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By Scott Mendelson | January 10, 2009

“The Day The Earth Stood Still” is the definition of a ‘so-so’ movie. It’s not particularly good, but it’s competent and more or less successful in its goals. There are several moments of visual beauty, and a few noteworthy performances by the supporting cast. It is certainly worth seeing, but you shouldn’t go out of your way to do so.

A token amount of plot: A mysterious alien vessel arrives on Earth, occupied by the ambassador Klaatu (Keanu Reeves), and his enforcer robot Gort (much larger than in the original). Their mission is simple, and their message is clear… shape up or die (the motives and actions are different than the original, so I won’t spoil them here). As scientist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) and her son find themselves in direct contact with Klaatu, they attempt to deduce how to best prevent wholesale destruction, be it man made or otherwise.

While Reeves literally plays a robot (in ironically, the very kind of wooden, off putting performance that his critics wrongly assume is his stock and trade) and Jennifer Connelly is given little to do, the supporting cast does their best to pull the weight. Jon Hamm of “Mad Men” is such a commanding presence, that his relatively under developed role as Connelly’s colleague is compelling by default. Jon Cleese takes a rare dramatic turn as the scientist who may be Earth’s only hope. Even Jaden Smith (as Connelly’s son) has an emotionally compelling scene where he begs Klaatu to use his powers to bring his father back from the dead. Best of all, James Hong (happy almost 80th birthday) has one wonderful scene (arguably the best in the film) as a fellow alien who has lived as a human for seventy years and has found happiness in his human shell.

Regardless of the solid cast, the film isn’t terribly noteworthy. Anyone who has seen the original will guess what it coming most of the time, and the improved visuals (which allows Klaatu to make more persuasive threats) only go so far. One thing I did appreciate is that this is not a pumped-up action-heavy remake of a relatively cerebral film. There are a few more action beats, but the film is also about ten-minutes longer. The film is still a relatively quiet sci-fi drama that concentrates more on the ideas than on the explosions.

In the end, the film is a pleasant diversion and different enough from the original to stand side-by-side as a comparison of filmic languages over fifty-seven years. In fact, the differing character arcs and differing context almost allow this to work as a sequel to Robert Wise’s original film. I can’t quite say this was a good film, but it does make an effort to be an interesting one, faithful in spirit to the more dramatic nature of the original.

As to whether “The Day The Earth Stood Still” 2.0 needed to be made at all, I’d say at the very least it was worthwhile in that it allowed Fox to put out a lavish new special edition DVD/Blu Ray release of the original film. While fans often carp on the idea of unnecessary remakes, they often result in the original films getting a re-mastered print and/or vastly improved DVD release (the same thing is occurring with “Friday The 13th”, with the first three films being upgraded in anticipating of the February 13th redo). On a related note, when will they get cracking on that remake of “The Stepfather”?

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