The Day the Earth Stood Still
By now, you know the routine: Every time a major movie studio announces that it is going to remake one of its classics, fans all over the world slap their foreheads and wonder why anyone would want to mess with perfection. But some movies are more adaptable than others, in theory at least, and The Day the Earth Stood Still is just such a film. Produced in 1951, as the Cold War was just getting started, the original film depicted an alien who comes to Earth and warns us that our militaristic ways could lead to the destruction of the entire planetif not at our own hands, then at the hands of interstellar robots who have been programmed to prevent any planet from posing a threat to other planets. The political landscape has changed in many ways since then, and the world has moved on to other dangers, but that, in its own way, creates a whole new set of storytelling opportunities; there is no reason an alien couldn't pay us another visit and give us a whole new set of warnings.
The trick comes in the execution of that idea, and the new version of The Day the Earth Stood Stilldirected by Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) from a script credited to David Scarpa (The Last Castle)is, like so many other remakes, caught between the need to bring the material up to date and the pressure to recycle familiar elements from the original film, even when they don't seem to fit the internal logic of the new film. The result is a film that is a lot more complicated in some ways, while overly simple, almost to the point of triteness, in others.
On the more-complicated side, the alien messenger Klaatu is no longer just another man who happens to come from another planet; this time, he lives within a human body that he has created for the express purpose of moving around in Earth's environment. The body itself is made from the DNA of a man who died years ago, and when it emerges from the bright, spherical spaceship that lands in New York City, it is coated in a sort of goopy, placental slime that, over the course of the next few scenes, will fall away to reveal a pale, naked Keanu Reeves. (Shades of Keanu's first appearance in the real world in The Matrix!) Klaatu's "birth," messy as it would have been anyway, is complicated further by the fact that a member of the U.S. military shoots him the moment he emerges from his shipand this rouses the ire of a giant robot who also emerges from that ship.
Here the film begins to show signs of being constrained by its source material. Why does the robot have a humanoid form? Given all the high-tech stuff on displayand it gets even more intricate later onwhy does this robot assume the rather old-fashioned form that it does, with a visor and a beam-shooting eye? If the flying saucer of the original film can be replaced by the more abstract sphere, why risk making the robot look so retro? Fans will know the robot as Gort, but this name does not come up until very late in the filmand when it does, you cannot help but groan at the reason given for it. Matters are not helped by the fact that Gort looks rather smooth and cartoonish, like the digital special effect that he is.