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  • Feature: The Day the Earth Stood Still

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:59:34

    Feature: The Day the Earth Stood Still - Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly remake a sci-fi classic

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    Keanu Reeves' role as the alien Klaatu in the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still marks the latest of his many appearances in science fiction and fantasy films over the past two decades, most notably as Neo in the Matrix trilogy. Asked why he keeps returning to the form, he explains, "I think science fiction provides great storytelling opportunities. I've just, in the past, had the fortune to be part of good stories in science fiction genre films."

    The new The Day the Earth Stood Still faced the challenge of reinterpreting a sci-fi classic that many fans think was just fine in its original 1951 incarnation. Even the remake's director had initial doubts that a new version was necessary.

    "When I was given the script, I was a bit skeptical," says director Scott Derrickson. "I do love the original very much. It's one of my two favorite Robert Wise films."

    Lest anyone think the other might be The Sound of Music, Derrickson points out that he's referring to director Wise's The Haunting. That's a logical choice, considering that Derrickson's previous directing effort was the horror film The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

    While the Klaatu in the original The Day the Earth Stood Still was here to warn humanity to turn away from violence, 2008's Klaatu wants to stop us from doing further damage to our planet's ecosystem. "I loved the idea of being able to tell basically the same story," Derrickson says, "but bring in these new social issues that we have now—these new, interesting messes that we've gotten ourselves into."

    Reeves was able to set aside the question of whether the movie should be remade after hearing that reasoning. "I heard that answer and I went, 'Okay, it would be fun to play an alien and it's a worthwhile story.' And that's when I came onboard."

    Full-bearded and nattily dressed in a black suit and dark grey shirt, Reeves exudes the same detached calm that makes many of his onscreen characters so convincingly otherworldly. When he responds to a question about whether he would change anything about his own nature by unexpectedly answering, "No, I'm perfect," his deadpan delivery gets a laugh from a roomful of journalists at a Beverly Hills press conference.

    Costar Jennifer Connelly, model-thin in a diaphanous white polka-dot dress, says, "What I liked about Patricia Neal's character in the original is that she is open-minded, and she's a very strong, free-thinking individual. I thought that was important to carry over, that bravery."

    Updating Neal's character, Connelly plays a single-mother scientist determined to convince Klaatu to give humanity a second chance. She says her character's sometimes rocky relationship with her young stepson (Jaden Smith) functions as a microcosm of human nature that Klaatu is able to observe firsthand. "They're sort of in conflict, then there's a bit of a crisis," she explains. "Then there's a reconciliation and they each take responsibility, and then there's a movement towards a resolution."

    Connelly describes working with 10-year-old Jaden, the son of actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, as "fantastic." "It was a complex relationship, and I think that's a lot of nuance to ask of someone his age. I think he did it beautifully. And he even seemed to have a good time doing it, which was really a relief."

    One of director Derrickson's main concerns was how to update the original movie's iconic, eyebeam-shooting robot Gort. "We started down the wrong path, honestly," he admits. "I just couldn't quite make sense of why this thing would be in human form, and it certainly can't look like this tin robot from the original. So we spent a lot of time designing fantastic, alien, monster-creature things that got increasingly ridiculous."

    A suggestion from visual effects supervisor Jeff Okun set Derrickson straight after months of design deliberations. "He said, 'Why aren't we just making it look like Gort?'" Derrickson remembers. "I just didn't want to acknowledge how dumb I felt when he said that." While the remake's Gort is much taller, less clunky, and a different texture than the original, he remains very recognizably Gort-ish.

    Jon Hamm, star of TV's Mad Men, plays a government official torn between his duties to science and his responsibilities to the chain of command. "I came on relatively late to the project," he says, adding that his first scene was one in which his character gives a lengthy explanation of an alien object's collision course with Earth. "It was a three-page-long monologue about astronomy and trajectories," Hamm recalls. "I basically got off a plane, got fitted and thrown onto the set, which was a little bit nerve-wracking. But just the opportunity to be involved in something like this is amazing."

    Asked if there might be a sequel, Derrickson jokingly suggests the title Six Months After the Night Following the Day the Earth Stood Still. He adds that he hasn't heard any discussions about a follow-up, and probably would not want to be involved.

    —James Dawson

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    Tags: Patricia Neal, Robert Wise, Scott Derrickson, Jennifer Connelly, Keanu Reeves, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Haunting, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Sound of Music

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