By Jamie Folsom
Director: Scott Derrickson
Writer: David Scarpa, based on Edmund H. North’s 1951 screenplay
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Jaden Smith, Kathy Bates, John Cleese
Run time: 103 min.
MPAA rating: PG-13, sci-fi violence and disaster images
Reviewer’s rating: 1.5 stars out of 5
The good news is that this version of the classic is a very different movie from the original, and I purposefully didn’t see the 1951version again because I knew the comparison would not be kind. Judging it on its own merits, this movie has a lot going for it – a beautifully complex setting in Manhattan and the rural East Coast, cool special effects and a perfect performance by Keanu Reeves as the robot-like alien Klaatu. Sadly however, his is the best performance of the bunch, which includes the normally stellar Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates and John Cleese of Monty Python fame.
Connelly plays astro-biologist Helen Benson, a widow struggling to raise her resentful pre-teen stepson Jake (Jaden Smith). When a large object on a collision course with Earth is sighted, she and other top-notch engineers and scientists are taken from their homes in the middle of the night to aid the U.S. government’s response team, headed by the Secretary of Defense Regina Jackson (Bates).
The object turns out not to be an asteroid, but a spherical spacecraft that lands in Central Park and releases a large metal robot and a smaller gelatinous alien life-form (Reeves). The aliens are greeted, as one might expect, by every cop and military unit in the region. Someone foolishly shoots the alien when he reaches out to greet Benson, and in the process of rushing him into emergency surgery, she bonds with him.
In another display of intergalactic diplomatic incompetency, the Secretary of Defense pushes Dr. Benson to sedate and prepare Klaatu for “interrogation.” Benson, sensing correctly that he will be tortured, injects him with water instead and aids his eventual escape. Not that he needed the help, however, because even with his protective goo-suit surgically removed, Klaatu is practically omnipotent, using the power and communications grids to get the information he needs to continue his mission.
What Klaatue does lack is an understanding of why humans should be allowed to continue on as a species. His job, as we learn, is to save the Earth from humankind. And yes, that means killing us all by unleashing the apocalyptic powers of the giant robot.
The basic adaptation of the story is solid, but “The Day The Earth Stood Still” falls apart at every stage of the plot. Characters come and go with no clear reason, the acting is shockingly B-grade and the ending is weak. The answer Klaatu (and the audience for that matter) hope to find is that humankind can and will change its destructive ways if given the chance. Ironically, the Bensons must try to appeal to Klaatu’s emotional side to save us all.
It’s a good thing I was not in the position to make the choice to spare us or not – based on the information in this movie, I’d push that big red button.
I would say this is not worth the price of admission.