Starring Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, John Cleese, Jaden Smith, Jon Hamm
Director Scott Derrickson
Released Dec 26
To say that this film is not a dissapointment would be incorrect. To say it's a complete disaster even more of an error. What we have here is the skeleton of a fascinating Sci Fi film that's had some crucial muscle stripped away by an editing committee who were obvisiously keen to sell the movie to someone that the original creative team did not.
The result is a film that promises much, delivers some, but ultimately leaves us wishing that there will come a time when you can choose the director's cut based on what kind of Sci Fi fan you are BEFORE you go to see it at the theatre, and not after you go to the DVD/Blu-ray shop.
The film's general tone, pace and content immediately place it into the 'smart Sci Fi' category. 'Figure it out for yourself, I don't need explosions, I don't need aliens to act like humans' sort of fans respond to this kind of Sci Fi.
Annoyingly, there is also another stream of Sci Fi running through the movie - the 'did you get that? did you see that? did you see that explosion? did you realise I'm the baddie?' kind of Sci Fi that one would traditionally find in a Michael Bay movie.
These two streams may have been able to live together (somewhat unharmoniously, to be sure) but the real killer is when the more contemplative character moments, the real payoff moments between alien and human, and a satisfying ending are all butchered for 'pacing' or to keep the time under a specific minute count to make sure the film gets rapid rotation at the multi-plex. For all the people who come into the film with the 1951 original on their mind, this kind of treatment is unforgiveable - but understandable. THe 1951 film was created at a time when Sci Fi was looked upon as rubbish - no Hollywood producer worth his salt got involved - it was kid's stuff. Thus, the creative teams of the day had an unfettered hand. The result was, from time to time, a good film.
Now, kid's stuff is big business. Every cog in the corporate machine must squeak. And the end result is dissapointment for fans and creatives alike.
Some positives that have been reported as negatives - Keanu Reeves' acting as Klaatu has been given the old 'wooden' treatment yet again. It seems almost wilfully ignorant that any reviewer worth their salt would take the performance of an actor who's one job in the film is to drain his face of human emotion and his body of human frailties and call it 'inhuman'. Any Sci Fi fan who 'get's it' will see Reeves as showing remarkable discipline - a blankness there is for minute audience reactions, and nothing more.
The calm, matter of factness of his interaction with others gives the film a far more chilling veneer than the usual bombastic race against time that we seem to have been conditioned to in our alien apocalypse films. A simple conversation with a colleague, and the Earth's fate is sealed. No ifs, not buts, no countdown clocks. It's the kind of thing that the Sci Fi fan appreciates - that idea of 'yes, that's how they'd do it'. There's a great deal of logic in the film - carefully crafted - but then there are moments where that logic seems to have been hamstrung, scenes have been truncated, and there's a real sense of 'missing something'.
The idea that the film gets a rough time for talking about environmental issues - 'wha?' is the only response. What the hell else are aliens going to address as the chief concern of the planet?
John Cleese, as the Nobel Laureate who meets Klaatu, says 'I've got so many questions' - yet doesn't get to ask ANY of them. Infuriating. His brief appearance all too brief, replaced by an action sequence of questionable validity. Jaden Smith's performance as the little boy with a dead father and strained relationship with his step mother begins the film well with that childlike curtness that can be so devastating to adults seeking approval and feedback from their offspring.
Jennifer Connelly is, well, Jennifer Connelly, but her role seems to be lacking a few key points of interaction with both Klaatu and her stepson - and she's left holding the bag of an unresolved character that must appear human but never quite makes it.
Throw this in with some truly horrific caricatures displayed from the military industrial complex, and some highly irritating lapses in logic and you have a film that whilst giving you some great chills, and a pretty decent delivery of some fundamental human themes, takes them away with amputations of spirit and content.
One can only hope a director's cut is out there.
If there isn't - we can only hope that there is another remake, one day, that is left alone, just like the original, and makes it to the big screen intact. If you love your Sci Fi - you do have to see this film, but do be warned that when it ends, it ends, and that feeling of dissapointment can only be assuaged as you remember moments. Moments like: the tears of the interrogator, the simple montage that displays our utter and complete slavery to our own technology and the carefully considered micromovements of Reeve's neck as he studies the savagery of humanity.
They are small flecks of gold floating in a polluted river.