The arrival in New York's Central Park of a giant sphere from another world may have dire consequences for our planet.
Photo credit: WETA.
™ and © 2008 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.
PG-13 for sci-fi disaster images and violence
December 12, 2008
Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Jaden Smith, John Cleese, Jon Hamm, Kyle Chandler, Kathy Bates
David Scarpa (screenplay); based on screenplay by Edmund H. North
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
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The Day The Earth Stood Still: A Modern Remake
By Laura J. Bagby
CBN.com Sr. Producer
Producer Erwin Stoff had been waiting for this moment in history for more than 12 years. Some fans might have been waiting even longer – how's 57 years? And finally here it is: Robert Wise's original The Day The Earth Stood Still re-imagined for a 21st Century audience.
In this modernized rendition of the1951 sci-fi classic, acclaimed scientist Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) along with her estranged stepson Jacob Benson (Jaden Smith) and top scientific, military, and political are faced with the possibility of the annihilation of mankind when an alien called Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) mysteriously appears on Earth in the middle of Central Park in New York City with his massive and menacing robot Gort, believing that his initial unfriendly welcome is a sign that humans are hostile and self-destructive and thus a threat to global peace. Will Klaatu find something worth redeeming here on Earth so that this alien might reconsider wiping out humanity? And will Dr. Benson be able to crack through Klaatu’s alien exterior and touch something deeper – even almost human – in his heart?
In a Nutshell
If you need a quick takeaway, here it is: I rate Derrickson’s version as an A-/B+, or the small popcorn. His rendition is more philosophical and intellectual than the original, and somewhat quieter in its delivery. It is definitely scarier for younger children, particularly the 28-foot robot Gort.
Be advised that for those who like tidy endings, this film isn’t one of those. Be prepared for some intentional open-endedness. As Derrickson said at the press junket for the film, “There is both closure to the story and open-endedness to what comes next and what just happened that I like. I appreciate that sometimes in movies that they leaving me having to decide for myself what I think that means.”
And, if you haven’t seen the original yet, go see Derrickson’s version first. That way you won’t be unnecessarily biased. Derrickson’s film should stand in its own right.
Now, for a deeper analysis…
The Stellar Stuff
Kudos to director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) for making several changes to this new version. First, we see Helen Benson as an astrobiologist and not a secretary of some governmental official as she was in the original. And whereas the ‘50s version starring Patricia Neal centers mostly around the romantic relationship between Helen and her potential suitors, including at times Klaatu, and only peripherally between her and Jacob, today’s version centers more on the conflicted relationship of Helen with her stepson, Jacob, and the moral and scientific (but not romantic) relationship Helen has with alien Klaatu. I think the choice to go less romantic is brilliant. Helen is allowed to be strong in character and compassionate while demonstrating high mental acuity. And the addition of Jennifer Connelly in the role really makes the character of Helen completely viable. Connelly has the unique ability of portraying both beauty and brains.
Young actor Jaden Smith, son of actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, demonstrates emotional range in his key scene at his father’s grave and works particularly well with Connelly. Well done to an up-and-coming child actor.
Also in the new version, Derrickson opts to go more ecological than technological with the alien elements of the film, including the spacecraft, Klaatu’s alien appearance, and his robot Gort. And I think the director’s choice works for this film, too. Particularly when our current culture is trying to think green, even if that wasn’t the main point of the movie, it parallels modern culture. Plus, seeing the light-infused, organic elements provides more mystery and more of an otherworldly feel than the original movie with its metallic, engine-driven objects projected.
Except for some of the initial grossness of Klaatu’s alien body and the scariness of Gort’s semi-nanotech body that swarms with menacing black flying bugs – both of which might not appeal to a younger audience – overall the film tries hard to be relateable to as wide an audience as possible. Plus, with no sexual innuendo and no serious cursing, this sci-fi film tries to keep some family friendliness, even while it garners a PG-13 rating.
The Disappointing Stuff
John Cleese makes an excellent Professor Barnhardt, with his natural intelligent quirkiness, but I was disappointed that in this version the character of Barnhardt doesn’t get more screen time. I am guessing that is because Helen has been updated to scientist status and Derrickson wanted the focus to be more on her.
And although I think Kathy Bates is an extraordinary actress normally, I don’t think she fit the role of U.S. Secretary of Defense Regina Jackson at all. To me she ends up looking really stiff and uncomfortable in her suit. Her evident discomfort made me squirm a bit.
Third, I really have mixed feelings of how the alien Klaatu is portrayed in Derrickson’s remake. In one sense, I think Keanu Reeves’ performance was appropriately stoic and rather one-dimensional. It fits his alien nature to be somewhat mechanical and stiff in delivery. On the other hand, it certainly didn’t keep the interest of this jet-lagged, sleepy movie watcher. It is imperative to be focused enough to observe those very slight variations in Keanu’s subtle performance, and I confess that I wasn’t as attentive as I should have been. But knowing that Keanu would be playing a Christ figure again in the role of Klaatu, as he had done time and time again in the Matrix movies, who better than Reeves to tackle another sci-fi hero?
I guess overall my main gripe about the film is the lack of character development – not so much from the actors’ standpoint as the scriptwriter’s point of view. Since this sci-fi film isn’t enrapturing moviegoers with giant crashes and blazing shoot outs and mega galactic battles in outer space, my secondary point of focus becomes the characters themselves. Who are they? What motives them? How are they really changing? I think the scriptwriter could have done more to project a richer and clearer picture of our central characters. I feel like we barely scratched the surface.
This film doesn't have the sentimental, old-school science fiction feel of the original, nor the energy-charged action/adventure status of past sci-fi blockbusters. But I think this movie does attempt to be forward thinking while echoing our current culture without becoming too cynical. Its commentary bent is quite a challenge. For the record, Derrickson’s remake is definitely worth seeing on the big screen.
There is just one thing I wish for our moviegoers: I wish that you had gotten the chance to sit down with director Scott Derrickson about his remake as I had. I really think gaining his perspective helped me appreciate the remake of this science fiction classic more.
If you want Derrickson’s take on his film, please visit the following three articles.
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More articles by Laura Bagby on CBN.com
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