The characters of Klaatu and Gort feel the same way – these aren’t the original characters, so why are the names and designs being used at all? The retro-robot Gort fit in perfectly with the flying saucer spaceship and general design of the original film, but he doesn’t feel like he belongs in this movie at all.
Well-produced with state-of-the-art special effects, this Day the Earth Stood Still is smoothly put together by director Derrickson, but what’s the point? Both of the film on its own, and as a remake.
This could have been smart, scary sci-fi if it stood on its two legs, but it insists on using the original as a crutch and eventually topples itself over.