The Day the Earth Stood Still (20th Century Fox, PG-13)

film_earth_sm.jpgScott Derrickson’s remake of the 1951 classic provides the best evidence I’ve seen lately that money can’t buy class.








Scott Derrickson’s remake of the 1951 classic The Day the Earth Stood Still provides the best evidence I’ve seen lately that money can’t buy class. It also can’t guarantee an effective movie, let alone a meaningful one.

Most of the basic plot remains from Robert Wise’s classic 1951 film, recently voted #5 among the top science fiction films of all time by the American Film Institute. A space ship (now resembling a small planet) lands in Central Park and disgorges an alien named Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) who is promptly shot and imprisoned by the U.S. military. Klaatu’s robot friend Gort also emerges from the space ship and zaps a few airplanes with laser beams emanating from the vicinity of where his eyes would be, if he had eyes. Klaatu befriends Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) who helps him escape and provides various types of assistance as he endeavors to save planet Earth.

There are quite a few changes as well, most of them not for the better. Helen is now an "astrobiologist" at Princeton, and her charming son Bobby has become her bratty stepson Jacob. Professor Barnhardt is reduced to a bit part, and despite a direct quote of the "complete the equation" scene, it’s never clarified who he is or why Helen brought Klaatu to him.

Unnecessary and preposterous "rational" explanations are provided for all kinds of things, including a back story about how Klaatu was created from human DNA, and a newly created character who updates Klaatu on life on planet Earth (in a McDonalds!), which make the gaping plot holes all the more obvious. The military has never heard of cell phone-blocking technology? The man assigned to interrogate Klaatu happens to wear exactly the same suit size? The government would be so stupid as to kidnap the finest scientific minds in the country, then immediately expose them to mortal danger?

Worse, the layers of meaning in the original film have been reduced to a series of stereotypes which equate the geopolitical complexities of the modern world with the self-centered troubles of a dysfunctional upper-middle class family (no boarding house for these characters!). The Christian symbolism is so heavy-handed that I often wondered if I were watching the next installment of Left Behind.

The "look and feel" of the remake is entirely different as well, and I don’t just mean that now it’s in color and with better special effects. The endearingly clunky technology of the original has been replaced by lots of CGI, some of it preposterously bad. Would someone tell me what is up with the cheesy scorpions and snake in the desert scene? Is it supposed to look fake?

Gort is no longer a seven-foot-tall Chinese waiter in a rubber suit, he’s a CGI creation resembling a welder’s mask in humanoid form. The film is set primarily in the New York area but was shot in Canada, much of it on soundstages, which helps to explain why nothing looks real. Even the music is overbearing and conventional, a real decline from Bernard Hermann’s innovative score, which included parts for two Theremins and three vibraphones.

The purpose of Klaatu’s visit has also been changed: Rather than teaching people about the evils of violence, he’s here to wipe us out before we completely destroy Planet Earth. Fortunately, even the largely expressionless Klaatu (a role Keanu Reaves was born to play!) is not immune to some good old Hollywood schmaltz, which is why I’m here to tell the tale.

OK, there are a few good things about Derrickson’s film. It’s very multi-culti and politically correct, with dark-skinned and female people working as scientists and in the military. Kathy Bates delivers the best acting in the film in her role as the Secretary of Defense. And Derrickson is fond of color symbolism, making some of the scenes interesting from an artistic point of view.

But did I mention? No one ever says "Klaatu Barada Nicto." Now there’s a catchphrase which has stood the test of time, and screenwriter David Scarpa has nothing to equal it. All in all, Robert Wise must be turning over in his grave. | Sarah Boslaugh

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