Dir: Scott Derrickson. US. 2008. 105 mins.
Rarely has an alien invasion (or the possible eradication of humanity) seemed less gripping than in The Day The Earth Stood Still, a sluggish reboot of the 1951 science-fiction classic starring Keanu Reeves as an ambassador for the invading extra terrestrials. Updating the 'message' from a call to end the Cold War to a cry to protect the environment, director Scott Derrickson positions his remake as an ungainly merger of Independence Day-style mayhem and treacly family drama.
The Day The Earth Stood Still opens in the US and much of the rest of the Earth on December 12, hoping to duplicate the success of last December's sci-fi remake I Am Legend ($584m worldwide). Keanu Reeves' identification with the Matrix trilogy (which grossed over $1.6bn) will certainly add commercial heft, and with no sci-fi competition blocking its path and no major action films debuting until Valkyrie and The Spirit at Christmas, this Fox release will have the marketplace to itself for a few weeks, although poor notices and word-of-mouth may stall its momentum.
When an alien race lands in New York City, government officials enlist the help of Dr Helen Benson (Connelly) to make contact with the interstellar visitors. One of the aliens appears in human form, calling himself Klaatu (Reeves) and asking to speak to Earth's leaders. When the US government tries to take him captive for interrogation, he goes into hiding with Helen and her petulant stepson Jacob (Smith).
Unlike other famous sci-fi films which have recently been remade, the original The Day The Earth Stood Still (based on a Harry Bates short story) was more of a social drama than an action or horror film. While director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism Of Emily Rose) and screenwriter David Scarpa (The Last Castle) try to maintain an element of social commentary, they tragically can't resist the temptation to boost the pyrotechnics and melodrama. What results is a film which attempts to stay faithful to the underlying themes of its source, paying lip-service to the importance of protecting the planet's fragile ecology, while unsuccessfully trying to match the special-effects carnage of War Of The Worlds and Independence Day.
Making a film in which the human race's future hangs in the balance requires a heightened emotional tone, but Derrickson encourages his cast to overdo the clenched-teeth seriousness. The greatest offence occurs with the forced conflict between Helen and Jacob, who start off at odds because of Jacob's sadness over his beloved father's death and then have a major reconciliation just as humanity is about to be destroyed. Jennifer Connelly has done good work in the past, but her character's cliched emotional arc doesn't do her any favours here. And after impressing as the precocious son in The Pursuit Of Happyness (opposite dad Will Smith), Jaden Smith plays a standard-issue bratty film kid, showing little of the spark that made him seem so promising.
Oddly, the one actor who doesn't embarrass himself is Keanu Reeves as the emotionless Klaatu. Reeves has been knocked for years for his detached performances, and playing an unfeeling alien undoubtedly suits him quite well. But more than that, Reeves uses his blankness to convey a sense of superior intelligence that's very effective - surrounded by the screaming, crying humans around him, he definitely seems like a more advanced species.
Dune Entertainment III LLC
3 Arts Entertainment
Twentieth Century Fox
Paul Harris Boardman
(based on the screenplay by Edmund H. North)
Brandon T. Jackson