The Earth stood still, and so did the plot
December 15, 2008 · Updated 6:07 PM
Director Scott Derrickson’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” remake of Robert Wise’s 1951 creation, might be better sold as an accidental comedy than an actual world’s end thriller. Stuffed with special effects and riddled with losing dialogue, the sorry sci-fi redo holds plenty more moments of unintentional hilarity than it does sound storytelling. Though it took top notch at the box office, this newest version of “The Day” is certainly anything but.
The film leads with an encounter in 1920s India, where a man discovers a bright, shiny orb that proceeds to render him unconscious and disappear, leaving only a strange, circular scar on his hand. Suddenly, it’s to present day Princeton University, where astro-biologist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) is working as a professor and raising her precocious stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith). It isn’t long until a bunch of overly serious suits wearing bluetooths show up at her door and whisk her away in a motorcade. And the parade of cinematic cliches begins.
An enigmatic mass is orbiting toward Earth at unmatched speeds, so with an imminent impact in (where else?) Manhattan, New York, Helen and a gang of fellow scientists are deposited at the military’s mobilization camp to help with collision cleanup duty.
That mass is not a raging meteor but instead another of those glowy orbs, this one containing alien Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) and his giant robot bodyguard Gort, who have come to Earth to warn other civilizations have plans to rid the planet of humans and their destructive ways.
At first, Klaatu emerges from a sticky, gray flesh looking gooey, pale and more than a little like a man just unplugged from the matrix. After Helen, U.S. Defense Secretary Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates) and a few other higher-ups intently stare for far too long as Klaatu drinks from a glass of water with his new human form, Jackson decides it’s interrogation time. So Klaatu escapes from the government’s clutches with Helen’s help and the two, joined by untrusting Jacob, head out on the lam amidst the usual end-of-the-world dramatics.
Meanwhile Gort, a glitterized replica of Wise’s original, looking like an Oscar statue gone awry, is taken to a military facility where the robot transforms into a swarm of silvery beetles that eat through any obstacle in their path.
Derrickson and writer David Scarpa seem to have little faith in the intelligence of their audience: even the bugs provide obvious plot discrepancies, at times taking minutes to eat through a sheet of glass and at others sweeping away an entire football stadium in mere moments.
Like M. Night Shyamalan’s summer let-down “The Happening,” “The Day” churns out 103 minutes of hokey pro-environmental dialogue that does less for the cause than any single viewing of “An Inconvenient Truth.” Heck, the movie studio should’ve spent its millions handing out reusable grocery bags rather than wasting viewers’ time with this needless re-adaption.
Helen repetitively promises Klaatu that “we can change” in an attempt to persuade him to call off the destruction of humanity. Why “Hulk” alum Connelly has again gone for the two-dimensional scientist-in-distress role is unknown to me, and Reeves spends most of his screen time staring blankly or speaking in a near monotone —clearly putting his highest acting assets to use.
Smith shoehorns in a plucky sweetness to the film that loses impact through poorly written dialogue, and even Bates and John Cleese, who plays a Nobel Prize-winning scientist friend of Helen’s, can’t deliver the lines with their usual theatrical pull.
Without Wise’s acuity of vision (his “The Haunting” has already seen a remake, let’s hope “The Day” makers stay far from a re-imagination of “The Sound of Music”), this newest version of his intelligent original is in worse shape than a planet on the brink.
‘The Day the Earth Stood Still:’ A total waste of 103 minutes.