Keanu/Klaatu warns us there’ll be lots of cheesy effects.
THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL directed by Scott Derrickson, written by David Scarpa, with Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates and Jon Hamm. A 20th Century Fox release. 103 minutes. Opens Friday (December 12). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNN
Besides Christopher Walken, and perhaps Al Gore, is there anyone more suited to playing an alien emissary sent to warn us that we are destroying the Earth than Keanu Reeves?
Unexpressive, unemotive, Zen minimalist, wooden - whatever you call Reeves's acting style, his cosmic blankness makes him perfect as Klaatu in the remake of 1951 sci-fi classic The Day The Earth Stood Still. Even the names - Klaatu, Keanu, Keanu, Klaatu - have a certain otherwordly kinship.
Forget debating the need for yet another Hollywood remake. It's here, and the source material (like much sci-fi) was full of ideas ripe for updating.
The original tapped into Cold War fears, and Klaatu (a similarly stiff Michael Rennie) warned of our nuclear self-destruction. Today, it's the environment at risk, and in a dark yet welcome twist, Keanu's Klaatu is willing to destroy humanity to ensure the planet's survival.
The cheesy special effects have not been retrofitted to the same degree, however. In addition to the requisite scenes of Independence Day-style destruction of public property (notably Giants Stadium), there are a lot of big glowing marbles and the cartoonish robot Gort (cinema's original Cylon). But the subpar CGI only adds to the film's charms and serve to place story ahead of spectacle.
Klaatu lands in Central Park in the middle of the night to deliver his message. It looks cool and dramatic - all CGI fog, lights and wind - but it made me wonder why a benevolent alien would land in a sketchy neighbourhood after everyone's gone to bed. The original got it right when Klaatu landed his tinfoil saucer in broad daylight in the middle of a baseball field - during a game! Central Park after midnight? No wonder Kathy Bates's defence secretary considers him a threat.
So it's up to Jennifer Connelly's widowed astrobiologist and her selfish stepson (Jaden Smith, heir to the Fresh Prince's fortune) to convince both the army and Klaatu to find a peaceful resolution.
While scenes often directly recall the original as well as sci-fi classics like Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Reeves's own Matrix, the final two acts most closely resemble Starman's alien-and-grieving-hottie-on-the-run storyline.
It's all good sci-fi fun. If only they'd thought to include the original's classic line, "Klaatu barada nikto."