Review: The Day the Earth Stood Still

On the unnecessary remake scale of brow-furrowed disgust, I would rate this new pass at "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (IMDb listing) fairly high; not only because the film endeavors to "reimagine" the 1951 Robert Wise classic, but because it dares to drag perfection in the opposite direction. Refusing to take Wise's nuanced lead, the new "Stood" is a grotesque creation that prefers noise to thought, clumsily slapping together an eco-minded warning siren in the guise of a bloated Roland Emmerich creation. We already have one Emmerich, the world doesn't need a second version running around.

When a mysterious sphere of glowing biological purpose lands in Central Park, Earth's leading scientists, including Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), are summoned to study the visiting ship. Out of the light comes Klaatu (Keanu Reeves), an alien with a sobering message to deliver to the leaders of the planet. When Klaatu is shot during his greeting, government officials (led by Kathy Bates) seize the opportunity to lock up the alien and interrogate him. With the help of Helen and her son Jacob (Jaden Smith, son of Will Smith), Klaatu is rescued out of confinement and taken out of state, where the alien attempts to make sense of the human race, hoping to find a reason to save Earth from certain doom before it's too late.

The nerve of Fox to rework "Stood" leaves a bitter residue in my mouth, but that's the way Hollywood rolls these days. Pandering to kids who wouldn't know Gort if he came up and shot a laser beam down their throats, the new "Stood" turns a tidy atomic age parable into event movie mush. It trades nuclear weapons and cold wars for Al Gore-inspired planetary consideration, wrapped up tightly in blinding special effect displays to keep the audience interested in a preachy screenplay and patchy performances.

Certainly "Stood" means well enough, trying to fit its obese frame into the tight sweater of a message movie, speaking on the dangers of pollution and hostility in an increasingly careless world. Perhaps a filmmaker with some experience with large scale movement and political discussion could've molded "Stood" into a distant cousin of the original film. Instead, Fox hired Scott Derrickson, a man who previously gifted the world pure cinematic drivel such as "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" and "Hellraiser: Inferno."

Derrickson kicks off "Stood" with a respectable opening act, using a frightened Helen as the film's guide into alien mystery and end-of-the-world willies, building a convincing wall of vagueness with the appearance of the massive orb and Klaatu's blood-spattered introduction to humans. Once the alien is established as a resourceful, powerful weapon of energy with serious opinions about Earth, "Stood" takes a swan dive, developing a boil of stupidity it refuses to lance. From here on out, the screenplay by David Scarpa becomes crippled with clichés and miscalculated peaks of drama, with Derrickson heading off to supervise the considerable special effects work, leaving the actors to fight the good screen fight alone.

It's one thing to use eco-terror as a backdrop for concern, deftly reworking the original story to match new standards of social alarm; but "Stood" doesn't sniff out much gradational thought, instead it takes a lead-foot approach that features the characters spelling out the themes of the movie through clunky dialogue and poorly modulated performances (Smith is especially grating and resoundingly awful as the innocent soul of the picture). "Stood" is preachy with its point of change, constantly emphasizing the obvious, stopping just short of an Iron Eyes Cody cameo to drive home the message of humanity as the ultimate poison. I'm not disagreeing with the sentiment, I only object to the monotone monologues from Reeves or the teary pleading of Connelly to smuggle the elephant into the room.

Beyond the world-changing goal of the picture lies the visual effects, and while there's a wild bunch of alien and ecological ornamentation hung around the film, the worst offense lies with Gort, Klaatu's now building-sized robot defender. Once a creation of limited movement, the new Gort is reintroduced as a fluid being of destruction, not only from his laser beam-happy ocular cavity, but also though his ability to dissolve into a swarm of miniature metal insects that eat away anything in their path. The introduction of Gort leads "Stood" to unimaginably idiotic scenes with gung-ho U.S. military forces that bring to mind old "Simpsons" episodes, and showcases Derrickson's real impetus for the directorial job: to stage worldwide catastrophe. Oh, and to add as much product placement into the frame as possible.

It doesn't take very long before "Stood" turns into a crude pyrotechnics display, effectively wiping clean whatever responsibility it toyed with in the first act to dive into glowing ball/Gort smash! excess. It's too late now to cry foul over a needless remake. The film's here, waiting for audiences to escape the holiday blues with a little helping of devastation. Perhaps to the relaxed eye, Derrickson's coarse direction won't feel like a hot knife through the temple, but to any fan of 1951 film, it's best to ignore this exhaustive mangling of a classic movie.

Filmfodder Grade: D+