Sci-Fi Movie Month: "The Day the Earth Stood Still" Review

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A remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic with Keanu Reeves playing the role of Klaatu. The basic premise of the story remains the same, though this time around the aliens are upset with humankind's destruction of their environment. Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Kathy Bates, John Cleese and Jaden Smith make up the supporting case.
2.5

Sci-Fi Movie Month: "The Day the Earth Stood Still" Review

-- Rating: PG-13 (some sci-fi disaster images, violence)
Length: 104 minutes
Release Date: December 12, 2008
Directed by: Scott Derrickson
Genre: Drama/Sci-Fi/Thriller

"The Day the Earth Stood Still" is an updated remake of the original 1951 film of the same name, which has become something of a cult sci-fi classic. In the film, the alien Klaatu (Keanu Reeves), along with his sidekick robot Gort, lands his spaceship in Central Park in order to give the residents of Earth some very sobering news about the way they're living their lives and using up the planet's resources. Before he can finish, he's shot and taken into custody.

While the government decides what to do with him, Klaatu is visited by Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), a scientist tasked with studying Klaatu while others interrogate him. She quickly stands out from everyone else, which endears her to Klaatu. She helps him escape from the government's clutches with the aid of her son Jacob (Jaden Smith), a sullen boy who must quickly grow up if he's to face the danger he and his mother are now in. The three are now fugitives and flee out of New York with the feds hot on their trail. While on the run, Klaatu observes humans and their nature, using robotic logic to try to make sense of a very complex race of people.

The reason he's trying to make sense out of the action of humans is he's supposed to oversee their destruction. The observations he's making are an effort to find a redeeming factor that will make him change his mind about destroying the planet and all the people on it. If he can find a reason to save the human race, there won't have to be an Armageddon-like incident. Unfortunately, he sees a lot of humanity at its worst, not realizing that the sensitive, soulful Dr. Helen is a prime example of humanity at its best. Will the cold, calculating alien grow a heart in time to save the people of Earth or will he keep with the original plan and set off a chain reaction of explosions and fire that will end the human race?

Remaking a movie, especially a cult classic like "The Day the Earth Stood Still," can often be a thankless job for all involved. The film will inevitably be compared to the original and expectations are very high to improve upon the source material in a tangible way. Thankfully, this updated version does improve upon the original classic, especially in filling in some of the plot holes to make a more cohesive overall story. One of the more obvious improvements is in the special effects, largely due to the amount of technology available today versus in 1951. Director Scott Derrickson uses a deft hand with the special effects, ensuring they don't distract from the story while still adding a sense of spectacle that was sometimes absent in the original movie.

The casting is done very well in this film, especially with Reeves in the lead role. Reeves is a somewhat quirky person who doesn't seek out the limelight and only does press and interviews when he has to promote a movie. This gives him a bit of a mysterious vibe that's perfect for the character of Klaatu, an alien who is much more than what he originally seems. He has the stares, mannerisms, and complexity the audience looks for in an alien, and it's enough to keep them fascinated by the character. Even the gigantic robot Gort gets to have a little personality here, the credit for which should go to screenwriter David Scarpa.

Scarpa does a fantastic job updating the script for today's world, which isn't an easy thing to do. It's hard to modernize something so iconic without losing the original spirit and intent of the movie, but Scarpa pulls it off well. In fact, his screenplay is a large part of why the film succeeds as much as it does. He's obviously a student of the original film because he keeps the elements of the original screenplay that worked so well, while adding in lines and character to substitute for the things that didn't work. He even pays homage to the original by sneaking in little sly references to the 1951 film. Derrickson gets in on the homage fun by using some of the original film's score, mixing it with a new score to form a soundtrack that's equal parts paean and original, much like the overall film.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5