The Day the Earth Stood Still is the latest example of the Hollywood mindset that thinks remaking old movies is a good idea because now you can make them in color and with improved special effects. This is not necessarily a bad idea, but you do have to wonder if it discourages young people from ever going back and seeing the classics. After all, would any teenager be inclined to see the original Day when they can see this one, where all kinds of stuff blows up real good, including Giant Stadium?
In case you think Iím going to get on my soapbox and bemoan the fact that someone has dared to remake one of the most celebrated sci-fi movies of all time, you can relax. Iím pretty sure I saw the original, but it was a long time ago. Iíd like to see it again; for now, though, Iím reviewing the remake on its own meritsÖand probably coming to the same conclusion as if Iíd seen the original yesterday, i.e. color and CGI effects do not necessarily a better movie make.
The early scenes in the story are very tense. A giant flaming orb is on a collision course with Manhattan. The government and military order a group of scientists to be immediately assembled for emergency planning. One of these scientists is Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), a single stepmother left to care for her late husbandís child Jacob (Jaden Smith, son of Will). Helen ends up in the forefront when the orb lands Ė instead of crashes - in Central Park and a human-like being named Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) emerges. (A giant robot-looking thing called a GORT protects him from behind.) Klaatu is immediately taken into custody for testing/interrogation, and while he claims to be here to save the Earth, he also reveals that saving the planet does not necessarily mean saving the people.
The original Day the Earth Stood Still was about an alien coming to Earth to implore humanity to make peace and avoid using the atomic bomb. The remake substitutes environmental issues for the bomb. Klaatu issues a warning to explain why killing off the human race may be necessary: ďIf you live, the Earth dies. If you die, the Earth lives.Ē Helen thinks she might be able to change his mind and subsequently helps him escape when the military tries to hunt him down.
There is much to like in the film: the tension of the early scenes, the emotionally realistic performance from Jennifer Connelly, and even the thematic update. Redoing the original with a new environmental twist is actually not the worst idea in the world. In fact, if anyone was inclined to remake a movie that didnít need to be remade, he or she could do a lot worse than this concept. Itís relevant, and just different enough to give the new version an identity of its own. I even liked Keanu Reeves, who has often been unfairly accused of robotic acting. Intentionally or not, his performance here subtly tweaks those accusations.
Having said all that, The Day the Earth Stood Still suffers from a credibility crisis. The environmental message isnít driven home enough. Every time the story started to get interesting in this regard, it suddenly veered off course to throw in some big action scene or elaborate special effects sequence (a few of which are surprisingly fakey, most notably the ones with the GORT). While some of those moments are fun, they undermine what the picture is trying to say. It almost feels like no one trusted the inherent power of the material and, in anticipation of restless audiences, tried to wedge the message in around all the visual spectacle.
Thereís also a big hole where the movieís soul should be. Without giving anything away, we are asked to believe that Klaatu might have a change of heart about his mission if he sees that humans can change. Well, he sees change all rightÖbut absolutely nothing to suggest that the environment will be any better off if he lets the people live. What he sees is decidedly smaller scale. For that reason, the supposedly dramatic climax feels kind of hokey and false. If the well-being of the galaxy depends on the survival of Earth, wouldnít he want to know that mankind was taking Mother Nature much, much more seriously?
All this means is that The Day the Earth Stood Still is not a great film. Iíll give it credit for being at least moderately entertaining, with some decent performances and a handful of effective moments of adventure and suspense. At the same time, itís really quite a shame that the film wimped out on driving the message home. I donít think anyone would have said it matched the original even if it had followed through more, but I certainly think the potential was there for something that provoked genuine thought, in color and with CGI.
( 1/2 out of four)
The Day the Earth Stood Still is rated PG-13 for some sci-fi disaster images and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 43 minutes.
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