THE PLOT THUS FAR
Impressive special effects are the key selling point for this big-budget remake of Robert Wise’s classic 1951 science fiction parable about an alien visitor who delivers a chilling ultimatum to the leaders of the world. Keanu Reeves, who seemed ideal at first blush but ultimately turns into another case of miscasting, steps in for Michael Rennie as intergalactic watchdog Klaatu, who with his robot Gort (now super-sized), promises global destruction unless the powers that be unless drastic measures are undertaken regarding the Earth’s environmental issues (or so one assumes). Jennifer Connelly is largely wasted in the Patricia Neal role of scientist/single mom assigned to study Klaatu, who offers a somewhat chilly father figure to her son (a grating Jaden Smith). Connelly isn’t the only fine actor in the cast left standing idle while director Scott Derrickson’s effects team constructs eye-popping scenes of wholesale mayhem; Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm, Kathy Bates, John Cleese and Rob Knepper are all adrift in the aimless script by David Scarpa, which never even fully explains why Klaatu is so bent on blowing us to smithereens. That lack of focus, as well as the B-movie quality of the dialogue (say what you will about the effects in the Wise version, but the film was polished from top to bottom), all help to cement what science fiction fans have been muttering about the film since its inception; the original film needed no high-tech updating.
WHAT WE THOUGHT
Rennie causes the earth to stand still in a manner that emhasizes his godlike powers. His assumed name of Carpenter further allies himself as one who must suffer, die, and be reborn himself so as to save humanity from itself. Reeves arrives on earth determined to exterminate human life as a prerequisite for maintaining it in its supposed pristine state. His argument that John Cleese artfully exposes that Klaatu’s own race avoided self-immolation only after arriving at a precipitous tipping point is exposed as a sophomoric inability to connect one moral thread of one race to a similar thread of another.
In the original, director Robert Wise uses deliberately blurred camera angles to present Rennie as one whose true nature can be only slowly revealed. Recall Rennie’s introduction when he arrives at the boarding house to seek a room. Compare that masterly hiding of face and form with Scott Derrickson’s inability or unwillingness to show Reeves’ face as no more than a perpetual scowl. Kathy Bates as the Secretary of State manages to invest her role with the film’s only note of authenticity as she correctly notes the inevitable results that occur when a technologically advanced culture collides with a significantly less advanced one.
Then there is the insanely annoying little step-son of Dr. Benson (Connelly). The film makers tried to make his emotional battle over the loss of his father really tug at the audience, but all it did was drive me crazy. Mainly because the boy pretty much hated his step-mom — but not in a “tortured by the loss of my father” way — just an annoying “I don’t want to listen to you” way. One minute the kid was crying his eyes out over his dead father (killed in the Iraqi war — propaganda anyone?) to happily slashing baddies on World of Warcraft.
And that’s the other thing. This is one of the heaviest product placement movies I have seen in forever. I couldn’t even begin to count the amount of logos that were shown for a few seconds just to show the logo. It’s one thing if the characters are using the items or products within the context of their world, but this film showed just senseless amounts of products — everything from Apple to Honda to McDonald’s to Coke and the list goes on and on.
I felt like throwing up at the end of the movie after Dr. Benson tells Klaatu (Reeves) that he has to stop the destruction of the earth the aliens have planned. She tells him repeatedly, “We can change. We can change!” Never does she say what this change would look like or how it would work or what it even is. He blindly trusts her and stops the destruction of the people. And then — the horrible montage begins where the aliens shut down all electricity and literally people are shown slightly smiling as they open the blinds to their windows to let the sunlight come in. The worst doesn’t happen however until a shot is shown of an oil drill stopping and standing desolate in a wasteland. “For real?” was all I could mutter by that time.