Keanu Reeves stars in this remake of the lauded cautionary tale original, putting a relevant green spin on things; the effect is a solid sci-fi thriller that operates with reserve instead of going way over the top.
Helen Benson (Jenifer Connelly) is a scientist that deals with studying bacteria and elements on outer space bodies like the moons of Jupiter when she is quickly called by an anonymous voice and is swooped away by the government to advise on a potential collision with a fast moving object heading directly for earth. The object is traveling near the speed of light and is able to switch directions to pinpoint itself on a Manhattan target and the impending destruction does not pan out, as the object slows down and lands in the middle of Central Park without damage. What lands is a large swirling orb of light that an alien of some sort emerges from barely visible through a blinding light. When a shot goes off and injures the alien, Helen who had landed in the park after the object touched down, rushes to his side just as a large robot emerges from the light emitting a piercing noise that “paralyzes” everyone and causes all electronics to fail in the area. After a moment, the robot stands at attention, power is restored, and the noise stops, allowing Helen and her team to pick up the alien in an attempt to heal him. The alien is named Klattu (Keanu Reeves) and we learn that he is hear to save Earth, but not the human race, causing Helen to begin to believe she can change his mind and she tries to convince him that the human race deserves a chance to change.
The film is well paced and moves along well enough, but it lacks a feeling of anything really grand happening and just presents itself as this is the way it is and there is no real consequence for us to get caught up in. We don’t find out till the end, nor do they really try to convince Klattu to do something till the end, which leaves us with little to lean on since we know his purpose early on and have little to wrangle with throughout a lot of the picture. That said, the film still works as a sci-fi film and sucks you in if you are into the genre. There are some cool bits throughout the film. The handling of GORT (the robot) is well done, and his “break out” scene is kind of creepy and cool. The scene with the animals and globes was my favorite bit in the film, and while the military action taken against GORT and the whole alien presence in general is a bit overdone but at the same time entirely true. In fact I found it funny that this overblown caricature of American military action is almost realistic in this day in age. Also, the way the handled the way the world will end is kind of odd, but works at the same time. The effects work is also top-notch in the picture, with them striking a great balance in GORT at making him look like the original to an extent, but newer technology.
What hurts the film a bit is the director not taking advantage of a set of great actors he has on the film. Keanu does a fine job as the direct and odd alien Klattu but there is nothing really for him to do emotionally in the film. Jenifer Connelly is given most of that work, and she works well with Jaden Smith, her adoptive son in the film, and their story is effective but doesn’t quite pull the emotional strings it was looking for. Added to this, the film completely waste two of my favorite actors working today in John Hamm and Kyle Chandler with both of them given little to nothing to do. They are both reduced to background stand-ins, with Chandler’s character not even really clearly defined as to who or what he represents. Kathy Bates plays a tough SOB Secretary of Defense, doing a great job of capturing the idiocy of American government procedure in believing that if something like this ever happened that it would be strictly under the jurisdiction of the U.S. alone. John Cleese also does a fine job, and his character makes a great, if a bit sad, point, but unfortunately he is only in the film for a matter of minutes. I will say though that most of these characters could have used a bit, if any, character depth and this film could have been a richer and even better experience.
In the end, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a good sci-fi film that feels like it could have been more. As a film it moves fast, keeps your attention, and is an engaging enough story. Though, you feel like they only touched the surface in a few areas and didn’t take full advantage of the actors they had on staff for the picture. Either way the film is worth checking out, at least on video, and if you are a fan of sci-fi it will be worth your time for sure, though the lack of any major set pieces or awesome characters, I will be interested to see how the more general public enjoys this. Recommended.