Short version: If all you ask from a movie is cool CGI effects, The Day the Earth Stood Still is for you. Look for any more than that and you’ll be sorely disappointed.
Screen Rant reviews The Day the Earth Stood Still
You know, I can understand the desire to remake The Day the Earth Stood Still… I really can. The original film had a great concept, it’s stood the test of time, and the temptation to revisit it with today’s visual effects must have been overwhelming.
But one of the first rules of remakes is: You don’t remake classic films.
You don’t remake Gone With the Wind, you don’t remake Casablanca and you don’t even TRY to remake Citizen Kane. It’s a losing proposition – remakes that work are few and far between, and often they’re based on obscure or poorly made originals.
Now that I’ve got you thinking that my entire review will be based on comparing this new version to the original, let me tell you: This version doesn’t even work as a stand alone film. This could have been titled Alien Retribution and it still wouldn’t have been any good.
If you’re not familiar with the story, it basically goes like this: An alien spacecraft suddenly appears, an alien comes out to greet us (followed by very large protective robot), is mistakenly shot, questioned by the U.S. government, escapes, is befriended by a woman and her son, and it is revealed that (and here is where the plot diverts from the original) he is here to destroy mankind in order to save the Earth.
The film starts interestingly enough – with Keanu Reeves as a mountain explorer in 1928, apparently up in the Himalayas. He’s alone and there’s a pretty good snowstorm blowing, and he comes across an ice covered globe about 10 feet in diameter. He chips away at the ice, and something happens to him which forms the basis for how he (or someone who looks like him) returns to earth present day.
Present day, the always beautiful Jennifer Connelly plays college professor Helen Benson. She has a son, played by Jaden Smith, but I’ll get to him later. Federal agents soon appear and sweep her away with virtually no explanation to join a bunch of other similarly clueless scientists and engineers. Soon they are informed of the object heading towards Earth, apparently set to collide with a very prominent city and cause millions of deaths.
Of course it doesn’t crash but lands. It is a gigantic sphere that looks like it contains spinning liquids/gas. From it emerges a humanoid alien creature, who approaches Benson very slowly and carefully, extending its hand slowly in what is obviously a handshake. This is when he is shot by a nervous soldier (who, I assume, had never seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and frankly, I found the shot completely contrived. At least in the original the alien (Klaatu) was holding a device which suddenly sprang open in the appearance of a weapon. Here it seemed as if the writer said “oh, here’s where the alien gets shot, let’s just get it done.”
A gigantic robot (Gort) emerges from the ship and commences to destroy all weapons within line of sight – he only stops when Klaatu orders him to (it was hard to make out but I believe this is where they inserted the famous line “Klaatu Barada Nikto”).
Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) is taken to a secure medical facility in order to try to help him, and there is actually some cool conceptual stuff going on here with the alien organism side of things. Soon he’s healed and is shakily adapting to his human body. Kathy Bates plays Secretary of Defense and is not wearing kid gloves in her approach to getting information out of the apparently human alien.
It becomes apparent that this Klaatu has powers over electricty and more, and he soon escapes with the help of Benson. She continues to believe he is here for the good of humanity and is determined to help him stay away from authorities long enough to get him in front of the United Nations to address the world. As it turns out he isn’t here to save humanity, he’s here to save the planet Earth from humanity.
The plan is to wipe human beings from the planet because “only a handful of planets in the universe can support complex life.” I literally laughed out loud when I heard that line – so in order to save a rare planet that can support complex life, his “federation” of aliens is going to wipe out the most complex life form on the planet?? What puts an exclamation point on the joke is when we’re shown tons of spheres all over the world collecting specimens of animal and insect life presumably to whisk them off the planet (just in case?). So snakes and squids are worth saving, but humans aren’t.
The best thing in this movie was watching Jennifer Connelly on screen – she was great in her role. John Cleese has a small and surprisingly serious cameo in the film which worked as well. Reeves was… well… Reeves. There wasn’t much he could do with the role as given, playing it very cold and unemotionally. Jaden Smith’s character however, annoyed the living heck out of me. He looks like he’s about nine years old and he played this incredibly snarky, back-talking character to his (as it turns out) step-mother, Helen. With every exchange between him and her I was torn between wanting to slap some parenting sense into her or some discipline into him. If they had cast a 14-16 year old I would have bought it, but a kid that young with that much lip? Not in my house.
Compound that with the fact that later on in the film we’re supposed to feel compassion for him when he finally “turns around.” He either wasn’t given the dialog to do it or just doesn’t have the acting chops to pull it off. That’s a major problem with the film – Outside of Benson, I didn’t really care about anyone or what might happen to them. I felt disconnected from the film and it just never really engaged me. For all the visual effects in the film, the overall feel of the film is fairly flat and boring.
Then there’s the whole “kill the humans to save the Earth” message – frankly I found that ludicrous. Here’s a supposedly highly evolved race that apparently has no problems with just murdering all of humanity. For what? Do they plan on populating Earth themselves? Replace us with “good” people who know how to take care of the planet?
I mean seriously, they should just be patient – if we’re that close to self-destruction just come back in a few thousand years. Does anyone really believe that humanity can actually pollute the planet to death? If anything the worry should be that we’ll make it uninhabitable for ourselves – give the Earth 10,000 years without us and it’ll be back to a lush paradise on its own.
There are other things as well, if Klaatu’s true alien appearance would be “frightening” (as he stated in the film), one would assume it is completly alien-looking – so why is Gort humanoid in appearance? Then there’s a “spy” who has been on Earth for 70 years, who Klaatu confers with before his final decision to destroy us. They guy tells him about how he’s come to love humanity, but we won’t change our ways. In view of how the film ends, this ends up making absolutely zero sense. There are also a couple of rather jarringly obvious product placements, and the ending is completely ambiguous.
In the original Klaatu left us with a warning… basically: “Get your act together and stop being so violent. We’ll be watching.” Here, Klaatu finally stops the destruction, but he just… leaves. How far will his message of why he came get? Will anyone hear it? Did he decide humanity is so noble that they don’t care what we do to the planet any more? Why didn’t he listen to the old guy he talked to earlier? Why didn’t the guy make a better case for humanity?
I swear I expected Al Gore to have a cameo in this film at some point. When Benson rescues Klaatu, my first thought when they got to her car was “good thing she doesn’t drive an SUV!” Despite this, the film never has the guts to go all the way and use the term “global warming” or say “you’re destroying the environment with your pollution.”
The Day the Earth Stood Still is all about the visual effects. They are cool, but I need more than that from a film in order to call it “good.” As a matter of fact, for all its spectacle, the film is pretty flat and boring.
So if you’re into seeing lots of cool CGI on the big screen – and plot and characters don’t mean that much to you, by all means, go check this out. On the other hand if those things DO matter to you, go rent the original and enjoy that instead.