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'Earth Stood Still' remake a waste

December 18, 2008|By BOB GARVER

"The Day The Earth Stood Still" is a movie about space aliens who come to Earth to destroy all human life. They aren't entirely sure they want to do this, so they send a representative named Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) to observe humans for a few days.

Because they are afraid of him, most humans show Klaatu their worst side. Only kind-hearted astrobiologist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) sees that humanity's hostility is not scaring Klaatu, but making him even more sure that it needs to be destroyed.

In the movie, Klaatu's human form is not the alien's real body. It's just a disguise Klaatu uses to interact with humans. Klaatu is not used to the human body, and he struggles with simple movements. He also has a limited understanding of human speech patterns (although he knows just about all of the words). So although Klaatu looks perfectly normal, his movements and voice are stiff.

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Reeves has often been criticized for being a stiff, monotone actor, so the part seems right up his alley. The problem is that everyone around him is so awed and serious, they come off as stiff as well. Klaatu's mannerisms don't clash with anybody else's, so the irony is lost.

Klaatu's (and Reeves's) alien nature is one area where "The Day The Earth Stood Still" fails to capitalize. Another is the direction it takes when it comes to Benson trying to convince Klaatu that humanity is worth saving. If the film had focused more on this, it might have worked better.

I can picture an alternate version of this film, with Klaatu as a fish out of water who happens to have the power to destroy all humans. It could be funny. It could be profound. It could be a healthy mix of the two. But that is not to be. About the only convincing Benson gets to do is the occasional, vague, "We can change."

Meanwhile, director Scott Derrickson chooses to waste viewers time with pointless action scenes and bad special effects. Pass this wasted time by playing Popcorn Games:

o Every time you see an alien spaceship that looks only slightly more threatening than a snow globe, eat a piece of popcorn.

o Every time you see an animal that is obviously computer-generated, eat a piece of popcorn.

o Every time bad special effects are obscured by darkness - or rain or dust or snow or smoke - eat a piece of popcorn. You can really tell that the special effects people had no confidence in their own work.

o Every time Klaatu escapes a sticky situation by using a mysterious alien power that no one knew he had (a way for the screenwriters to get from one scene to the next without playing by their own rules), think of a new, creative way to eat a piece of popcorn.

o It wouldn't be an adventure movie if there wasn't a cute kid along for the ride. In this case that kid is Jaden Smith as Dr. Benson's stepson. The characters are of different races, and she's not his mother. Eat a piece of popcorn every time Benson tries to explain why he's in her care.

The film is a remake of a 1951 sci-fi classic, so beloved that it currently ranks as one of the 200 greatest films of all time on the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com). Time hasn't done much to change the basic story. We simply have more advanced technology that is useless against the aliens.

Ultimately, this version of "The Day The Earth Stood Still" is one of those remakes whose sole purpose is to get money from people who love the original and can't believe that anyone could possibly screw it up.

It's been screwed up.

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.

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