If you want to see all the cool special effects in this remake, watch the trailer. If you want the extreme environmentalist agenda that goes with them, buy a ticket.
Starting off pretty much the same way as Independence Day, something bad is heading toward Earth. Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) is one of several scientists contacted for the inevitable: first contact. When the object slows and is revealed to be a transport, a trigger-happy soldier shoots the first humanoid that comes out. The aggressive act prompts another creature to exit the craft, a silver giant with a red eye, but the response is halted by the wounded humanoid. While the US military tries the figure out how to incapacitate the giant without provoking its defensive capabilities, the humanoid morphs into an actual human that calls itself Klaatu (Keanu Reeves), but since no one will let him address the United Nations with a dire warning, he proceeds to put an apocalyptic plan into action.
In 1951, a atomic-age film called The Day the Earth Stood Still warned that harnessing the atom came with great responsibility, even suggesting that peace-loving aliens would destroy humanity outright rather than risk exposing our war-like tenancies to other worlds. The 2008 remake, however, suggests that everything except humanity deserves to live more than humanity does, no matter what the cost. That’s right, turn off the power, cease communications, unplug the freezers, delete the Internet, and get ready for some good ol’ hunter-gather living off the land. Did it occur to the film’s creators that the only people fit to survive in their “ideal environmentalist world” for more than a month are outdoor survivalists who would probably kill them for meat before they figured out how sharpen a knife?
The film isn’t a total loss. Product placements by Microsoft Windows (and their Windows for tabletops and walls), McDonald’s restaurants (and their new McCafe), LG cell phones, Citizen watches, and Toyota hybrids are all there in the understanding that this is a fantasy and consumers are watching. There’s a great little performance by Jaden Smith (son of Will and Jada) mourning his father, but the actual plot is Connelly trying to convince Reeves that humanity is worth saving, a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. Mr. Reeves seems pretty comfortable doing his alien thing, and Jennifer Connelly again does the desirable leading lady bit (although we miss your curves and worry about how thin you’ve become… may we suggest a Bic Mac and large fries while Keanu plots to destroy the world?)
There is a telling scene early on when Kathy Bates, serving as the eyes and ears of the US president, asks Klaatu why he has come “to our planet.” Reeves responds by asking, “YOUR planet?” Please allow my indulgence here as I provide a better response for Ms. Bates than what the writers saddled her with:
“Yes, OUR planet, the one WE evolved from, and as such, it’s our sovereign right to exist here and use the world that spawned us as we see fit. But as a highly-evolved race that has probably already accomplished everything humanity has ever aspired to, why didn’t you come down a little sooner and offer up some your advanced green technologies a decade ago or a century earlier? If you could have provided the solutions to keep us from spoiling the planet sooner and only NOW tell us that’s it too late, feel free to share in half the blame yourselves. But if for one minute you’re going to hold us solely responsible for our own mess, then leave it for us to wallow in and get the hell of OUR planet.”
(a half skull recommendation out of four)