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The Day the Earth Stood Still
A dangerous remake of a classic.
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly Star in "The Day the Earth Stood Still."
OPENING WEEKEND: $31,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $120,000,000
OTHER PREVIEWS: Alatriste (7/10)
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

July 20th, 2008: "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is 20th Century Fox's contemporary reinvention of its 1951 classic. Keanu Reeves portrays Klaatu, an alien whose arrival on our planet triggers a global upheaval. As governments and scientists race to unravel the mystery behind the visitor's appearance, a woman (Jennifer Connelly) and her young stepson get caught up in his mission and come to understand the ramifications of his being a self-described "friend to the Earth."

What to Expect: If science fiction films have had a heyday, it was the 1950s. After a brief, "Metropolis"-inspired upsurge in the 30s, the 1940s didn't see many sci-fi films as filmmakers focused on war films and thinly-disguised propaganda. The Cold War and the fear of nuclear proliferation, not to mention the creative possibilities afforded by the idea of mutation caused by radiation, provided a fertile thematic ground for the explosion of science fiction films that followed. Most of these films, however, were B-movies featuring giant insects, mad scientists or cookie-cutter space cowboys that were little better than afternoon serials.

Probably the most notable exception of the decade was 1951's "The Day the Earth Stood Still," one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made, a film that is still much beloved today and holds up well even in the post-Matrix world of cutting-edge computer graphics. It would take films like "2001: A Space Odyssey" to really establish sci-fi as a legitimate genre for serious filmmaking, but "The Day the Earth Stood Still" sowed the seeds for Kubrick's success nearly two decades before. Directed by Robert Wise and starring Michael Rennie as Klaatu, an alien visitor who comes to Earth with a cautionary message from other races, it took itself and its anti-war, anti-violence message seriously. It is surprisingly free from the usual effects and big bangs of the era's films, concentrating instead on Klaatu's struggle to be heard by Earth's leaders and his frustration as their stubborn contentiousness stymies his efforts at every turn.

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The most iconic image from the film is that of Klaatu's large robot, Gort, a being empowered to enforce Earth's adoption of a less violent society. The film is allowed to end ambiguously, with Klaatu sacrificed to the violence of Earth's citizens and parting with a challenge for them to change their ways. The film is rife with pretty unsubtle Christ imagery. Klaatu is a revolutionary bringing a message of peace that threatens the establishment and ends up dead at their hands because of it, but is revived briefly by a kind of higher power just long enough to impart his message and then ascend forever into the heavens. He even takes the name "Carpenter" during his stay on Earth. A two-by-four to the forehead would have been more subtle.

The point, and I can't stress this enough, is that this film is not only beloved by science-fiction film enthusiasts, it is revered. It is to science fiction what "The Godfather" is to gangster movies: a film that transcends its own plot to become larger than itself. It was a serious, thoughtful film in a genre that threatened to collapse under the weight of its own silliness.

So when I first learned of the plans for a remake, my first reaction was pure, unadulterated horror. This has been the reaction of just about everybody else I've told about it. Then when I tell them that Keanu Reeves is starring, that's the cue for the wailing and rending of garments.

Actually, it was only when I heard that they'd cast Reeves that I started to have some hope for the film.

I like Keanu Reeves. I'm not ashamed to admit it. I've read a lot of accounts that portray him off-screen as a smart, cool guy. Unfortunately, being smart and cool don't make you a good actor, and he isn't one. That being said, where Reeves excels is in roles when he doesn't have to portray an actual human being. He's done the best with characters who are just a bit off center and not quite normal. Klaatu is one of these subdued-emotion, flat-affect above-it-all alien characters for which Reeves is perfectly suited. I think it's great casting. Then they've cast Jennifer Connelly opposite him as Helen, a professor who is pulled into Klaatu's struggle, and she has become the go-to girl when you want an actress who can play a scientist believably.

Now. Who's this director, again?

Scott Derrickson, that's who. Famous for...uh...let me just hit up IMDB for a second. Well, he directed "The Exorcism of Emily Rose." And before that, two films in ten years. I think it's fair to say that his star is officially on the rise. Someone in Hollywood must like this guy; 20th Century Fox handed him what looks to be a fairly impressive budget and a cast of big names to remake a classic, some might say sacrosanct, film. After this, he's directing an adaptation of no less a literary work than "Paradise Lost" in addition to writing the 2009 remake of "The Birds," another sacrosanct film of its genre. I have very little to go on to form an opinion of this man's abilities, but either he's bribing people left, right and center or he's demonstrating some serious chops behind the lens and on the page.

After the trailer's release, which was met with cautious optimism on the Internet, that most ruthless of peanut galleries, Derrickson addressed some of the inevitable concerns of moviegoers who shared my initial horror. Would this film be true to the original? Well, yes and no. Details are sketchy as to the film's actual plot, although it appears to hew to the same basic outline. What seems nearly certain is that the original's anti-nuclear Cold War message has been replaced by a message of environmental caution. Humans are a threat to the planet, and Klaatu has been sent to tell us to knock it off, or Giants Stadium gets pulverized. Or something like that. If the trailer is to be believed, Klaatu's message carries a good deal more urgency and some more immediate dire consequences than in the original.

But what about Gort? The original's most iconic image is that of the smoothly silvery giant mandroid with the Cylon-esque eyeslit. For a tantalizing few seconds at the very end of the trailer, we see what appears to be a very similar robot. Derrickson has revealed that although alternatives were explored, the revamped Gort is definitely a close descendant of the original, a fact that ought to go a long way towards appeasing fans. The blatant Christ imagery of Michael Rennie's Klaatu has been toned down as well.

Plot details aside, it seems that the team making this film have decided to approach it the same way Robert Wise and his team did. They are using the framework of science fiction to reflect problems in Earth society, which is what all good science fiction does. It tells us not about the aliens and otherworldly beings it's depicting, but about ourselves.

The bottom line is: can this film succeed? While I've encountered a fair amount of backlash from other film enthusiasts, I have to believe that most people watching movies today have never heard of the original. I know, it seems blasphemous to fans of sci-fi films, but let's face it...most people get Star Wars and Star Trek mixed up. Fans of the original will likely see the film regardless, if only so they can go home and blog about how much it destroyed all that was good about the original. For most people, once again, if it's a good film it has an above-average chance for success given its subject matter and the draw of its cast.

In Conclusion: I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict success for this film. Believe me, no one's more surprised than I am. This plot is readily adaptable to a modern audience's sensibilities, and Derrickson has himself a crackerjack cast to work with. Keanu Reeves may have his weaknesses, but he's pretty good at picking scripts, and an up-and-coming director may be more willing to take chances and make a film he believes in. Let's hope it's a film that we can believe in, too.

Similar Titles: War of the Worlds, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Independence Day
December 12th, 2008 (wide)
April 7th, 2009 (DVD)

20th Century Fox

Scott Derrickson

Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Jaden Smith, John Cleese

Total: 93 vote(s).

Science Fiction

Click here to view site

Rated PG-13 for some sci-fi disaster images and violence.

103 min




The Day the Earth Stood Still at Trailer Addict

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