Regular Picturenose readers will remember that our Colin was not at all happy with the news that the Robert Wise sci-fi classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) was to be remade, starring old ‘stone face’ himself, Keanu Reeves, as Klaatu the interplanetary would-be peace-monger. Colin whined on about it here first, then he had another moan here but, as chance would have it, reviewing duties fell to yours truly. So, are Col and I heading for a bust-up?
Well, by and large, I think not. However, it must be said that, once again, certain other reviewers seem to have gone well OTT in their attacks on the movie, which is directed by Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)). Just to set Colin’s mind at rest then, and to refute certain rumours doing the rounds (including on this website), that Klaatu’s intentions were to be to save the world from man-made global warming, as opposed to Michael Rennie’s warnings in the first film that mankind must relinquish its appetite for destruction or face annihilation for the good of life across the universe, the actual thrust of Derrickson’s film is in fact much nearer to the original’s than was previously believed.
In what is, to be fair, a tense first 20 minutes, Klaatu and his huge, seemingly all-powerful sentient/cybernetic bodyguard GORT (it stands for Genetically Organized Robotic Technology in this film) make themselves known to the upper echelons of the world’s scientific community, and of course the US military, in an ‘Aliens are Coming’ set-piece that in fact rivals Independence Day (1996) for tense build-up, if you like that kind of thing. I do, Colin doesn’t, never mind.
Hopes are further raised by the fact that Reeves, in spite of David Scarpa’s trite and frequently irritating screenplay, actually has something of a laconic, menacing presence as the alien visitor. In a sharp contrast with Wise’s original, there’s no nonsense about ‘It was meant to be a gift for your President – I come in peace’ here – Klaatu arrives with numerous sentient spheres, which begin to take as many species as possible off the planet. The decision has been made by the ‘higher authorities’, you see – Earth is too precious a life-source to be destroyed by mankind, so it’s adios humanity.
But wait – might scientist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), her adopted son Jacob (Jaden Smith) and Nobel Prize winning professor Professor Barnhardt (John Cleese) be able to convince Klaatu to call it off and give us all one last chance. Hmmm. What do you think? Well, not if voice-of-the-President Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates) has anything to do with it – ‘Shoot! Fire! Kill! Destroy!’
Where Edmund H. North’s original screenplay (like the first movie itself) managed a dignified restraint, and got its message across without being preachy, the updated version unfortunately cannot resist the temptation to sugar-coat the pill and descend, unforgivably, into mush. In addition, its ending has a remarkably rushed feel, with the titular ‘Day’ reduced to a mere two minutes, seemingly tacked on as an afterthought. The acting on display is only ever competent – Cleese seems to have been inserted for novelty value, as he is given so very little to do. In addition, the F/X, given the scale of what is supposed to be the extent of the power that Klaatu has at his fingertips, are only modestly impressive – the new version of GORT itself, in fact, is the most impressive example of alien technology on display, rather than the half-baked, pseudo-apocalyptic finale.
To sum up, The Day the Earth Stood Still (redux) is NOT abysmal but, given the amount of money and time that would appear to have been spent on this half-arsed reworking, with comparatively little of the actual lucre showing on-screen, it’s scarcely worth any investment on the part of cinemagoers – wait for the DVD.