I saw the original The Day The Earth Stood Still years ago. I was a young teenager, and while I had the whole ‘that looks so fake’ attitude, I still enjoyed the film for what it was. The story was great and it had that whole 1950’s innocent attitude to it. It’s a sci-fi classic and remains so to this day. So why remake it? Why indeed. With the disappointing invasion movies of the reprehensible Independence Day and the strictly average War Of The Worlds, it seems that the invasion movie really isn't that viable an idea. But that’s what we have in Scott Derrickson’s remake, released this week.
Helen Benson is a molecular biologist. One evening, she is called upon by the US government to come to a gathering of great scientific minds. Being an emergency, she is told nothing. However, it seems that something on the outskirts of the solar system is on a collision course with the Earth. The scientists are drafted to organise the aftermath of the impact. The unfortunate thing for the scientists, and the citizens of Manhattan (the impact site) is, there is only 78 minutes to impact. The object doesn’t smash into the Earth, but lands in Central Park. From the object, a humanoid emerges. He is shot, grabbed and experimented on in order to see what he wants. But this stranger is a harbinger of doom. Humans have damaged the earth almost to the point of no return and the aliens are here to wipe out the human race and save the Earth from her most advanced species. Benson does her best to convince Klaatu not to destroy the human race, but the time of destruction is rapidly approaching.
The original The Day The Earth Stood Still is a pretty iconic movie. The image of the robotic Gort standing guard over the ship he and Klaatu arrived on Earth in is a classic sci-fi image. So why bother remaking a film which is essentially a classic? There are some ideas in the updated version that are relevant to today. The film raises some points about the environment that are relevant to today. We’re poisoning the Earth and wiping out species at an alarming rate. Yet if even something as seemingly irrelevant as the bee were wiped out, we’d die off as a species. But could the world survive without humans? Absolutely. So we’re privileged to have this planet as our home. This is the message that is peppered throughout the screenplay.
Central to the film is the role of Klaatu. This character is an alien living in a human body, existing in a world that to it, is alien. To achieve this unworldly performance, Derrickson cast the similarly alien-named Keanu Reeves to play Klaatu. And it’s a brilliant casting choice. Reeves, while never destined to achieve Lawrence Olivier-levels of acting prowess, does have a talent to play characters who are out of their comfort zone. Reeves proved this with The Matrix, where he was required to stand around looking like he was struggling to comprehend what’s going on around him. And he did it brilliantly. Here, he plays a character seemingly bored and unfazed by human beings. And this he yet again achieves without much effort. Jennifer Connelly does a serviceable job as Helen Benson. She leads Klaatu about the place and fears for her adopted son. Her son, played by Will Smith’s son, Jaden Smith, is by far the most irritating element of the film. He gets everyone into trouble and yet prances about on his high-horse demanding death to the outsider. I found myself praying for his untimely and painfully drawn-out death. Kathy Bates and John Cleese also pop up for two roles that are essentially cameos, playing conscience of the military and thoughtful wisdom, respectfully.
The special effects in the film are suitably special. Gort, who this time is G.O.R.T., looks pretty spiffy. Less clunky than his 1950’s counterpart, and technologically organic for the 21st Century. The film’s trailer is cut as a big special-effects blockbuster, but this is something of a misnomer. There are only a few big sequences. This is more of a drama than a blockbuster, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some will want more action. But it would seem contrived.
While The Day The Earth Stood Still won’t set the world on fire, it’s a pretty entertaining 104 minutes. While purists will balk at the desecration of their classic, this remake isn’t as terrible as some remakes in the past have been (Hallowe’en and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, I’m looking at you), but it’s nowhere near as good a remake as John Carpenter’s The Thing. The strength of the film really comes from Keanu Reeves who’s performance is ironically devoid of emotion. Sure, it’s throw-away. But the Day The Earth Stood Still is at least worth a look if you’ve nothing else left to see at the cinema.