What a frustrating disappointment.
That was my first thought as soon as this movie ended. There is so much to like about this film that it is indeed frustrating when the wheels somewhat come off the tracks near the end. The movie is still worth seeing (at least as a rental), but some poor choices in the plot plus a fatal turn toward "hokiness" keep The Day the Earth Stood Still from being all it could have been.
The story (which, for those unaware, is a remake of an early 1950's sci-fi classic): an alien space-sphere lands in Central Park. A team of scientists is rounded up quickly, including astrophysicist Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) and taken to the location. While there, an alien with "elephant-like skin" is accidentally shot by a panicked soldier. The wounded alien is followed off the spaceship by Gort, a fearsome, faceless robotic creature at least 30 feet tall. The wounded alien stops Gort from destroying the soldiers before he is taken to an underground bunker for treatment.
While in the bunker, an operating surgeon discovers that, astonishingly, the elephant-like skin is actually an advanced form of organic spacesuit for a humanoid creature. The wounded alien, now known as Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) is taken in for interrogation. Without giving it away, he easily overpowers his questioner and takes first the man's key card, then his clothes. In an awesome shot, a rather imposing Klaatu marches methodically through a hallway lined with security guards who are powerless to stop him and heads to the elevator to make his escape.
Again, the movie looks like it's going to be terrific. However, when Klaatu, is "rescued" later by Dr. Benson and her stepson, Jacob (Jaden Smith), the film loses all the momentum it had at the start and never fully recovers. For one thing, the film becomes the now-clichéd plot point of the fate of the world coming down to three people (conveniently, a man, woman and child). Second, to be blunt, Jacob is a whiny brat who does not garner sympathy. Indeed, a selfish act by Jacob at the midpoint of the story nearly guarantees Armageddon and costs some lives -Jacob deserves a much more severe reprimand than he gets here. Finally, the moment which causes a change of heart on the part of Klaatu (one major change from the original: this current version of Klaatu has not been sent to Earth to warn it about impending Armageddon, but to enforce it) is not as moving as it should be but instead comes across as cheesy and forced.
Not all is bad about the ending, however, particularly the true nature of Gort's purpose. It turns out that the robot is the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. How it is a weapon I will not reveal, but it is truly innovative and frightening.
Again, the film is worth a look - it has very good special effects and a great opening. If only it hadn't turned sappy (and had dropped the obnoxious kid character), it could have been truly special.
Note: Some other reviews have made references to Klaatu as a Christ figure. I personally did not see anything overt. What Biblical allusions there are tie in much more with Noah's Ark (and, to a lesser extent, the Exodus) than they do to the New Testament.
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