DVD Release Date:  April 7, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  December 12, 2008
Rating:  PG-13 (for some sci-fi disaster images and violence)
Genre:  Science Fiction, Remake
Run Time:  103 min.
Director:  Scott Derrickson
Actors:  Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jaden Smith, John Cleese, Jon Hamm, Kyle Chandler

While some movies have benefited immensely from a modern-day makeover (see You’ve Got Mail, Ocean’s 11, the latest string of Batman and Bond movies), filmmakers still would be wise to leave a few of the originals alone—especially if it happens to be a revered science-fiction classic like 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still.

In what feels more like an excuse to get really crazy with the special effects (and some are truly spectacular) rather than providing a rich present-day context for its predecessor’s cautionary message for mankind, The Day the Earth Stood Still lacks everything a compelling morality tale needs: emotional resonance, coherent storytelling and a lead actor capable of a few more facial expressions.

But Keanu Reeves’ lackluster acting aside, even someone like Robert Downey Jr. in the key role of Klaatu wouldn’t have saved this movie. Serving as little more than an infomercial for “saving the planet” (the actual real estate, mind you, not the people’s souls which need saving far more), The Day the Earth Stood Still starts off with Dr. Helen Benson (an underused Jennifer Connelly) making dinner for her stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith).

Her normal domestic duties are eventually interrupted when she gets a call saying she’s going to be whisked away on a national security matter. Turns out that an unknown object is speedily making its way toward Manhattan, something her colleague Michael (Jon Hamm from TV’s Mad Men) believes will have cataclysmic impact in about an hour’s time.

Prepping for the worst, the Army gathers all the experts together in a helicopter, which ends up being a pretty dumb move since they’re situated right above ground zero’s projected coordinates. But that tactical error ends up working itself out when the mysterious space vehicle lands smack dab in the middle of Central Park.

But right as Helen moves in for a closer look at the strange, silver-skinned creature that emerges from the orb, it’s immediately shot by a handler and eventually reborn into human form as Klaatu, the “Savior” figure of the story.

Taken aback when the Secretary of Defense (Kathy Bates) refers to Earth as “our planet,” Klaatu has come not only as an agent of peace, but the representative of a federation of civilians who aren’t exactly thrilled with how humans have been mistreating the “precious” Earth.

Eventually, Klaatu’s transformation from creature to human has its problems, though (namely his method of escape which is so loud it pierces the eardrums). So that’s when he decides to call on Helen for help. Why she’s so inclined to step in and save him from sedation isn’t really ever explained. But before too long, she’s actually befriending him and introducing Klaatu to Professor Barnhardt (John Cleese), who just happened to win the Nobel Peace Prize for biological altruism.

Although Klaatu thinks Barnhardt’s work is admirable, the introduction still isn’t enough to convince Klaatu that humans have enough significance in the universe to not be wiped out for good, however. So unless Klaatu discovers enough compelling evidence that humans live with a purpose worth preserving, he’s planning to reboot.