No one has spent as much on screen time jumping from dimension to dimension as Keanu Reeves. All the way back to Bill and Ted’s excellent time traveling adventures through to Neo in the Matrix and Constantine his characters have tripped the light fantastic, jumping from one plane to the another. His latest film, The Day the Earth Stood Still, a reinvention of the 1951 classic, sees him once again careening from outer space to the more mortal plane of Earth.
Reeves is Klaatu, an alien messenger in human form who comes to Earth to rescue the planet, but not necessarily its inhabitants. “If the Earth dies, you die,” he says. “If you die, the Earth survives.” When his attempts to communicate and reason with the leaders of Earth fail, he goes ahead with his plan to eliminate all humans. Humankind’s only chance of survival is in the hands of Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) and stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith) who work to convince Klaatu that humans are worth saving, that given the chance they will mend their wasteful ways and save the planet. Can they convince the strange visitor to spare them before his coconspirator GORT, a giant biological robot hell bent to complete his mission, finishes the job?
The Day the Earth Stood Still updates the original’s Cold War themes of the dangers of nuclear warfare to the more contemporary hot button issues of the environment, global warming and man’s systematic destruction of the planet. It’s a good message wrapped up in an average, listless movie.
The film gets off to a s-l-o-w start when, without any explanation, Reeves is seen chipping away at a mysterious orb on a mountain top in India in 1928. Cut to eighty years later the orb lands in Central Park and expels the human now wrapped in gelatinous goop. The sequence takes forever and sets the tone for the rest of the languidly paced story.
Reeves’s take on Klaatu doesn’t help matters any. As the intellectually gifted alien housed in human form he is even more deadpan and monotone than usual. It is, I suppose, an attempt to portray Klaatu’s otherworldliness but Keanu’s low-energy performance as he drones on about the environment makes staid enviro-warrior Al Gore look like the easily excitable Richard Simmons by comparison.
Ditto for John Hamm. His work as Don Draper on Mad Men is so detailed and interesting it’s a shame to see him reduced to bland second-leading man here.
The film doesn’t limit itself to the environmental situation; it also takes jabs at America’s current political climate. When Benson asks why she has been summoned by the government she’s told simply and vaguely, “It’s a matter of national security.”
“Well, that could mean whatever you want it to mean,” she says.
That’s a clever and insightful exchange. It’s just too bad it’s one of the few moments in the film that gives off sparks.
The Day the Earth Stood Still is a big budget but unnecessary remake of a sci-fi classic; a movie that doesn’t improve on its source material despite its best intentions.