- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © 20th Century Fox
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
o call Scott Derrickson’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still” a remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic would be to do a great disservice to both films. Derrickson’s version, which still bears the same title and basic premise, is more of a reimagining of the story as it would apply to today’s generation. So instead of the widespread paranoia caused by the Cold War, the new threat is the ecological destruction of planet Earth. And before you start to cringe at the thought of a repeat of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Happening,” don’t fret, because while “The Day the Earth Stood Still” does get a little preachy, it’s never so heavy-handed that Klaatu reveals himself to be Al Gore in disguise. In fact, as long as you’re not a diehard fan of the original film, there’s actually quite a lot to like about the 2008 update, including a new and improved GORT that redefines the word "awesome."
In keeping with the spirit of the original film, Keanu Reeves stars as Klaatu, an alien delegate who travels to Earth to meet with the world’s leaders and warn them of a global crisis. When he’s shot upon exiting his spaceship, Klaatu is rushed to a government medical facility while his robot companion, GORT, stands guard in Central Park. Suspicious of his true intentions, Secretary of Defense Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates) orders the alien invader to be interrogated, but when Klaatu manages to escape, he befriends astrobiologist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) and asks for her help in saving Earth. What she doesn’t realize is that while Klaatu has every intention of preserving the planet, it will come at the cost of the human race. It seems our destructive tendencies have had quite a toll on Earth, and since it’s one of few planets that living organisms can actually inhabit, the intergalactic community has decided to step in before it's damaged beyond repair.
The first thing that fans are going to want to do after seeing the new version is condemn Scott Derrickson for all of the changes that he’s made. But while they may not all be for the better, they’re definitely necessary to telling the story in this day and age. As a result, the action has been ramped up considerably, while the tone of the movie no longer resembles that of a political thriller, but rather an eco-thriller with a splash of disaster film thrown in for good measure. That isn’t exactly the most appealing description, but it’s appropriate, even if it does sound like the movie has been turned into a special effects extravaganza. Those willing to give it a chance, however, will quickly discover that not only do all of the core elements remain, but that in some cases, the changes are actually an improvement on the original film.
At the top of that list is the shift in lead characters. Though the 1951 version featured Klaatu as the main protagonist, writer David Scarpa takes a different approach by telling the story from Helen Benson’s point of view. And it pays off, since Klaatu (or Keanu, for that matter) isn’t really interesting enough to carry an entire film. It’s not that Keanu does a bad job in the role – in fact, he’s perfect for the part of the emotionless alien – but the audience gets much more out of the experience by seeing the story through the eyes of one of the endangered humans. Toss in an estranged stepson (Jaden Smith), and suddenly, the movie becomes more about the relationships between the three characters than the fancy visuals onscreen. It's just too bad that all of it is wasted on an unsatisfying ending that feels rushed.
Of course, you may be too busy drooling over the sheer awesomeness of GORT to even notice, but if Derrickson and Co. spent this much time perfecting the look of Klaatu’s partner in crime (and you just know that was at the top of their Things We Can’t Fuck Up list), why couldn’t they put together a half-decent ending? Derrickson does such a fine job of making his version its own movie that to come up short so late in the game is a bit of a disappointment. “The Day the Earth Stood Still” could have been a really great reinvention of a classic film, but instead, it’ll likely go down as yet another average sci-fi flick that will never receive the credit it deserves.
Special Edition Blu-Ray Review:
It might not have been a box office hit in the US, but “The Day the Earth Stood Still” was huge overseas and Fox has responded accordingly with a three-disc release that includes a digital copy of the film and the 1951 version. The special features are a bit hit-and-miss – with a few throwaway featurettes on things like the possibility of alien life and the eco-friendly nature of the film’s production – but the making-of featurette (“Re-Imagining the Day”) and behind-the-scenes look at designing GORT are both must-sees. Rounding out the set is a commentary with writer Dave Scarpa, some deleted scenes, and a "Build Your Own GORT" game.