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Friday, Dec. 26, 2008
'The Day the Earth Stood Still'
Save humanity with a hug
By KAORI SHOJI
The Earth continues to turn as the characters in "The Day the Earth Stood Still," a tailored-for- blockbuster remake of the 1951 classic of the same name, remain eerily immobile
The original film, directed by Robert Wise, became a revered sci-fi cult favorite. That fate will probably elude this revamped, updated version directed by Scott Derrickson.
It's not all the movie's fault: We've all become so familiar with apocalyptic fables defined by digitized disaster that yet another story of a thingie arriving from outer space to whup the backsides of hapless governments just doesn't do it for us anymore.
Having said so, "The Day" is still pretty dire stuff, largely due to the unmoving, unsmiling, uneverything performance of Keanu Reeves as Klaatu, the extraterrestrial sent from another planet (initially encased in a suit of gooey blubber, which a surgeon frantically removes to reveal . . . Keanu Reeves!) to give mankind a rap over the knuckles.
Fifty-seven years ago, the issue was the Cold War; now the agenda is the ailing environment. The Klaatu of old was menacing and charismatic, but now he gives new meaning to the word "impassive" — even "catatonic." Nothing moves, not even a facial muscle, as he delivers his longest, most telling line to U.S. Defense Secretary Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates dressed like Hillary Clinton): "You do to the Earth what you do to each other."
His stillness is contagious; in the face of impending doom, no one wants to lift a finger to help. The president and vice president run off to an "undisclosed location." The best scientists in the United States shake their heads in dejected resignation. Only Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) has enough gumption to attempt a solution.
Bleating weakly to Klaatu that "we can change," the female doctor tries to assure him that the human race is well aware of how naughty it has been, how willing it is to make amends, but she hardly has the energy to finish her sentences. Her brat of a son, Jacob (Jaden Smith), is part of the problem: When he's not complaining, he's trying to run away and make trouble. But it's their rare moment of bonding that prompts Klaatu to change his plans and spare mankind, even though his mission has been to save the planet from its most damaging and environmentally hazardous inhabitants — us.
When they first meet, Helen asks Klaatu: "Are you a friend?" His reply is a terse, economic "no," and he makes clear that the choice boils down to sparing Earth or sparing people. And then he falls (albeit with that rigid poker face) for a mother-son hug scene accompanied by a grating, emotional score. If that's all that it takes, why make that galactic journey in the first place?