Kevin's Review: The Day the Earth Stood Still - In Its Own Way, An Accomplishment
by Kevin Powers
December 13, 2008
Let's be honest - Keanu Reeves headlining a remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still certainly doesn't sound like the rebirth of a genre archetype. In fact, the mere idea of retreading this territory finds many a fan up in arms. Nevertheless, with its smart casting, savvy CGI and efficient pacing, Scott Derrickson's Day finds a home among other capable productions in its class. Whereas the original focused on violence, Derrickson adopts an environmental approach that neither furthers nor mitigates the source material's intentions. And that's the real accomplishment - carefully carrying the essence of Robert Wise's classic to the finish line without dropping and breaking it into a thousand regrettable pieces.
While Reeves' abilities can often be described as wooden, he makes a perfect Klaatu - emotionless, plain-faced, with a shell of a personality. And even though one of his greatest moments was all the way back in 1991's Point Break when he shot his gun in the air and screamed "AHHHHH!", Reeves manages to deliver the alien's message with an enviable degree of detachment. His range is short, but in the right role it works. Jennifer Connelly as the scientist Helen Benson who befriends (or, more appropriately, spends time with) Klaatu is equally cast; her worried antics and "I'm the only one that can reach him" approach is a near carbon-copy of her role as Betty Ross in 2003's Hulk.
It's a pleasure to see Kathy Bates, as well, even if she did play an out-of-her-league politico. I can't really say the same for Jaden Smith, who plays Jacob, Helen's adopted son. Aside from the annoying adolescent acting-out trying to get Klaatu caught, I can't shake the idea that some of his scenes are embellished because he's Will Smith's son. All of the kid's emoting and extended lines have a nepotistic taint to it. Call me crazy.
As the original and remake go, Klaatu comes to earth via a massive swirling orb. As humans don't know what to do in this type of situation, the military is called out in full force. Klaatu is eventually taken to a holding facility for observation and questioning, at which time he reveals that he represents a group of civilizations, and that Earth shouldn't be considered human's domain. We soon learn Klaatu and those he represents feel humans are a detriment to the planet. Guess what happens at that point?
The story is wholly predictable yet it surprisingly manages to hold your attention. And thankfully, Derrickson avoids any undue wandering or sequences that might make you think he's trying too hard. This temperament carries over into the director's use of CGI as well. Considering the apocalyptic nature of the tale, Derrickson could have had innumerable scenes of glossy, scaled destruction. As it stands, the special effects feel not only well-done, but well-placed. That goes for Gort as well, the towering sentinel of unmatched power. Dressed in a brushed gunmetal finish with a pulsing slit for an eye, the cosmic bodyguard's appearance is a nice update to the original rendering.
Considering the original film is 57 years old, I'd venture to say that much of the audience for Derrickson's take haven't seen it. So by itself, the remake is a fine sci-fi excursion that while predictable, still manages to be enjoyable and ever so thought provoking. Compared to the original - well, I won't go there like Alex already did. Derrickson obviously hasn't necessarily made another classic here, but at the same time I don't think he's committed any cardinal sins to the genre. To my mind, that's a fine accomplishment.