The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jaden Smith. John Cleese

Directed by: Scott Derrickson

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

Michael Rennie as Klaatu in the original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still

When Michael Rennie stepped out of his spherical silver spaceship in The Day The Earth Stood Still, he changed the face of movie aliens. Until then, extra terrestrials had all been sinister bodysnatchers, parasitic monsters, tentacled beasts or, budget failing, gorillas in space helmets. But, at the height of the Cold War, when humanoid aliens doubled up as commies under the bed, this polite, earnest, suit-wearing space invader was ahead of his time. In fact, it took thirty years for Hollywood to start loving the alien, largely due to Steven Spielberg and his Close Encounters of the Third Kind and, of course, ET (okay, and Mork).

But now Klaatu is back only, to be honest, if you haven't seen the original movie, you might be a little confused as to why. Again, mankind is on the brink of sending the earth and all its inhabitants to hell in a handcart (or perhaps a gas-guzzling SUV) and again, our spaceman hero is sent down to Central Park in a giant sphere, guarded by a big scary robot.

But instead of delivering an admonitory lecture in the scholarly style of his predecessor, he finds himself on the run with the US military on his trail, all guns blazing. His plea to speak to 'the leaders of the world' is shot down in flames by US Defence Secretary Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates, whose elaborate hairdo seems to be wearing her, rather than the other way around). 'I represent the President of the Unite States of America!' she snaps – ergo, in charge of the world. Is Klaatu here to warn us of our impending doom, that if, in the words of his earlier counterpart, we pursue our present course, we face obliteration? If he is, it's a bit hard to hear him over all the explosions.

Because, of course, since 1951 Hollywood has not only invented cuddly aliens, but also special effects that aren't sh*t, so it's out with the lectures and in with the CGI, although, to be fair, it's used fairly sparingly here. What are used rather more liberally are big fat clichés: the silhouetted figures before a glowing UFO; the gung-ho American soldiers who think first and act later; the innocent child who wins over the alien's logic-driven heart and, best of all, the UK 'stood still' represented by a red bus and two black cabs in gridlock in front of Big Ben. And yet the infamous, cult classic line 'Klaatu barada nikto!' is swallowed early on in the movie – shame!

Keanu Reeves as Klaatu in the 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still

Still, Keanu (starting to look a bit old now, which is depressing), is perfectly cast as the robotic extra terrestrial uncomfortable in his new human form (and, indeed, his dapper suit), while Will Smith's son Jaden is suitably cute as the token kid, and John Cleese makes an entirely appropriate cameo appearance as a forest-dwelling, Nobel prize-winning biologist, somewhat in the vein of Michael Caine's turn in Children of Men. (Although nothing can convince me that Ted 'Theodore' Logan is better at maths than Q from James Bond…)

Ultimately, this is an entertaining movie that provides more food for thought than your average blockbuster – think Deep Impact rather than Armageddon, The Sphere over Independence Day – but somehow, unlike its hero, never really takes flight. Mainly, however, it made me want to revisit the original. Klaatu barada nikto? Nanu nanu!

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