While it's not even close to being one of the best movies of all time, I must admit that I've got a soft spot for the 1951 sci-fi classic, “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Flying saucer on the Mall in Washington? Check. Seven-foot metallic robot named Gort, with a deathray in his head? Oh yeah. Anti-nuke message waaaaay before being anti-nuke was cool? Yeppers. “Klaatu Barada Nikto?” Yes, indeedy.
This is all to say that I was prepared to be completely and utterly disappointed when I heard Hollywood was gearing up for a big-budget remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” To make matters worse, I heard the film was to star Keanu Reeves — and no, not as carved-from-aluminum Gort, but as the eloquent ambassador from the stars Klaatu. Kill, Gort, kill! We're all in danger!
Just as I suspected, the updated “The Day the Earth Stood Still” turns out to be far inferior to the original, trading in the 1951 version's gentle, curious Klaatu for Keanu on Quaaludes.
While the hallmarks of the original plot are all there — spaceman, spaceship, space robot, and a single-mom damsel in distress — pretty much everything else has been given the chop-socky. Where the 1951 Klaatu came to Earth to warn us about the dangers of nuclear weaponry that might someday make us the ultimate bad neighbor to our intergalactic cousins, this time he represents the Horsehead Nebula Chapter of Greenpeace.
After arriving in a glowing ball of light that descends on New York's Central Park, Klaatu emerges and gets immediately shot by the trigger-happy Welcome Wagon. This causes his giganto-bot Gort (looking a lot like the original) to get medieval on their asses until Klaatu calls him off. Recovering in the hospital, Klaatu soon reveals the reason for his visit. He wants to deliver a message to the United Nations: Quit mucking up the environment, or get wiped off the top of the food chain so every other species can survive. That's a nice sentiment (if you're, like, a spotted owl), but this is apparently a parallel universe where the Bush administration — in the guise of government heavy Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates) — won a third term, and they have other plans. Luckily, Klaatu/Keanu manages to bore his guards into a stupor with his stoned monotone, and he escapes. After hooking up with exo-biologist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) and her adorable-but-affected step-kid Jacob (Jaden Smith), Klaatu tries to learn the true meaning of what it is to be human while on his way to stop Gort from transforming into a swarm of ravenous aluminum horseflies and devouring every manmade object on Earth.
While Connelly, Bates and John Cleese (as Nobel Prize winner Professor Basil Barnhardt) swim mightily against the tepid tide that is Keanu Reeves, they don't get very far. By the end of the movie, you're kinda actually hoping the metallic swarm from the film will pour into the theater and devour the joint, just so something interesting might happen. Oh, and (SPOILER ALERT!) there's no “Klaatu Barada Nikto.” What? You just can't have “The Day the Earth Stood Still” without “Klaatu Barada Nikto.” Is nothing sacred? Anticipating that was the only thing keeping us awake for the end of the movie, for chrissakes! On the plus side, you can read those words in Jennifer Connelly's eyes every time she looks at Keanu. Roughly translated, it means: “I'm making $10 million bucks off this movie. I'm making $10 million bucks off this movie.”
In short, the new “The Day the Earth Stood Still” — for all its whiz-bang special effects — is a pale impersonation of the 1951 version. My advice: Save yourself some coin and catch the original.