[movie id="133435"]“The Matrix”[/movie] trilogy, [movie id="115699"]“Dark City”[/movie] and [movie id="256032"]“A Scanner Darkly”[/movie] are among the best sci-fi films in recent cinema. All three attempt to tackle big-picture issues, intelligently using supernatural trappings to make us re-examine the planet we call home.
[movieperson id="52345"]Keanu Reeves[/movieperson], star of “Matrix” and “Scanner,” and [movieperson id="12899"]Jennifer Connelly[/movieperson], star of “Dark City,” don’t do science-fiction films very often, and when they do, the last thing they want to see is laser guns and little green men. Now, with [movie id="363792"]“The Day the Earth Stood Still,”[/movie] the heavyweights team up for the first time, combining their hopes to once again tickle your brain as well as your imagination.
“For me, I have to have a way to connect to the story, to remain engaged,” Connelly said of “Earth,” a remake of the 1951 movie long-regarded as one of that period’s most thought-provoking films. “The sci-fi stories I like tend to have a dramatic component that keeps me connected to the story. I don’t do well if I feel completely accosted by a film.”
Sure, the remake still features a giant robot, an alien encounter and state-of-the-art special effects. But at the core of both films remains the same question: If aliens came to Earth waving an eviction notice at the human race, how would you convince them our existence was worth saving?
“[My character] Klaatu in the film starts off as an alien in a human body,” Reeves explained. “And as he spends time in the human body, he starts to be affected by what he perceives of the human character. He sees that, yes, they’re fearful, but that there’s something else to them as well, [as seen through] the bravery of what Jennifer’s character does. In the face of meeting an extraterrestrial, she comes forward and helps save him.
“In that situation,” he reflected, “I would talk [to an alien] about the human bond, human love.”
Perhaps Reeves could also show an evil-minded alien some of the sci-fi films he’s made (“The Matrix” films, 1995′s ambitious-but-unfocused [movie id="92869"]“Johnny Mnemonic”[/movie]), which share similar messages of overmatched beings searching for survival through truth. “Let’s see: Neo is looking for the meaning — what is the world, where are we?” Reeves said. “Klaatu is looking at the human species to see, who are we? How are we? Johnny Mnemonic is just trying to live. There’s a little survival thing there. Maybe they’re all searchers, in a way.”
“I like that the alien borrows the human form,” Connelly said of her co-star’s work as an extraterrestrial messenger who needs to have his eyes opened before Earth’s “reset” switch gets flipped. “And I think Keanu did a really good job playing this character, who is a being in this borrowed form, but by the end of the film is shaped by the vessel. I think he handled that transition nicely.”
When Reeves speaks, the superstar throws his hands around, cracks jokes and frequently shifts in his chair. To portray the icy, somber Klaatu, he had to keep such mannerisms in check. “I took all of that energy and tried to put it into my eyes,” he explained. “I just focused it like that.”
Reeves said his participation had to do partly with the allure of playing against type as a bad guy. “He’s quite sinister, isn’t he? In the beginning? I hope he is,” the actor laughed. “That’s part of the fun of playing it and, I hope, part of the enjoyment of watching the show.”
And for a lifelong sci-fi fan like Reeves, another part of the enjoyment was giving some sly winks to the original “Day.” The star told us months ago that he was eager to deliver Klaatu’s most famous line (“Klaatu barada nikto!”), and he insists that he did — even if audiences at the early press screenings haven’t been hearing it.
“I think you missed it. Because it’s there,” he said, urging die-hard “Day” fans to perk up their ears during a certain key scene. “It’s when Klaatu gets shot, after Dr. Helen Benson — Jennifer’s character — comes over to me, and Gort starts to animate. The entity says, ‘Klaatu barada nikto!’ But I think, in some mixes, it’s been buried. Hopefully they’ll fix that. That’s a shame, because it’s there.”
But even if you haven’t seen the original film enough times to catch such references, Connelly promised that the new “Day” shocks and provokes as much as the first one did nearly six decades ago.
“I read this, and I thought it was a great story. I really liked what it did and what it was about,” she said. “I liked that it was a big, exciting sci-fi movie that would be cool to look at and fun and interesting. I liked that it was a movie that gave a truthful view to where we are as a planet and how we’ve been treating each other. It had lots of things going for it.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”
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