Director Scott Derrickson, Keanu Reeves (Klaatu), Jennifer Connelly (Dr Helen Benson), Jaden Smith (Jacob Benson), Kathy Bates (US Defense Secretary Regina Jackson)
I’ve not seen the original so am taking this remake on its own merits. The US military track a “natural object” heading towards earth, but it’s not following a meteor trajectory and is heading for Manhattan and therefore is not a natural object. A group of scientists is gathered by the military, including astrobiologist Dr Helen Benson, to deal with the aftermath. A giant sphere lands and is immediately surrounded by the military. The scientists, in protective suits, approach, a being emerges and is shot by a trigger-happy soldier. In hospital the being enters a nascent state and is reborn as human or something like it. The US Defense Secretary wants the being sedated and transferred to a military unit so it can be interrogated. The scientists don’t. But the US Defense Secretary, knowing that military satellites were disabled so the sphere could land, knows the being is more intelligent than humans and whenever a more intelligent life form invades, the less intelligent residents tend to get annihilated. Dr Helen Benson offers to sedate and accompany the being, however, swaps the sedation dose for a harmless saline. The being, Klaatu, escapes, naturally having the advantage of a few special powers and joins up with Dr Helen Benson who thinks she’s helping especially when Klaatu claims to be saving the earth, failing to realise he means the planet, not the people on it. It’s then a race for Dr Helen Benson and stepson Jacob to persuade Klaatu to stop the destruction of the human race.
Others have accused Keanu Reeves of woodenness but they’ve fallen for the cliché. Klaatu is necessarily dispassionate: he’s observing a race that’s about to be obliterated to save the planet. He can’t afford to connect. But he discovers he likes Bach, so there’s room for manoeuvre, right? Jennifer Connelly does well initially to move from bafflement to scientific curiosity but then seems stuck. Klaatu notices a change in Dr Helen Benson but that change isn’t obvious to the audience. Jaden Smith starts out as a typically annoying child thwarting his stepmother’s efforts, but then we see he’s still grieving for his late father and doesn’t see things the way she does. The change Klaatu notices comes when Jacob accepts his father’s death and finally sees his stepmother as his adult protector and stops being annoying. Kathy Bates deserves a meatier role then being forced to follow orders she doesn’t agree with. The special effects are well done too: from the scale of the spheres to the detail of the swarms.
But the film’s weakness lies in its pedestrian pace. It feels like a series of scenes that hasn’t quite cohered into a whole. It lacks a sense of danger. Even though we see cities evacuating – large scale tailbacks of cars, not individual families packing and leaving – and we know Klaatu could stop the destruction, there’s no sense of foreboding. Just a sense of the inevitable. The ending peters out as if the director decided “Hey, we better stop here.” An average film that could have been better, but that’s not the fault of the actors.