In the age of remakes, it was only inevitable that the sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still would be reenvisioned with updated visuals and modern storytelling. After all, Americans and the world love the thought of aliens coming down to Earth to threaten our very existence. The new version, which stars Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly, looks to fulfill this desire.
The movie, like the original, is about a mysterious alien spaceship that lands on Earth, immediately causing widespread panic. With the military scrambling, the ship produces a man - one who appears to be very much human - who wishes to speak to the leaders of the world. The United States, however, doesn't grant him this right and thus, this man-alien (Reeves) escapes with the aid of a scientist (Connelly). As the government hunts for the two of them, the scientist learns the truth of his arrival: he is here to save the Earth, even if that means the destruction of humankind.
The Day the Earth Stood Still is a well-made movie that maintains one's attention and delivers an intriguing enough story. The first half, which expands on the original's simplistic arrival of the alien, is pretty engaging as we see much of it through the eyes of Connelly, as she is shipped around from location to location unaware of what is about to happen. Director Scott Derrickson does a fine job of taking us on this journey. The visuals aren't amazing, but pretty good, and Derrickson gets us involved in the story early on.
Unfortunately, The Day the Earth Stood Still suffers from one major problem, something I never thought I'd say: it stays a little too true to the original. The movie's setup is excellent and brings the story to modern levels, but the rest of the film lacks the excitement, action and destruction that were promised in the previews. The original, while classic, is pretty basic: once the alien lands, very little happens in the way of action. In this new version, Derrickson and writer David Scarpa hold a little too true in this way: while they try to break things up with some military attempts to blow things up, the second half of the film is very talky and lacking serious action. This is all well and good, except for we live in an age where movies marketed as full of disaster and impending human extermination should be a little more action-packed. Or, at the very least, more suspenseful.
For starters, most of the destruction that takes place is shown in the previews. Second, Derrickson fails to keep us at the edge of our seats. We all know that humankind is going to prevail, but we'd like some tension thrown in for good fun. The final act needed to be more of a chase to the finish line rather than an off-and-on slow jog; when Reeves decides that the human race is worth saving, Derrickson needed to take us through the motions with some conflict. Have the military get in his way. Make it look like we're going to fail, or that the humans are going to make it worse by nuking the destructive cloud to new numbers. Force Connelly to make some kind of choice, like her life or her child's. Either way, give us a chase or a race to the finish.
The ultimate result is that as it is, The Day the Earth Stood Still is pretty decent; however, it isn't nearly exciting enough. Compared to Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds, which boasted far superior visual effects and an action-paced storyline, The Day the Earth Stood Still just doesn't. Yes, it is restrained by the fact that the alien threat is not, essentially, a villain, but Derrickson and Scarpa could have done much more with the premise. As it stands, there is very little repeat value to this remake, and not enough fireworks to require a theatrical viewing.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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