13 December 2008

At the movies: The Day The Earth Stood Still 'O8

A new take on Robert Wise's 1951 Sci-Fi classic about extraterrestrial intervention in Earth's burgeoning nuclear arms race, The Day The Earth Stood Still has been reimagined for contemporary audiences and issues, with Keanu Reeves taking over for Michael Rennie as alien spokesbeing Klaatu and Jennifer Connelly in the Jennifer Connelly role of empathetic female presence.

Tackling a beloved classic is always a risky step; video store walls and Netflix queues are filled with the wreckage of contemporary remakes of Hollywood evergreens, most of which serve no real purpose other than cashing in on a well-known name or concept or piece of iconography. Director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) has some mighty big shoes to fill, as Wise's career covered everything from space opera (Star Trek: The Motion Picture) and ghost stories (The Haunting) to musical stalwarts like The Sound of Music and West Side Story. Granted, today's audiences expect different things from their mopvies than people did in 1951, but it's hard to retain any sincere optimism when one finds out that Fox (a studio who has a rather spotty record with genre material over the last few years- X-Men 3, Babylon A.D., Alien vs Predator 1 and 2, I'm talking to you, specifically) is involved.

But the big surprise is that The Day The Earth Stood Still isn't a big mess. It's got some very effective moments, a great central conceit (Keanu Reeves as alien spokesthing is inherently great), some decent effects, and a complete refutation of the Independence Day school of alien encounters. The most interesting thing that this new version brings to the table is in casting Will Smith's son as the pivotal human who must learn to evolve beyond xenophobic jingoism and become a truly civilized being.

I'm hoping that Derrickson has made a film that will change some minds and shake up some sensibilities, as the 1951 original did. It's certainly a step up from Emily Rose, and it's better as a remake than it has any right to be. Not essential viewing, by any stretch of the imagination, but it's trying...

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