While purists may have shuddered at the thought of someone remaking Robert Wiseâ€™s classic science fiction film, The Day the Earth Stood Still, I was among those who looked forward to a modern telling of the story. The original carried a message about human beings getting along, a pointed theme at the height of the Cold War. With the opportunity to incorporate incredible special effects and a new message about the environment, this new The Day the Earth Stood Still looked promising — but the end result is mixed. There are solid performances, some emotional depth that you wouldnâ€™t expect from your typical sci-fi disaster film, and plenty of CGI special effects; still, I came away from The Day the Earth Stood Still a bit disappointed. At times, the film felt like it was trying too hard to live up to the stature of the original film instead of allowing the story to flow. In the end, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a decent â€˜Bâ€™ movie, but definitely not to the standards youâ€™d expect from a big budget, star studded film.
Academy Award winner Jennifer Connelly, and Keanu Reeves star in the movie, directed by Scott Derrickson (who also helmed The Exorcism of Emily Rose). After a pointless prologue in which an explorer (played by Reeves) comes face to face with an extraterrestrial orb in the year 1929, we jump ahead to the present and meet Connellyâ€™s Helen, a scientist and single mother raising her stepson. The boy, Jacob, (played by Jaden Smith) resents Helen; deep down is really hurting because his father, a soldier, died in the Middle East, and his birth mother has been dead for years. These two are stuck with each other whether they like it or not.
One night, Helen is whisked from her home to a secret government lab with a group of other scientists. She soon learns that an alien orb (like the one in the opening, only the size of Central Park) is headed to Earth. The orb lands, an alien steps out of it, and just like in the original, some trigger-happy soldier shoots the space creature. Helen is close by to catch it, and back at the lab, the gelatinous body of the alien begins to peel away and soon it takes the form of Keanu Reeves. He reveals that his name is Klaatu and that heâ€™s on earth to try and stop mass genocide. Human beings are ruining the planet with pollution and this alien race feels that the planet is too precious to the solar system to let human beings destroy it. When the government decides theyâ€™re going to take care of this alien invasion, it only pisses off the higher race of beings and mass destruction begins. Klaatu is the only one who can save the earth, but only if Helen can convince him to give us humans a seconds chance. When Klaatu escapes from the government, the film shifts into a chase film, with Helen transporting the fugitive alien around the northeast U.S. to gathers information about humans. Gradually, he begins to understand us and our ability to adapt learn and eventually change. Thatâ€™s the broad theme of the film and quite honestly, itâ€™s a little preachy. More interesting is Helenâ€™s struggle to connect with Jacob. If only Smith had been a stronger actor, then that subplot may have better served the film overall. I didnâ€™t once buy his character on him in the role. In almost every single scene he came across as an â€œactorâ€ instead of the character on screen. Of course, heâ€™s 10, so maybe heâ€™ll have a little time to grow.
Despite the flaw of casting the young Mr. Smith, the rest of the cast is an outstanding selection of earnest individuals, including Academy Award winner Kathy Bates (always great), Jon Hamm (wide eyed and confused- this guy continues to show his range in everything he does) and Kyle Chandler (will someone please make this guy a star already? Jeez!) John Cleese is also on hand in an extended cameo as a Nobel Prize winning professor who pleads with Klaatu. And of course there is the young Mr. Smith.
As for Connelly and Reeves, both are quite good. Connelly brings humanity to her role that could have easily been lost amongst the special effects and loud noises. But she grounds the film. As for Reeves, his monotone, valley dude acting pays off as the alien invader who gradually becomes more human as the film progresses.
With so many decent elements, why isnâ€™t the film a classic? While Derrickson definitely knows how to draw good performances from his actors, his pacing is a little all over the place. Thereâ€™s no better way to kill the momentum of a scene than by suddenly cutting to and unmotivated close up of a key card swiping a lock or long, drawn out footage of a convoy of black SUVâ€™s. Alas, the movie is filled with just these types of filler shots, draining some of the excitement from the movie. Cinematically, Derrickson uses a lot of unmotivated slow motion and pulls every camera clichÃ© out for the film. Add to that a mediocre, preachy script, and you understand why The Day the Earth Stood Still is a mere â€˜Bâ€™ movie and not the great film science fiction fans had hoped for.