The interesting thing about watching this remake of the 1951 film taken from Harry Bates 1940 short story, “Farewell to the Master”, is that forall its faults, and there are many, it will hold your attention in 2009 as
some sort of Mc-Fast Food movie entertainment. Tahat Keanu Reeves, in Michael Rennie’s role as Klaatu, would meet his contact at a McDonald’s says much about this movie: get ready for a digitally produced “celluloid mash-up” of well-known Sci-Fi classics.
The most obvious is the reproduction of multiple scenes from The Matrix, Keanu Reeves in fetal position on an operating table, put in an interrogation room with “agents” a la Hugo Weaving and his thugs from Reeves 1999 now-classic. Only this time Keanu as Klaatu turns the table on his captor and, by taking his suit, becomes Agent Smith himself. Don’t think the alleged irony isn’t intentional – the Matrix was the ultimate mash-up film, lifting every conceivable Science Fiction theme and cliche and recycling them all in a new mix for a new world. Rather than copy the unique-ness of that craftsmanship and reinvent aspects of the genre, director Scott Derrickson goes for the quick hit, throwing the familiar in our faces and expecting us to be thrilled. Fact is, nothing new is added to the legend and a remake will always be compared to the original, no matter how much spin and how many twists are added to the mix.
This version of The Day The Earth Stood Still is not as bad as the horrendous reviews which descended on cyberspace quicker than the metal bugs mopped from Universal’s reincarnation of its Mummy series. It is
more valid and sincere than Will Smith’s third-rate “I Am Legend” and, in fact, the biggest drawback might be the addition of Jaden Smith, son of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. Where Jada added much to The Matrix series, her son is a total annoyance here, the Smiths all trying to be the first family of Science Fiction in the new millennium. Director Derrickson fared better with “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” as the characters developed more evenly there, and had he exorcised a few of the ghosts in this motion picture – the watered-down tired military action-over-mediation ploy (we saw how well that worked for George W. Bush’s regime), perhaps Kathy Bates would have come out of her troubled part a bit better. At least when Judi Dench plays the cold bitch, she plays the cold bitch. Bates needed to dip back into her 1990 role from Stephen King’s “Misery” to give this Regina Jackson Secretary of Defense a little more verve.
There’s nothing like a cool robot, and sci-fi fan Keanu Reeves plays one in his best impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator yet. (and you thought by Robot I meant the bigger, badder version of the metallic “Gort”!) Reeves is the Terminator that can be reasoned with, while the mutated Galactus from Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer morphs into the aforementioned locusts from The Mummy. The mixture of these modern-day CGI cliches and the lack of chemistry between Jennifer Connelly as Helen Benson and her step-son, Jacob Benson (Jaden Smith) hold the story back, while Kyle Chandler (exile of the TV sci-fi show “Early Edition”) and John Cleese (as Professor Barnhardt), are among the film’s highlights.
But the biggest problem is Derrickson’s failure to utilize the title of the movie in the same way that Director Robert Wise took full advantage of it. The most eerie moment is when all earthly activity stops. When the boats don’t disturb the waterways, when the cars all stop on the highway. That is the most chilling thing, a new world where human activity isn’t allowed to cut away at the fabric of life. This rendition is more of a philosophical one and they almost get their point across. It just kind of fizzles in the fade as if the budget was running out and there wasn’t enough time to get it done. Alas, it is not a complete waste, and there are some fun moments.
Reeves is much better than he is going to get credit for, much more in control than he was in the first Matrix film, and as far as IMAX goes, it doesn’t overuse the format the way the latter day Star Wars prequels
relied on the 12,000 watts of power much too heavily.