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The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
Rated PG13

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, and Jaden Smith

Rating:
**
out of
*****

Robert Wise's 1951 version of The Day the Earth Stood Still is widely considered one of the all-time classic science fiction films. It didn't put an emphasis on special effects. Rather, it made its point with a fine script and a great performance by Michael Rennie as Klaatu, the alien who, with Gort, his robot defender, travels to Earth to deliver a message of impending doom. It's a movie that still holds up quite well today. Of course, because it's 57 years old and in black in white, Hollywood has decided that it needed to be updated. And, as usual, they were wrong.

This version casts Keanu Reeves in the role of Klaatu, who travels across the universe not to warn us about our use of nuclear weapons, as in the original, but rather our mistreatment of the Earth. Jennifer Connelly plays Helen Benson, a Harvard scientist who is brought in along with other science specialists to study the alien.

Klaatu wants to deliver his message to the leaders of the world but, because his spaceship disabled a United States defense satellite on its entry into Earth's atmosphere, he is considered a threat and kept in protective custody by Secretary of Defense Jackson (Kathy Bates). Helen decides that she wants to help Klaatu escape and soon Helen and Klaatu are trying to get to Dr. Basil Barnhardt (John Cleese,) a scientist who might be able to help them. Meanwhile, Klaatu's giant defender, Gort, proves to be more than the U.S. military can handle. Throw in a subplot regarding Helen's stepson, Jacob (Jaden Smith,) some mechanical locusts, and some glaring continuity errors and you've got yet another bungled version of a superior older film.

While this version is clearly head-and-shoulders above the original on the special effects front, it's lacking in nearly every other department. Reeves' performance as Klaatu is bland, flat, and humorless. Oscar-winning Jennifer Connelly isn't required to use any of the skills that enabled her to win that award back in 2002. Her character only seems able to whine and weep. Only John Cleese, who is on-screen for approximately five minutes, has any charm or spunk.

Even Gort, the robot protector from the original movie, has been changed for the worse. No longer a vigilant robot but now a towering biomechanical creature, Gort has the ability to transform into a swarm of metal bugs that can wipe out anything in their path. Except, that is, some key characters who decide to saunter out into their path and manage to escape unscathed with no explanation.

My advice to anyone interested in seeing this movie is to go out and rent (or buy) the original version and enjoy its intelligent script and still relevant message. Avoid this inferior debacle.

Trivia: Dr Barnhardt's first name is Basil. This is a tribute to John Cleese's iconic hotelier Basil Fawlty. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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