The Day the Earth Stood Still

I never understood that title when I was a kid — I mean, the earth doesn’t actually stand still, not even in the movie. And the short story that it’s based on is called “Farewell to the Master”, though admittedly that doesn’t have nearly the same ring to it. This movie is very definitely a remake of the 1951 film version, though, not the short story, and it’s definitely no longer a B movie, either.
The characters are all sort of the same. Klaatu is Klaatu, played by Keanu Reeves, who is in top alien form here. He’s much better at playing an alien than a human being, so I guess he’s found his niche. Helen Benson becomes Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly, who’s looking more and more like Audrey Hepburn every time I see her), a microbiologist specializing in extraterrestrial life… which must be a hard thing to specialize in, considering we haven’t really found any yet. Lots of sitting around theorizing, I suppose.
Anyway, Gort, the protector robot, is now a special effect, of course, and as much organic as mechanical. He isn’t named Gort, either, at least not until the military gets involved with their acronyms. He’s also HUGE. Helen is still a widow with an adorable little son, but this time he’s a stepson, played by Jaden Smith, Will’s little boy, from Pursuit of Happyness, now branching out on his own. And most important of all, Keanu gets to use the infamous phrase, ‘Klaatu barada nikto’. At least I think he does — the sound is so messed up to make him sound alien that I can’t be sure, but that’s how it sounded to me.
In the original, since it was 1951, it was all about the Cold War. The aliens suddenly realized that we had nuclear weapons and other things that could basically turn the earth and everything on it into radioactive mush, and they couldn’t have that happening. But we’ve moved past that particular paranoia, and here it’s all about the environment. As Keanu sums it up, if the Earth dies, we die. If we die, the Earth survives. You really can’t argue with the logic.

Keanu communes with the spheres, and walks on water. Kind of.

Just like in the original, the huge, grinding wheels of big government can’t do anything to stop the alien forces. Officialdom, upon seeing a giant, freaky, spherical, shifting spaceship thing land in Central Park, is too busy 1. arguing over who has jurisdiction; and 2. shooting Keanu just for the heck of it. The invisible president is apparently a warhawk who keeps wanting to throw more firepower at the problem to make it go away. So it’s up to Helen and Jacob to convince Klaatu that yes, humanity can change. It’s a good thing that wasn’t my job, because I wouldn’t be very convincing on that side of the argument, But basically, the whole film proves my long-held theory that humans as a group are boorish and generally unpleasant and unreasonable. In twos, threes, and fours we usually do much better, though.
It’s a good film, sort of. I guess what really bugs me is that for all the insistance on ‘we can change, really, we swear!’ they never actually demonstrate any changing. The kid changes his mind about wanting the evil alien dead, but face it, ten year olds change their minds all the time. They make a big thing about fixing the strained relationship between Jacob and Helen, and don’t get me wrong, that scene made at least half the audience sniffle; but that isn’t exactly the sort of change they should be talking about here. They needed to show people recycling and buying cloth bags for shopping, that sort of thing. I know, that’s not as dramatic. But the whole getting along thing made more sense in the original version, because that was all about the human race not nuking itself into oblivion.
I’ll go with three idols. I like Jennifer Connolly. Jaden overacts a touch here and there, but, well, he’s ten. And, yeah, Keanu’s found his niche, definitely. I don’t think it will wear as well as the original, strangely, since the original was very definitely a B movie, and this one, supposedly, is made to last. But there’s just something endearing about that old-fashioned, silver-painted spaceship. On the other hand, this one does have John Cleese in it, actually not being funny, but still stealing every scene he’s in. So he’s a classic, at least.