Andy Bockelman: ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ features poor acting, but provocative story
December 29, 2008
Not for lack of trying, but the magnitude of the update of the science fiction classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still” does not exactly conjure up the image of a planetary revolution stopping short.
When an indescribable occurrence demands the attention of scientists from all reaches, astrobiologist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) is just as in the dark as the rest of her colleagues – the disturbance in question is a foreign object hurtling towards Earth with an approximated target in Manhattan.
The eyes of the world are on Central Park as a sphere the size of a small moon lands in the locale, giving way to the emergence of an otherworldly life form which the U.S. military promptly injures and holds captive.
Further examination of the being (Keanu Reeves) reveals its adaptation of human corporeal traits and its almost immediate progress in mastering speech.
Identifying himself as Klaatu, the alien gives cryptic messages to all who attempt to communicate with him, leading the scientists to keep him locked up.
Helen senses that he needs to be free of the government’s interference, but she is unprepared to handle what Klaatu tells her when he no longer is in captivity.
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As the man who embodied the walking blank slate Neo in “The Matrix” trilogy, Reeves seems a natural to play the emotionless, logical Klaatu, whose mission involves saving Earth from its inhabitants. Even so, the actor’s stone-faced faÃ§ade lacks the empathic undertones vital to the role.
Connelly is unconvincing as the woman who tries to convince her new out-of-this-world charge that mankind can change. The widowed scientist must take on this task all while trying to connect with her stepson, Jacob, played rather gratingly by Will Smith’s son, Jaden, in his sophomore film effort.
Kathy Bates delivers as the bull-headed U.S. Secretary of Defense, whose primary solution to the perceived invasion is to do anything to strike out against it. Still, Bates’ star power is barely needed in such a small role, with fellow co-stars John Cleese and Jon Hamm likewise lending practically nothing to the mix as a Nobel Prize winning physicist and a NASA representative, respectively.
The remake of one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time is not quite as sacrilegious as it might appear.
The overly melodramatic tone and incompetent dialogue are what might bring tears to the eyes of purists, but director Scott Derrickson actually keeps and adds to the nuances of the original 1951 masterpiece.
The Cold War undertones are reconfigured to that of a post-9/11 society with considerable success, and the Biblical allusions – Klaatu as a Christ-like figure, the potential of the End of Days, etc. – are numerous. Incidentally, in case you didn’t get the hint from “The Day After Tomorrow” and “An Inconvenient Truth,” global warming is apparently bad.
Although it’s far too much of a “message movie” for what is undeniably misclassified as an action flick, the deep themes of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” resonate nonetheless.
And to those who recognize the name “Gort,” keep in mind that although bigger is not necessarily better, there is no need to go on a rampage – “Klaatu barada nikto.”