Klaatu barada hokum
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Klaatu barada hokum
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

The Day the Earth Stood Still
Opening December 12


Life on Earth is about to change. They have come from above, their ships of luminescent ethereal orbs full of beings and powers we can't possibly fathom. Even more than that, they are not pleased with us, not at all, our care for the planet we call home giving them so much consternation they are ready to lay waste to every last cell of human contamination destroying the pristine natural environment.

But they have sent an emissary, and he has taken human form. His name is Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) and he is a self-described "friend of Earth." But his repeated requests to speak with the planet's leaders are met with hostility, and only a single mother, scientist Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), and her estranged stepson, Jacob (Jaden Smith), are capable of proving to him mankind is worthy of salvation.

Here's the first thing you want to make sure you do not do before rushing into a screening of Scott Derrickson's (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) remake of the 1951 classic The Day the Earth Stood Still: don't watch the Robert Wise original. Because if you don't, maybe you won't notice just how idiotically stupid David Scarpa's (The Last Castle) screenplay is. Maybe there is a chance you won't miss all the subtle nuance and intellectually stimulating honesty of the original. Maybe you won't notice that this remake, for all its early potential, is nothing more than an outright disaster.

Who I am kidding? Everyone with even half a brain is going to notice all this and more whether or not they watch that earlier gem. There is a point in this where the thought process stops cold in its tracks, only to be replaced with mindless pabulum full of pretty colors and nifty visual shenanigans. It's almost as if someone put a shiny watch in the face of the entire filmmaking team and hypnotized them into mumble-filled obedience, leaving them with orders to make the most pointless flick possible.

Because that is exactly what Derrickson's version of The Day the Earth Stood Still is, pointless. There is no reason for this picture to exist, the ideas explored by short story writer Harry Bates and original screenwriter Edmund H. North just as prescient and profound today as they were back during the beginning embers of McCarthyism and the Cold War. Worse, it is almost as if they missed the whole point behind Wise's cagey decision to craft his film with almost documentary-like verisimilitude, stripping away almost everything fantastical about the tale in order to construct a world so tactile and familiar audiences recognized it as their own.

The funny thing is, when I said earlier that this had potential I wasn't making some sort of sarcastic joke. As much as I adore the original (it is, admittedly, one of my all-time favorites), the early stages of this remake show elegance, grace and, yes, intelligence - enough, in fact, that for a good 15 or 20 minutes I was eager to discover what was going to happen next. While there isn't the same sublime simplicity of aliens' arrival as shown in Wise's version (in that one, a lone flying saucer lands in Washington, DC right in the middle of the afternoon with nary a single bit of either pomp or circumstance), the early moments of first contact here have a Spielberg-like quality that, while not original, are still quite exhilarating. There is also a somewhat creepily unsettling aura of suspense during Klaatu's (wonderfully played by Reeves, the actor's emotional vapidity put to perfect use) capture and interrogation, his method of escape shockingly effective. But the rest of it is just an outright joke. Once the special effects take over, all bets are lost and any chance for the film to tell a successful story is completely lost in the CGI carnage. Really good actors like Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm and John Cleese are either miscast or phone in their performances, none of them connecting to the material in any way that could ever be construed as emotionally stimulating. It almost mystifies me that this movie is as big of a mess as it ultimately is. The template set forth by Wise and North in the original isn't exactly complicated; strip away the excess, keep things simple and create a world people can easily believe in. Yet this version of The Day the Earth Stood Still thinks more is indeed more, that spectacle will prove more valuable than simplicity, and that subtlety is a dinosaur deserving of being displayed in a museum, but not on a theater screen. To that, I say klaatu barada ho-hum. You've been warned.