The Day the Earth Stood Still


As in the original 1951 film by Robert Wise (and more or less ignoring Harry Bates’s original pulp short story “Farewell to the Master”), the arrival on Earth of a near-omnipotent being named Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) is met with a trigger-happy response. Only the widowed Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) has faith that making friends with the alien might be in the best interests of humanity. But she may not be correct: Unlike Michael Rennie’s mostly benevolent Klaatu, version 2.0 is pissed at humanity for trashing the planet, and comes prepared to wipe us all out. The problem with this new The Day the Earth Stood Still isn’t so much in the execution of director Scott Derrickson, who pulls off quite a few compelling sequences and, best of all, doesn’t screw around too much with Klaatu’s giant robot Gort (at least until Gort suddenly turns into a cloud of tiny robot insects that arbitrarily eat whatever the plot calls for). No, the problem here is that there are no big ideas: The original Day was both a condemnation of Cold War military paranoia and an allegorical Christ tale, with Klaatu dying for our sins before being resurrected and ascending into the heavens, warning that he’ll be back with the apocalypse if humanity doesn’t shape up. There are plenty of ways to bring similar themes into play here: Klaatu as Bush figure, perhaps, invading because of our weapons of mass destruction? Instead, it’s never clear quite what his problem is.