The Day the Earth Stood Still
Directed by Scott Derrickson. Starring Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jaden Smith, John Cleese, Jon Hamm, Kyle Chandler. (2008, PG-13, 103 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 12, 2008
When word went out that this remake of Robert Wise's sci-fi classic was in the works, a hue and cry arose from those who have kept watching the skies since the golden age of the Cold War-era science-fiction film. Admittedly, I was among those whose first thought was, "Why?" and whose second thought was, "Keanu Reeves?!" Seriously, it didn't sound like a smart move in any direction when announced, and, unsurprisingly, this loud, hammy, and, above all, pointless do-over only serves to point out the genius of the original. Screenwriter David Scarpa sticks to the rudiments of Edmund H. North's 1951 script but garnishes the film's overriding and still-resonant message with wooden warnings from the equally wooden Reeves and then ladles on the CGI destruction to little effect. Wise's film had a stately elegance, with Michael Rennie's interplanetary message-bearer Klaatu eliciting genuine pathos while Patricia Neal and Hugh Marlowe acted exceedingly human throughout. (It also had one of Bernard Herrmann's eeriest and most memorable musical scores.) Reeves displays precious few emotions and even less acting. He plays the character of Klaatu (who is, lest we forget, the potential destroyer and/or savior of all mankind) as though he were on robo-pilot, and the whole characterization comes off as a bad, possibly ironic riff on Hugo Weaving's vastly more entertaining Agent Smith of The Matrix. Keanu stalks, Keanu glowers, Keanu has a giant robot christened "Gort" by the U.S. armed forces, but he's no Michael Rennie. Connelly does her best as the sci-gal whose rocky relationship with her preteen stepson eventually leads to tears, hugs, and the redemption of all mankind (maybe). But even she – or a stern Bates or a decidedly unsilly cameo by Cleese – can't save this dull, unnecessary film from its total lack of "Gosh, wow!" sense of wonder. Wipe ’em out, Gort.