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The Day The Earth Stood Still – you say Klaatu, I say Keanu, let’s call the whole thing off

you say Klaatu I say Keanu, let's call the whole thing off

two pepperoni pizzas to go - ok son?

The Day The Earth Stood Still – Scott Derrickson

Keanu Reeves is an Alien: it’s not often you get to write a sentence with three different meanings that is true whichever of them you apply. As a description of Keanu’s role in this re-make of the 50’s Sci-Fi classic it is factually true; as an ironic observation of Reeves’ screen persona it is metaphorically true; and as a piece of justified sarcasm it is a simple tautology.

There are two occupants of the spherical planet-like’ spaceship that lands in Central Park: one is an impassive, featureless, expressionless, robotic figure – the other is a real robot. Reeves plays Klaatu (sounds like his brother) a clone of a 1920’s earthling climber whose body is replicated as a sort of organic time-share apartment the alien creature, who we never see, can inhabit so he, she, it, can look familiar and not scare the bejesus out of us. You have to admire the cosmic, if bewildering sensitivity in this given that the visitor’s declared mission is to eradicate human life from the planet earth – for its own good – the planet’s, not the humans’.

First thing we have to say about these aliens is that their super-intelligence fails to convince. In deciding to come to earth and wipe us humans out for screwing up one of the few life-sustaining planets in the cosmos, you’d think their deep study of our culture would have suggested they might pick a landing spot where they could minimise the risk of some trigger-happy GI Joe using them as target practice. Good job it wasn’t Texas or having first touched our earth, Klaatu would have immediately ended up 6 feet under it. Crap marksmanship therefore only wings the visitor who is then rushed to hospital where a surgeon removes bucketsful of gloopy protective packing to reveal a humanoid figure which develops from embryo to full-on Keanu in a matter of hours. Now that’s what I call scary. This gloop we are told resembles whale blubber: super intelligent and they haven’t even invented polystyrene packaging? In fact had they wrapped our intrepid alien in whatever we put round CDs and DVDs not only would he have been impervious to every force in the known universe, but even the surgeon’s scalpel wouldn’t have found a way in.

Coming round to be met by Jennifer Connelly’s unlikely astro-biologist Dr Helen Bensen our ‘Ku’ has trouble drinking a glass of New York water – well there has to be some limit to the powers even of super-beings – and remarks “this body is going to take some getting used to.” One can’t help feeling that this miracle of galactic biological adaptation would have been made a bit easier if they’d picked a human specimen with functioning facial muscles. Keanu belongs to the Clint Eastwood School of cinematic acting – but without the animation.

The high calibre (0.45) traditional American greeting meted out to Ku immediately provokes a gigantic, featureless iron-man robotic figure, looking like an Anthony Gormley sculpture missing a key bit of manly kit, to kick some earthling butt with the now traditional laser eyes. Stand-off in the Park while the inaction moves to the aforementioned hospital – we know this is a military hospital as they have left all the concrete au naturelle. Here apart from the pretty wimpy Dr Benson, our would-be immigrant (“what is the purpose of your visit to the United States?” “To eradicate all its citizens.” “OK. Are you, or have you ever been a member of the Comm…………”) meets the formidable Kathy Bates as a Madeleine Albright look alike.

We learn that the President and Vice-President, following the recent American tradition of b*ggering off somewhere safe when the country is under attack, are locked away in separate mountain fortresses and have delegated saving the planet to Bates’ plucky Secretary of State Regina Jackson. In one of the great moments in the movie Ku asks Jackson if she “speaks for the human race.” Kathy Bates, scarcely concealing a smirk at knowing she is being paid well to play in a crap movie, replies contemptuously in a tone of voice that says “human race – are you kidding? I represent the President of the United States. She does neglect to mention that this ultimate possessor of power on earth was too chicken-sh*t to come himself.

Aided by holistic Helen, Ku escapes, then gets a bit of post-operative infection, a law of the universe apparently at least as ubiquitous as gravity, and phones her for help. With her totally supernumerary, PC dread-locked black 7-year old stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith) Helen takes Ku some of his protective gloop which clears up his bleeding, 1 day-old 6” surgical scar faster than Boots No 7 Time-resisting cream eradicates wrinkles. A bit of perfunctory chasing sets up the next risible solemn moment in this tosh – Helen takes Ku to see her old mentor, Nobel prize-winning, Bach-loving, biologist Professor Barnhardt. We know Barny is a genius cos he has a blackboard with lots of meaningless squiggles on it. Ku puts the equation right and he and the Prof bond instantly. Has to be instant because I don’t think they wanted to pay John Cleese, for yes, it is he, I kid you not, for more than a couple of days work.

As you would expect Ku, actor and alien, is a bit slow on the uptake, so when he sees that the prospects of imminent annihilation brings a tear to Helen and Jacob’s eyes, intones with the solemnity of someone who has just found the cure for cancer, that “there is a another side to you human beings.” Well gor blimey, luvva duck, n-billion miles through space to discover the gobsmackingly bleedin’ obvious – had he never read a book, watched a play, heard some music etc etc? Is it too late? – to get a last minute pint on the way home? – no, for Ku to reverse his release of the locust-swarms of metal-eating termites who are beginning to strip the planet clean. If you are reading this, then you know how it all turned out.

The Day The Earth Stood Still is and looks cheap. Routine CGI can’t hide the fact that really nothing very much happens. Certainly nothing that makes sense. If they had spent a tenth of the budget for hype and promotion on improving a screenplay that lazily follows that of Edmund H North in 1951 based upon a 1940 pulp fiction short story, ‘Farewell To The Master’ by a guy called Harry Bates it might have been a bit better. The more so had they found a Director with a real feeling for the innocence and hope of essentially physical science based sci-fi of the late forties and fifties given an air of credible paranoia by the Cold War political climate of the times.

Derrickson displays no feeling for the sci-fi genre of movies or literature. His direction and David Scarpa’s clunking script make no effort to recognise that the sci-fi genre has moved in the intervening years since 1951 towards inner rather than outer space, from materialist physical science towards psychological, fantasy responses to global threats and fears.

In the end I have a hunch the genesis of this movie was its one good line: Klaatu to Helen as a representative of the human race – “you live… and the planet dies; you die… and the planet lives.” Good for a pitch or to demonstrate the law of excluded middle – not enough for a whole movie.

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