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Posted: December 27, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Updated classic falls short

They say there are only a handful of stories out there, but every generation takes those stories and makes them their own. Such is the case with the remake of the 50’s sci-fi classic "The Day the Earth Stood Still." However, the Bible-mirroring story leaves one feeling empty at the end.

As a kid, my dad forced me to watch all the old black-and-white space invader films. At the time I didn’t appreciate them but now watching the remakes, I realize that CGI can’t make up for a lack-luster script.

Now, I’m not saying "Stood Still" was a bad movie, but I think it could have been better with more explosions and a better thought out ending.

The movie is the story of aliens who come to inform Earthlings that a galactic council has decided to destroy the planet because humans are not properly taking care of it. In the original, the aliens had a problem with nuclear proliferation; in the remake, violence as well as pollution and exploitation of natural resources has angered the aliens.

The star-studded cast of the 2008 version includes Keanu Reeves (‘The Matrix’), Jennifer Connelly (‘Blood Diamond’), Kathy Bates (‘Misery’) and Jon Hamm (AMC’s ‘Mad Men’). Rookie Jaden Smith (‘The Pursuit of Happyness’) did his papa (Will Smith) proud displaying a full range of emotions from apathetic to devastated.

I will say that I actually wasn’t annoyed by Keanu Reeves’ portrayal of Klaatu, the alien/human liaison, because he is playing a relatively emotionless space dude. Once again, Reeves is thrust into the role of a Christ-like figure, as he alone can save humans from total annihilation. The Biblical parallels are much more obvious in "Stood Still" than they are in "The Matrix," but I don’t think it will garner as much of a cult following as the Matrix trilogy did.

Jennifer Connelly, who redeemed herself from "Dark Water" with "Blood Diamond," gave a decent weepy-eyed performance, but seemed flatter than Patricia Neal’s original version of Helen Benson. For someone who was charged with changing Klaatu’s mind on the whole blowing up Earth thing, she didn’t seem to strive hard enough.

The magnificently suave Jon Hamm played a very minor character and much like his Mad Men character Don Draper, his performance had an air of mystery to it. His static performance is somewhat excused by his handsome looks.

The U.S. Secretary of Defense was played by Kathy Bates. Normally, Bates’ characters are rich and dynamic, but her performance seemed hollow in "Stood Still." When she advises the president not to take further military action and he insists on sending in more troops, she merely hangs up the phone and shakes her head. Dolores Claiborne would have thrown the phone through the wall, but that’s a different movie.

I did appreciate the exchange between Bates and Reeves when he asks to speak to the United Nations. Bates says tell her what he has to say, and Reeves essentially tells her that America does not own the planet—a social commentary updated from the Cold War era.

What sci-fi fans really wanted to see out of "Stood Still" was GORT, the laser-eyed protector of Klaatu and the giant sphere in Central Park. The new movie turns the name into the acronym Genetically Organized Robotic Technology. In the original, GORT does most of the zapping, but in the new version he zaps a few times and then unleashes tiny metallic locusts that begin to devour New York City.

While sci-fi fans, and Evil Dead fans, will eagerly anticipate Klaatu’s famous line "Gort! Klaatu barada nikto," Reeves never utters it and the movie ends rather abruptly leaving the viewer confused about exactly what consequences the humans faced.

"Stood Still" set out to be taken seriously, but with less special effects than "War of the Worlds" it turned out to be nothing more than a popcorn movie. Basically, it’s "Children of Men" without the intellectual meat and potatoes.

I would recommend viewing it at an IMAX theater, waiting for the DVD or better yet, watching the original one. The 1951 version won a Golden Globe for best film promoting international understanding. I don’t think this generation’s version will do the same.

 

Grade: B-

This movie is rated PG-13 for some sci-fi disaster images and violence. It has a run time of 103 minutes.

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