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Will Keanu Reeves kill a sci-fi classic? Thu. Dec. 11 2008 Constance Droganes, CTV.ca entertainment writer

the-day-the-earth-stood-still-special-edition-20081204031732410-000Keanu Reeves as an alien? Okay, we’ll bite. The idea certainly seemed heaven-sent to producers of 20th Century Fox’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” a film which will make history on December 12 as it becomes the first motion picture to be literally transmitted into deep space.

“It’s headed for Alpha Centauri,” says script consultant Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at The SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. Of course, no one knows if life exists there. “If it does and anybody’s cruising in that vicinity in four-and-a-half years from now they’ll enjoy seeing it,” he told CTV.ca.

Love him or hate him, other worldly roles have helped turn Reeves into Hollywood’s $3-billion man – the staggering figure his films have grossed to date.

“The Matrix” series made $1.7 billion. “The Matrix Reloaded alone pulled in $740 million. Dollar for dollar Reeves’ “Pow” at the box office is undeniable. But it annoys his critics.

To them, the 44-year-old’s looks and luck have been the secret of his success in films like “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” “Constantine” and “Speed.”

To others, Reeves’ reserved delivery is the definition of his acting brilliance.

With his reticent, Zen-like presence, the existential Reeves seemed locked, loaded and downright destined to play Klaatu, the famed alien herald who comes to earth at the height of its Cold War fever to warn humanity of impending doom if it doesn’t change its petty, squabbling ways.

But scan the blogosphere and earthlings are divided about Hollywood’s casting choice, as well as the very idea of remaking what the American Film Institute called the No. 5 science-fiction movie of all time in 2008.

Will earthlings embrace Keanu as Klaatu?

“When will all these remakes end?” “Keanu, oh no! Has Hollywood gone mad?” “Brilliant casting. Can’t wait to see it.” There’s nothing iffy about moviegoers’ feelings concerning this 21st-century redo of Robert Wise’s 1951 gem.

“Keanu Reeves is Keanu Reeves,” says George Zotti, manager of Silver Snail Comics in Toronto. “He’s a huge star and it makes perfect sense to hire him for this remake. But I know people who won’t go and see the movie just because Keanu is in it”

As the film’s release looms closer, Zotti doesn’t deny the fact that the remake has renewed an interest in the 1951 classic, particularly in Klaatu’s killer robot “Gort,” the most recognizable figure from the original film.

“We’ve got 12-inch ‘Gort’ figures, wind-up toys and metal figures from the ’70s. The new film has certainly made people come in looking for this older merchandise,” says Zotti.

“There’s always going to be that argument of why should we remake a film that still holds up and is, quite frankly, rather awesome,” says Canada AM movie critic Richard Crouse. His take on Keanu’s performance? “I think he’s mistaken, listless…he’s even more monotone than unusual in this one…He’s no Michael Rennie.”

But as Crouse says, “The bottom line, as always when Hollywood does a remake of a great classic, is to introduce it to a younger audience.”

With its $100 million-dollar budget and CGI effects, that’s exactly what director Scott Derrickson (“The Exorcism of Emily Rose”) has done, but with a few timely twists.

Replacing Cold War era fears with an environmental message, Klaatu no longer resembles the fatherly, compassionate character made famous by British stage actor Rennie.

“In this remake the hero/villain lines are blurred,” Reeves told CTV’s etalk. “He was an interesting role and a fun role to play.”

Reeves has described his incarnation of Klaatu as “more sinister and tough, ready to execute a judgment, but he eventually breaks down and becomes more human and starts to understand what a human can do.”

“Unlike the original, Klaatu comes here with a job to do and the humans are in the way,” says Shostak, who spent considerable time on the film’s Vancouver set with Reeves and co-stars John Cleese and Jennifer Connelly.

“Keanu was very focused on getting this duality in the character just right,” says Shostak. But Reeves and Cleese also plagued the scientist with big questions about the universe.

“Is life really out there Seth? That’s all they’d want to know. They drove me nuts,” says Shostak, who credits the 1951 classic for inspiring him to become an astronomer.

“I haven’t seen the final cut, but one part of the remake process did bother me,” says Shostak. “It was Scott’s decision to eliminate Klaatu’s final soliloquy before he leaves Earth. To me that was moment was thrilling. But Scott felt today’s audiences wouldn’t sit through three minutes of talk. Maybe he’s right. I don’t know.”

For those who haven’t seen the original, Klaatu’s message to earthlings is simple and hopeful. Shape up, stop fighting amongst yourselves or we’ll come back and take care of you. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.

The new trailer, however, show’s Keanu’s Klaatu feeling far less benevolent: As he says, “If the Earth dies, you die. If you die, the Earth survives.”

Two different films. Two different leading men. Will Reeves cream Rennie? Will Derrickson’s version nuke Robert Wise’s original into intergalactic oblivion? As Klaatu says, “The decision is yours.”

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