Robert Wise's 1951 Cold War-era THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL was a cut above the rest. Dealing with the simple story of an alien named Klaatu, landing on Earth in a flying saucer to warn the population that they must live peacefully or be destroyed as a threat to other planets. Klaatu had an invincible and very protective robot companion named Gort, who could unleash fearsome power when intimidated. The situation provoked fear in audiences and led to a brooding, unpretentious quality that evoked tangible tension out of its haunting predicament. It had suspense, it had restraint, and it was within a class of its own. On the contrary director Scott Derrickson's (who debuted with dreary HELLRAISER: INFERNO then managed to spellbound some audiences with eerie courtroom horror THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE) reimagination is an insignificant, bloated, emotionally redundant mess, with a tendency to paint over its muddled plot deficiencies with laughable sequences of CGI nonsense and banal dialogue that makes the original resemble Shakespeare. But at least the initial built up is unsettling enough to provoke some moments of anticipation - and dare I say it, it is during these moments that the tone was almost akin to the eerie unease felt during Philip Kaufman's THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. That is before the arrival of Keanu Reeves, emerging from an unconvincing glowing sphere thing, blows all hopes of taking events seriously with a spineless performance as emotionally redundant alien visitor Klaatu. And his 50-foot robot companion, (who looks like he just stepped out of an episode of Futurama) does even more damage when he gets fierce and vaporises everything with as much conviction as a Loony Tune. From then onwards the only thing worth looking forward to is an emotionless Kathy Bates, (as feisty secretary of defense Regina Jackson) stomping around like a robotic peacock, in an attempt to try to evoke a sense of doom out of the planetary problem, and a brief and typical John Cleese cameo as a not so funny Physician. And then we are back to yet more lengthy confrontation scenes with Reeves, who speaks like HAL out of 2001: A Space Odyssey but without the haunting personality. Its a pity, as these scenes should work in theory, but they don't because you just can't separate Keanu the actor from Keanu the alien, and as a result you end up not caring why he's come to our planet or about his insipid warnings about the end of mankind. Surely the qualities of a lesser looking, more respected character actor would have been better suited to the material? But alas Hollywood needs its bankable cash cow. Unfortunately Jennifer Connelly is just as bland, as rebellious scientist Helen Benson. The intimate connection between Klaatu and Helen - which developed intimately throughout the original film - never convinces, therefore its up to Will Smith's 10 year old son Jaden, (star of THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS and here playing Connelly's son Jacob) to inject some emotion into the story and make something out of a character - his conviction in a touching cemetery scene is probably worth an Oscar nod alone! Like Robert Wise's film the main message is that 'the other' to fear here is ourselves - through the terrible violence that humanity is capable of. But unlike the original, which was rooted in man's violence against man, the Derrickson version is about mankind's' destruction of the Earth's environment. However this is no INCONVENIENT TRUTH, this is a Hollywood disaster movie, so by the final act the story is rendered incomprehensible by messy, sub-THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW CGI sequences that provoke annoyance rather than deliver thrill inducing excitement. The original didn't need an insect infested mist shaving off the living environment to try and evoke a thrill or two, so why do we need it here? And the final concluding sequence leaves us with the impression that the director simply lost his nerve and decided to let the second unit take over.
THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL IN SHAME. Despite a nice tonal quality to the aesthetics this joins the ever increasing list of turgid remake exhibitions that lack the dutiful kudos to justify their existence. It isn't a patch on the original but use it as a good accuse to add that underrated original to your DVD collection this Christmas.
Don't see this... buy this instead... THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL opens on Wednesday.
Oliver Pfeiffer is a freelance writer who trained at the British Film Institute. He joined OWF in 2007 and now contributes as a Features Writer. Since becoming Obsessed with Film he has interviewed such diverse talents as actors Keanu Reeves, Tobin Bell, Dave Prowse and Naomie Harris, new Hammer Studios Head Simon Oakes and Hollywood filmmakers James Mangold, Scott Derrickson and Uk director Justin Chadwick.
Previously he contributed to dimsum.co.uk and has had other articles published in Empire, Hecklerspray, Se7en Magazine, Pop Matters, The Fulham & Hammersmith Chronicle and more recently SciFiNow Magazine and The Guardian. He loves anything directed by Cronenberg, Lynch, Weir, Haneke, Herzog, Kubrick and Hitchcock and always has time for Hammer horror films, Ealing comedies and those twisted Giallo movies.
His blog is: http://sites.google.com/site/oliverpfeiffer102/