When you set out to produce a remake of one of the most celebrated, adored and legitimately awesome sci-fi movies ever made, you can either A) stick to the source material with a slavish devotion, hoping that old-school fans will appreciate the faithfulness, or B) monkey around with the original's themes, characters, and set pieces, and just hope you deliver a flick that stands on its own two feet. Seems that the Fox machine went with option B for their new-fangled version of The Day the Earth Stood Still, and while that's always the more commendable choice ... what happens if the "new stuff" just doesn't work all that well?
Case in point: There are big fistfuls of stuff that work really well in Scott Derrickson's remake. Both leads (Keanu Reeves and *sigh* Jennifer Connelly) are quite strong, the special effects are (for the most part) pretty impressive, and Dave Scarpa's screenplay has moments of warmth, wit, spectacle, and real creativity. But on the flip side of the equation, the movie is also saddled with a "new" character (a petulant kid who exists only to spout obvious exposition and provide a few predictable plot-turns) who just doesn't work, and (even worse) the revisionism infects some of the original film's best ideas. (I mean ... the remake doesn't even bother with the legendary "Gort Klaatu Barada Nikto" material, which makes one wonder who thought THAT omission was a grand idea. Why not remake Citizen Kane without the sled?) Plus, what Scarpa and Derrickson have done with the monumental GORT robot ... well, it's pretty nifty on one hand, and really quite silly on another.
The basic plot, as you should certainly know by now, goes like this: A mysterious alien lands in New York and tells us that we've pretty much doomed ourselves by abusing the planet so egregiously -- so it's up to one good-hearted woman to convince the visitor that humanity is worthy of salvation. Oh, and the alien brought with him a gigantic robot that could kill everybody, if it decided to. Of course the newcomer is visited with more violence than actual humanity, which allows the characters (and, more importantly, the audience) to contemplate the question: ARE we actually worth saving?
Despite an Act I that does a fantastic job of setting up the premise of an alien invasion, once the other-worldly Klaatu (Reeves) escapes from his puny human captors, the new Day just sort of spins its wheels on the whole "impending apocalypse" concept. Much of the film is Reeves, Connelly, and little Jaden Smith wandering around the forest, while pretty much nobody acts like they're DAZZLED by spending some time with a super-powerful being from another planet. The longer the movie goes on, the more outlandish it all seems, and then the plot holes begin to pile up. John Cleese pops up for one very solid scene, but adds next to nothing to the big picture. Connelly's character is abducted by the military, which allows Klaatu and the kid to enjoy a forced moment of graveyard melancholy, but then she's right back in the game again. Her absence has no discernible impact on the story.
Truth be told, there's a lot I DID like about this remake. Derrickson adds some clever touches here and there (like a very cool exchange between Klaatu and one of his own kind), but by the time we're greeted with a finale that lacks any sort of emotional punch, you might just be wondering if the original Day is worth seeing again. (It absolutely is.) Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still was fascinating, insightful, intelligent ... the remake is halfway fascinating, just as insightful as the (50-year-old) original, and not all that brainy at all. As a passable time-waster for a hardcore sci-fi fan, the remake is certainly watchable enough. But then again ... most hardcore sci-fi fans will probably have the same problems I had with the movie.