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'The Day The Earth Stood Still': Interstellar Inertia

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'The Day The Earth Stood Still': Interstellar Inertia


'The Day The Earth Stood Still': Interstellar Inertia

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Now a little trip back to the Cold War. The Hollywood version of it, anyway.

Soundbite from the movie "The Day the Earth Stood Still")

Mr. MICHAEL RENNIE: (As Klaatu) If anything should happen to me you must go to Gort. You must say these words Klaatu barada nikto. Please repeat that.

LYDEN: Patricia Neal and Michael Rennie in the 1951 flying saucer classic "The Day the Earth Stood Still." 57 years later, a new version saucered into theaters this weekend. It stars Keanu Reeves as Klaatu, the visitor from another planet. But our movie critic, Bob Mondello, says that 57 years from now, no one's going to be saying Keanu barada nikto.

BOB MONDELLO: I don't know about the earth's standing still, but time sure seems to in Scott Derrickson's technically updated but bone-headed remake. The original "Day the Earth Stood Still" was a 1950s cautionary tale about atomic weapons. This one's just someone's idea of a little green alien joke, with green here in the post-'50s sense of the ecologically concerned.

(Soundbite of movie "The Day the Earth Stood Still")

Mr. KEANU REEVES: (As Klaatu) This planet is dying. The human race is killing it.

Ms. JENNIFER CONNELLY: (As Helen Benson) So you've come here to help us?

Mr. REEVES: (As Klaatu) No, I didn't.

Ms. CONNELLY: (As Helen Benson) You said you came to save us.

Mr. REEVES: (As Klaatu) I said I came to save the earth.

MONDELLO: That's Keanu Reeves sounding appropriately otherworldly as Klaatu, but, of course, he always sounds otherworldly. Jennifer Connelly is the one who listens to him, the only one, pretty much. Science fiction fans will recall that the last time around, Klaatu, representing a sort of intergalactic UN worried that mankind, having developed atomic weapons, posed a threat to the rest of the universe. This time, Klaatu is from an intergalactic Environmental Protection Agency concerned about the habitat of one of the universe's few life-supporting planets.

(Soundbite of movie "The Day the Earth Stood Still")

Mr. REEVES: (As Klaatu) You can't risk the survival of this planet for the sake of one species.

Ms. CONNELLY: (As Helen Benson) What are you saying?

Mr. REEVES: (As Klaatu) If the earth dies, you die. If you die, the earth survives.

MONDELLO: Clear enough, and a reasonable update of the original concept for an age of global warming, not that the filmmakers do much with it. They do, however, mess with subtext in ways that sound a lot cleverer than they play.

In the first version, Klaatu wandered the earth using the name Carpenter, remember? Then he died, was brought back to life, urged mankind to live in peace, and rose heavenward. That story sound familiar? Well, the new version ditches the New Testament and looks for inspiration to the Old Testament complete, with apocalypses and dire prophecies.

(Soundbite of movie "The Day the Earth Stood Still")

Ms. KATHY BATES: (As Regina Jackson) History has lessons to teach us about first encounters between civilizations. As a rule, the less advanced civilization is exterminated or enslaved. Unfortunately, in this case, the less advanced civilization is us.

MONDELLO: That's Kathy Bates as our secretary of defense, who watches satellite images of animals going two-by-two into glowing orbs, as if they are arks, so there must be a flood coming. Turns out she's wrong. The screenwriters send a different Old Testament disaster, a plague of locusts, metal locusts, hungry for anything man-made. It takes them just seconds to devour what I'm pretty sure is Shea Stadium, an event presumably foretold in that passage of the Book of Exodus where the Lord calls for the smiting of sports arenas.

Now, I like a good special effect as much as the next movie nut, and digital disintegration can be fun, as Sandman proved in "Spiderman 3." But it's nice when effects are in the service of a story worth telling, and nicer when they last a while, so that you can savor them. The effects in the new "Day the Earth Stood Still" breezed by so quickly that you can see most of the good ones very nearly in their entirety in the movie trailer, or you can wait for the video and fast forward to them, I suppose, and then press pause and make the "Day the Earth Stool Still" stand still, not that there's much point. I'm Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of music)

LYDEN: Klaatu Barada Nikto. This is NPR News.

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