Many sci-fi film fans believe that Steven Spielberg already remade The Day the Earth Stood Still-or, at least updated it. Even though the 1951 original was great, and even though it furnished us kids with campy utterances like “Klaatu, Verata, Niktu,” and “Gort,” it always seemed a bit dated, a parody of 1950s McCarthyite hysteria. When Spielberg, at the height of this gee-whiz filmmaking prowess, made Close Encounters of the Third Kind and, later, E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, he imagined a different kind of humanity that, despite its bureaucratic scientists, could find peace and love out there under the stars. Surely we wouldn’t just shoot at aliens like the 1950s movie soldiers did. Our sense of wonder would see us through, if only we could be more like children-or at least, like Richard Dreyfuss playing with his mashed potatoes.
This remake does seem timely, though; designed for the Bush years where preemptive war is cool again. Here, when a space ball lands in Central Park, militia can’t resist popping a cap on the foam-covered spaceboy (Keanu Reeves) for approaching one of our women (Jennifer Connelly, playing a gal scientist yet again), thus plunging humanity into an apocalypse of stainless steel bugs that eat everything dear to us earthlings.
But this film’s real debt is to Bush administration ineptitude. When the aliens hit town, the president and VP whisk off to top-secret bungalows, leaving Kathy Bates to deal with the mess. Looking like the bitchy owner of a Ross Dress for Less franchise, Bates stomps and snorts until she turns to mush, leaving us with a film so unbelievably stupid that I would no longer make any bets about The Happening winning all the Razzies this year. Bates is a contender.
Worst of all, it’s a remake without a point. Besides some Star Trek-like crap about humans being wonderful despite their violent bigotries, the filmmakers leave little cause to avert Klaatu’s apocalypse. It suddenly decides we are all adorable.
Much as I dislike Spielberg’s work since E.T., I admit he once had something to say. This, however, is visionary fiction missing any point of view.