Astrobiologist Helen (Connelly) is whisked away to help the government when strange goings-on herald an alien landing. The giant sphere that settles in New York’s Central Park carries an alien, Klaatu (Reeves) who comes to save the Earth – but perhaps not humanity…
There are certain things that people remember about 1951’s sci-fi classic The Day The Earth Stood Still: the ship, the robot, the endlessly-referenced phrase “Klaatu barada nikto”. With the exception of the latter, they’ve undergone some changes in Scott Derrickson’s remake. For a start, the Earth doesn’t so much stand still as panic and run for the hills. The flying saucer is now a gigantic pearl, its nacre an endlessly rushing hurricane. The previously 7ft alien is four times as large, his red eye hinting at Cylon in his ancestry, and he packs a lot more wallop than a mere heat beam. And where before the aliens landed to address the threat of nuclear war, this time it’s environmental catastrophe they’re fretting about. What’s strange about these changes is how closely the resulting film cleaves to the spirit of Robert Wise’ film, and how hard it is to dismiss it as just another remake.
Jennifer Connelly’s college professor is our way into these strange events: after a clumsy bit of scripting about a feared asteroid strike, her astrobiologist is on hand to greet the strange grey figure that emerges from the gigantic sphere in Central Park (how far the White House has fallen). That slimy mould splits to reveal Keanu Reeves’ Klaatu, an alien bureaucrat/judge sent to decide Earth’s fate.
There’s always been something a little otherworldly about Reeves – a sense of reserve that is anathema to these tabloid times – but his performance here is subtle to the point that you might miss it altogether, but it’s perfectly calibrated. This Klaatu is devoid of body language tics, trapped in a body he doesn’t understand, but still manages to communicate a profound sense of disconnect and determined objectivity with nary a blink – in fact, partly by not blinking. Next to him, Connelly is reduced mostly to reactions and the occasional bit of dysfunctional stepmothering of Jaden Smith’s grieving 10 year-old.
There are few surprises here – the trailer gives away one big reveal – but there is real tension and, for those who have seen An Inconvenient Truth, a strange sense of plausibility. We do stand on the edge of a precipice as it is, and frankly alien intervention might help.
A remake that does not disgrace the original, this is sufficiently different to stand alone and just as relevant in its concerns – as well as succeeding (arguably better) as a thriller. And after this performance, are we sure that Keanu Reeves is really human?