Remakes aren't all bad. Sometimes they have the ability to expand on an original concept, or approach a particular topic from a different perspective to bring about a new viewpoint. Yet many times, "Why bother?" is an appropriate response, especially for a film so revered as the original "The Day the Earth Stood Still." And unfortunately, this 2008 version with Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly does absolutely nothing to contribute to the legacy of the original.
While I have never seen the original version, the reading I have done about the movie suggests that it is a classic that did not need to be remade; that the movie stood on its own as a piece of art. Unfortunately, this did not stop 20th Century Fox, resulting in an interesting visual piece but very little in the way of story and even less in character.
For those who aren't familiar, "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is about an alien, Klaatu (Reeves) who is sent to Earth in an attempt to save the planet. And the only person in the world who seems willing to even listen to him is scientist Helen Benson (Connelly) who is also busy tending to a greiving stepson (Jaden Smith). Meanwhile, the military acts in standard movie-military mode, led by the Secretary of Defense (Kathy Bates), trying to sequester the alien and force him to reveal his ultimate plan through force, despite clear indications that there is nothing they can do to contain any threat, perceived or otherwise.
Director Scott Derrickson was clearly trying to approach the film in a culturally relevant way in an effort to make a social statement about society. There are references to many current events and actual world leaders are shown on televisions in an effort to ground this movie in a present day reality. The problem is that the screenplay by David Scarpa draws one-dimensional characters whose motivations are driven by plot instead of actual development or growth. Characters who seem absolutely set in their ways do a complete 180 as a result of simple, almost inconsequential, events. This would not even be as terrible if the characters were set up in a realistic manner but most act in a one-note fashion that seems to exist solely to antagonize the aliens, especially the military.
The military throws logic completely out the window as they seem content to take on an alien civilization with sheer brute force, despite the fact that their abilities are shown to be near impervious to human weapons and are able to disable them at will. So instead of at least attempting to form some sort of dialogue with the aliens, they continue to act antagonistically by pushing the aliens into a corner when clearly nothing physical can be done to stop them. This attitude is also inexplicably echoed in Jacob (Jaden Smith) who seems to believe that his deceased Army Engineer father would have attempted to kill the aliens were he alive. The attempt is made to make Jacob the conduit for change in this movie but the complete lack of subtlety and the bludgeoning of the audience over the head with simplistic themes undermines any attempt at getting across a coherent message.
This wasn't an unmitigated disaster though. On a visual level, the film was sufficiently engaging and there were some truly interesting effects. Strangely, there was a curiosity to find out what would happen next, although there was no concern for any of the characters and often times a mild annoyance at their actions. This is not a slight at the actors though, since all of them, including Keanu Reeves, deliver as convincing performances as they could given the material they had at their disposal. Reeves is believable as an alien, as his often times wooden delivery would suggest anyway. Connelly is always a bright spot in any movie (although would it kill somebody to put her in a comedy? Why is she always playing such sad characters?) and she and the rest of the cast probably prevented this from being the unwatchable film it could have been.
As it stands, "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is instead just another unnecessary remake that would appear to add absolutely nothing to the original. With a different screenplay, this could have been an insightful commentary on the direction of humanity and that is really the biggest disappointment of all.