When it comes to remakes of science-fiction classics, Steven Spielberg proved with "The War of the Worlds" that you can revisit a cherished film and update it with cutting-edge special effects, big movie stars and contemporary themes. But "The Day the Earth Stood Still" showed how hard it is to pull off successfully.
This murky, muddled remake manages to broadcast a timorous environmental message while laying on the upscale pyrotechnics. (I think the mantra for blockbusters is "When in doubt, blow something up.") Keanu Reeves stars as Klaatu, a hitman from outer space who's come to pull the plug on the human race because of how badly we've messed up the Earth. Jennifer Connelly plays a scientist trying to convince him to spare us, and arrives with an extraneous foster child (Jaden Smith) in tow. (I think the second blockbuster mantra is, "If you've blown stuff up and are still in doubt, throw in a cute kid for no good reason.")
The DVD comes with a nice mix of extras, which help explain how this movie went awry. In the making-of doc, director Scott Derrickson seems more a chaperone of an expensive brand than a visionary. Screenwriter David Scarpa introduced a few nice twists, like turning the original's flying saucers into mysterious balls of swirling energy based on a concept by physicist Freeman Dyson. Both men are fairly upfront about the fact that the project changed dramatically when the studio decided to bring in Reeves as the main character.
Scarpa also provides a solo commentary track which is interesting, but he often falls silent for several minutes at a time, demonstrating that it's best to have two or more people to bounce off each other.
There's also a separate doc on how the filmmakers went far afield in their concept of Klaatu's robot protector, Gort, before going with a more conservative design that matched the iconic figure of the original film. There's also an interesting look at how real scientists search for signs of alien life, three deleted scenes, still galleries and theatrical trailer.
Movie: 1.5 stars
Extras: 3 stars