Poor Keanu Reeves. Imagine taking the role of an emotionless extra terrestrial, and having people applaud such ingenious casting. I don’t want to come across as a Keanu Reeves apologist, but here is an actor who throws himself into every role, even if it doesn’t completely pay off (eg. Street Kings). All he has to do in The Day the Earth Stood Still is look uncomfortable in human skin, talk strangely, and be perplexed by displays of emotion. I don’t need to tell you that he pulls it off.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is a remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic, in which an alien named Klaatu arrives on Earth to warn humans of their self-destructive ways. The original, directed by Robert Wise was a cold war allegory, like every other genre film of the era. This Scott Derrickson directed remake tackles those oh so popular environmental themes, and the effect humanity has on our dying planet. As Klaatu, (Reeves) remarks, Earth is one of the only planets in the Universe to support complex life. If humans aren’t going to change their destructive ways, the other civilisations in the universe have no choice but to destroy us. Well, fair enough really.

Jennifer Connelly stars as Dr Helen Benson, a biochemist raising her late husband’s son from another marriage (Smith). She, along with many other scientific experts, is summoned to examine an incoming comet expected to destroy Manhattan. Why the smartest people in New York are being flown directly into the comet’s target is never really explained. Seems like one of them would have protested, but never mind. Thankfully, the unidentified flying object turns out to be Klaatu’s giant orb-like spaceship, which lands safely in the middle of Central Park. Helen develops a fleeting connection with the alien, until he is shot by trigger happy army folk. The U.S Government takes Klaatu into their custody, denying his requests to meet with world leaders and share his warning. Helen helps Klaatu escape from their clutches, and attempts to convince him that humanity is worth saving after all.

The story kind of loses steam from that point on. Come to think of it, there isn’t really much of a story at all. However, there are plenty of good ideas and exciting moments that make this remake worth your time. The opening forty minutes is pretty impressive, as Klaatu lands on Earth along with his giant robot friend Gort. However, once Helen and her son begin chauffeuring Klaatu around New York, the wheels begin to fall off. Derrickson is a talented visual director, but his storytelling skills need to be sharpened. The film rests on the idea that Helen and her son’s relationship is so beautiful, and so perfectly human, that Klaatu is touched enough to want to save Earth. And that leads us to the biggest problem of all:

Jaden Smith.He is absolutely, unflinchingly, irredeemably terrible in this movie. Call it youth, call it poor direction, call it whatever. Smith doesn’t put a single foot right in this film. He gets no favours from the script either – his character is spoilt, unsympathetic, curt, and most of all, annoying. I honestly believe if an alien was forced to decide humanity’s existence based on Smith’s character, well, life as we know it would be over pretty quick. The much more talented Connelly works hard, and manages to convince us that she does love Smith, a feat that isn’t so much difficult as it is saintly. As mentioned earlier, Reeves also puts in a great, subtle performance (although one sequence in which he speaks Chinese is one of the strangest, funniest things I’ve ever seen). Talented actors like Jon Hamm and John Cleese do the best they can with unfortunately small roles, while Kathy Bates is fine as the misguided Secretary of Defence.

There have been a lot of terrible remakes in the last few years. They may remember to include the famous scenes, and the memorable lines, but often the essence of the original is lost on the filmmakers. Although The Day the Earth Stood Still has some story problems, and is even kind of forgettable, it never feels unnecessary. There are some interesting themes being brought up here, and it feels like a genuine update of an old classic instead of a tired rehash. And hey, I’m not going to be harsh just for the sake of it. After all, Klaatu barada nikto.