Fans of the 1951 sci-fi classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still” will undoubtedly be skeptical about this new version, but you have to admit one thing: Keanu Reeves as an unemotional alien is perfect casting.
All right, that was too easy. Still, the poker-faced Mr. Reeves has opted for this kind of role before (notably in the “Matrix” pictures and “Constantine”), so he must know he’s a shrewd choice for the otherworldly emissary with a stern warning for mankind.
Reeves is the most effective element of this slick, dour remake. Things have changed since 1951, of course: Where the alien Klaatu sought peace between the nuclear-armed Cold War nations then, he now delivers an inconvenient truth. Earthlings need to stop destroying their own planet, or else.
The planet is needed to maintain some sort of balance in the galaxy, but human beings themselves are utterly irrelevant. So it’s an easy choice.
You will recall that the original relied on a large robot for some of its shivers, and this remake ups the ante. Now the giant is about 10 times bigger than the original, and composed by computer imagery, not a tall guy in a suit.
The film is best in its opening reels, as a scientist (Jennifer Connelly) is summoned along with a group of brainiacs to the presumed crash site of an asteroid hurtling toward the planet. It’s not an asteroid, of course, but a ship bent on landing in Central Park.
Connelly is gloomy, as she so often is in movies. Her son is played by Jaden Smith, who played opposite his father Will in “The Pursuit of Happyness.” The kid’s still cute. Other roles are filled by Jon Hamm, from “Mad Men,” Kathy Bates (as an obnoxious Secretary of Defense), and John Cleese — the latter in a regrettably brief role as a scientific genius.
Every time “Day” raises an intriguing idea, it declines to follow up — for instance, Klaatu’s meeting with an embedded alien (James Hong) who seems to have “gone native” here on Earth, or the frailty of Klaatu’s body in its human form.
This version mostly dispenses with Klaatu’s experiences passing as a human on Earth. Things are pretty much streamlined to just a handful of characters and a few vague pronouncements on humanity’s treatment of the planet.
The spaceship is more of an amorphous ball of gas, rendered in (as expected) impeccable special effects. One can be forgiven for missing the good old flying saucers of 1950s sci-fi films, given the general blandness of this outing. Put it this way: It seems unlikely people will still be watching the remake 57 years from now. If the planet still exists, that is.