Thursday, December 11, 2008


Cast: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connolly, Kathy Bates, Jaden Smith and Jon Hamm
Director: Scott Derrickson
Time: 104 mins

Rating: * *
(out of 4)

Connelly, Smith and Reeves in a scene from the movie

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? In Robert Wise's 1951 original (based on a sci-fi magazine story by Harry Bates) an alien named Klaatu (Michael Rennie) came to Earth with a warning about the nuclear threat (posed by the Cold War) - and nobody wanted to listen. Its special effects, especially the portrayal of Klaatu's robot Gort, was tacky by today's standards but the movie was deemed a classic by many. It spawned the famous phrase klaatu barata nikto, which sci-fi writers and fans use liberally.

This remake by Derrickson has a spaceship landing in New York's Central Park (instead of Washington) and Klaatu (Reeves) trying to warn us about - don't hold your breath - mankind's devastation of the planet! Again, the authorities (led by Kathy Bates' State Secretary Regina Jackson) are too arrogant to listen, except for a pretty astro-biologist (Connolly as Helen Benson) and her stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith). Klaatu's ultimatum is "If the Earth dies, you die; if you die, the Earth survives!"
However, a meeting with Helen's mentor, Prof Barnhardt (John Cleese), along with a little Bach music and self-sacrifice leads Klaatu to believe that mankind might not be as hopeless as he thinks. Klaatu barata nikto!

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? Well, the main idea of doing a remake should be to improve on the original, and perhaps, to add a new dimension to the story. However, other than the obviously better CGI effects (of trucks and buildings disintegrating), this one is actually a dumb movie despite such a huge budget. Unlike Wise's film, there's no thoughtful message here, no insight as to our place in the universe. Derrickson is either too chicken or too clueless to pinpoint what is really wrong and who is the culprit.

WILL IT MAKE YOUR DAY? You may find a few unintentional laughs in the corny lines but other than that, this attempt is pretty bland. And talking about bland, Reeves' emotionless acting seems to fit the bill as Klaatu, an alien incapable of feelings. Come to think of it, Reeves has been playing Klaatu all his life! Connolly is wasted here in a thankless role, while Jaden Smith puts in a fine turn as a modern-day brat.

It is obvious the film-makers have concentrated too much on the effects and the wow-factors and neglected to look at their storyline. We are told the aliens have been spying on Earth for ages and yet they don't see any redeeming factor in mankind until they hear a bit of Bach's Goldberg Variations and see a mother hugging her child! Director Derrickson may be an admirer of Robert Wise but he does not have the latter's ability to tell an engaging story or to fill a movie with convincing characters.

If you need to catch this one, keep your expectations low.


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