My husband and I saw this movie at a midnight screening along with other sci-fi fans. Everyone was chattering and laughing and whooping it up on the way into the theatre, eager to see the film whose previews had promised was going to be terrific. On the way out after the film, there was deadly silence and we were all exchanging looks of utter disbelief. It was inconceivable that anyone (namely director Scott Derrickson) could remake a classic sci-fi movie–the beloved original came out in 1951–with an enormous budget and ruin it so badly. But that’s what happened.
The first 30 minutes of The Day the Earth Stood Still were pretty good. A weird intergalactic twirling sphere descends on Central Park, triggering a massive government response including the police and army and a roundup of every top-notch scientist on the East Coast. Out of the sphere emerges a creature who gets accidentally shot by the jittery police. In the hospital, the surgeon trying to remove the bullet is fascinated with the biological structure of the creature. In time the alien gives birth to itself, bursting out of all kinds of clingy goo into what appears to be a naked human man. This is Klaatu, the messenger from alien worlds, played with enigmatic nuance by Keanu Reeves (The Lake House.) Earlier out of the sphere had come a huge protective robot with flashing laser eyes who shoots at things that are trying to hurt Klaatu and then shuts down into spooky silence.
In the crowd of scientists is Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly, House of Sand and Fog) from Harvard who develops a strong attachment to Klaatu. When the President’s representative, Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates, P.S. I Love You) refuses to allow Klaatu to address the United Nations as he requests, she makes sneaky arrangements for him to be interrogated instead. Dr. Benson tells Klaatu to flee. He follows her advice and runs non-stop for the rest of the movie. Meantime, Dr. Benson is reluctant to leave her stepson alone, so she drags him along on all her subsequent adventures. I wish she’d left him at home. Jacob Benson (Jaden Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness) is a totally annoying kid and causes a lot of trouble. Klaatu, Dr. Benson and Jacob seek refuge at the home of Professor Barnhardt (John Cleese, Fierce Creatures) where Klaatu shows the professor the answer to a physics equation that could, if humans were allowed to live, change the world.
But no time for the exciting exchange of scientific discoveries. Gotta get on to destruction.
While fleeing from just about everyone, Klaatu manages to explain to Dr. Benson what’s going on. It seems that the aliens have been watching Earth for a long time. They like Earth, it can sustain life and is a nice place to emigrate. But the human race itself is totally worthless. Humans don’t take care of Earth properly, so the aliens are going to get rid of them. “If the earth dies, you die,” Klaatu explains. “If you die, the Earth survives.”
But the U.S. President’s decision not to allow Klaatu to speak to the United Nations has sealed the fate of the world. The aliens are fed up. They want to start the mass slaughter of human beings and they want to start it now. You can imagine all those aliens stomping their feet in impatience.
Special effects are great if pointless. Big trucks dissolve into grains of sand. Airplanes crash into one another. Metal and everthing else melts into molecules.
No one, especially the audience, knows what is going on other than there’s a lot of noise and things blow up and bodies are flying all over the place. But we know that Klaatu is not really going to let anything bad happen to Dr. Benson and the brat so why should we worry?
Somehow the movie ends. Klaatu sticks his hands on the sphere and everthing quiets down. I have no idea if all the people the aliens killed got revived. I doubt it. So although the movie tells us it’s a happy ending, you have to wonder how happy families of all those people whose bodies are lying around are going to be. I’m sure they’re like most of the audience and wished the darn aliens had stayed home.
The Day the Earth Stood Still reached the #1 spot on its opening weekend, but once word spreads it won’t be around for very long, so if you want to see it, see it soon.