The Day The Earth Stood Still (2009)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 6/2/12
Music: Tyler Bates
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Jaden Smith, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, John Cleese, James Hong

An unnecessary, but moderately enjoyable update to the 1951 classic. A visitor from another world (Keanu Reeves) visits Earth with the intention of saving the planet from all the pesky humans who are busy destroying it. Naturally, at the crucial moment of first contact, some idiot decides to shoot him and he is taken into military custody. He manages to escape with the aid of astro-biologist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), and she desperately pleads for humankind to be spared from annihilation. Along with her emotionally troubled step-son (Jaden Smith), they manage to persuade Klaatu into giving the human race a stay of execution in the hope that we'll change our wicked ways.

What surprised me the most about the film was how poor the special effects are, considering that it was made in 2009. Helicopters look terribly fake, and a super-sized computer animated GORT looks even worse than the original. Some chroma-keyed composites also look surprisingly bad. At first, Keanu Reeves' confused performance seems appropriately alien and detached, but his continued deadpan delivery doesn't work in the second half of the film. He looks pretty damn sharp in a tailored suit, though. Jennifer Connelly is a mixed bag, and has trouble coming across as a world class scientist. Especially when she's strapped with some of the worst dialog in the film and also bears the burden of being a single mom trying to raise an orphaned step-son. Of course she's lovely to look at and has several compelling moments, but overall her character and performance are fractured by a script that doesn't know what to do with her. Jaden Smith probably gives the best dramatic performance in the film, although he's also stuck with some horrible lines. In a nod to the original, John Cleese shows up as the lauded Professor Barnhardt, but it's a throw-away role. James Hong also has a cameo as one of Klaatu's colleagues, and it's amusing to listen to him converse with Keanu Reeves in Chinese.

The film is definitely intimidating and comes across with a serious sense of urgency. Klaatu is not the kind and sensitive being that he was in the original, and he responds with death and destruction instead of words of wisdom. It wants to be a film with a message, but its environmental themes tend to get sidelined in favor of increasingly destructive action scenes. GORT only shows up a couple of times before disintegrating into a plague of metallic locusts, and it's annoying that the army is credited with naming him. Just another example of bad scripting. Overall the film looks good (with the exception of the visual effects) and Tyler Bates' music score is appropriately moody. The premise is an interesting twist on the original, but it's weighed down with too much forced sentimentality.