FiRST (Singapore), December 2008
Back To The Future
After a series of duds, Keanu Reeves returns to the sci-fi genre in The Day The Earth Stood Still for that much-needed hit.
by Dave Chua
Remaking a classic movie is always dicey. Even before the film's release, comparisons are made about casting choices while trailers are dissected. The question on the minds of most folks is: "Why bother?"
In the case of The Day The Earth Stood Still, the filmmakers involved saw it as a heck of an opportunity. The original sci-fi classic, made in 1951 at the height of the Cold War, has long been revered by movie aficionados. The story of an alien, Klaatu, who threatened the human race with extinction if it doesn't get its act together, the film was low on special effects but high on drama.
However, it was a product of its times and, more than anything else, watching the original reminds one of how dated it is. Filmmakers decided to give it a more modern spin, and claim that their interpretation is not a remake but a "re-imagination".
But the movie isn't the only thing being re-imagined. The lead role of Klaatu, played by Michael Rennie in the original, is now in the hands of the one and only Keanu Reeves. The question is, can the Hollywood heartthrob live up to the inevitable comparison?
"KEANU'S A MOVIE STAR BECAUSE THERE IS SOMETHING COMPULSIVELY WATCHABLE ABOUT HIM." - Director Scott Derrickson
From what we have seen, this isn't the fuddy-duddy Klaatu Rennie portrayed, one who would help little old ladies cross the street. Reeves' Klaatu has a darker feel, and brims with violence under the surface - indeed, he's more likely to walk over little old ladies! In a key scene when his character, who's been captured, says, "You should let me go", without blinking his eyes, it sends chills down your spine. You don't want this guy complaining about a hamburger; he'd nuke the fast-food joint if the meat was overcooked. Klaatu then turns the interrogation session around, questioning his captors as he tries to find out what he needs to know, and unleashes annoying migraine-inducing buzzsaw speaker feedback on a whole bunch of security agents, allowing him to walk out of the building as though it were a public park.
Yes, this is definitely not the huggable, naive Klaatu of the original. Reeves' protrayal hints at a Klaatu that isn't going to lie down and let himself get probed by homeland security. This Klaatu knows what he wants, and it's not a phone call home.
"In our version, he's a little more sinister," Reeves says, though that's clearly an understatement.
The Chosen One
The 44-year-old actor, who looks 28, has had a roller-coaster movie career, and his recent films have hardly struck box-office gold. Will The Day The Earth Stood Still (or DTESS, as the filmmakers call it), mark the return of his winning streak?
The role of the outsider and the otherworldly being is not completely new territory for Reeves, who's had more ups and downs in his career than a yoyo. A product of different worlds, Reeves was born in Beirut to English and Hawaiian-Chinese parents. He attended four different high schools, and dreamt of being a hockey player in the Canadian Olympic Team.
Fittingly, he made his debut as a goalie in the ice-hockey film Youngblood. After a series of minor roles, he scored a surprising hit as Ted in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure in 1989. As the two titular characters go around recruiting historical figures for their school project, Reeves was on his way to becoming a star. The movie became a box-office smash, and spawned a sequel, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, where Bill and Ted outwit the Grim Reaper himself.
It was just the start of Reeves' otherworldly adventures. His film career flourished, as he took on the lead role of cop Jack Traven in the high-concept bomb-on-a-bus Speed, saving Sandra Bullock from a maniacal Dennis Hopper. Not one to just take on blockbuster roles, Reeves also found time to star in independent productions, such as Feeling Minnesota.
After a slow period and declining to remake Speed 2, Reeves took on his most memorable role as Neo in The Matrix. He went down the rabbit hole and emerged as Superman in a good suit, displaying ultra-powers and flying around battling in a universe that lay hidden beneath ours. The Wachowski Brothers directing team combined John Woo, Blade Runner, philosophical theory and special-effects goodness to concoct an intoxicating story that went beyond the usual Hollywood explosions and chases. it was fun, furious, and scored loads at the box office.
After the sequels, which were financially successful but critically panned, Reeves avoided clean-cut good-guy roles. In The Watcher, he went over to the dark side and played a serial killer who stalked Marisa Tomei (Note of error: The Watcher was released in 2000, before the Matrix sequels. - Ani). In Constantine, he played a chain-smoking paranormal investigator who walked the line between Heaven and Hell. Even when he wasn't playing otherworldly characters, Reeves took on more complex roles, where he drifted between roles. In A Scanner Darkly, a rotoscoped Reeves was an undercover agent who immersed himself in the drug underworld. He then played a cop who used rough tactics and planted evidence to nail criminals in Street Kings.
Many would consider Reeves' career to be uneven, but a close look reveals that, like his on-screen film roles, he often straddles two worlds. For every explosion-laden film, there's another independent, arthouse effort in his resume. And as the villanious Don John in Much Ado About Nothing, he was out-acted by just about everyone else in the stellar cast that included Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson and Denzel Washington - but you can't blame the guy for trying.
At times, Reeves has succeeded - proving he's more than just a pin-up boy. Wihle many may remember him for The Matrix, he also did sterling work in Thumbsucker. After Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, Reeves played a different kind of youth angst in My Own Private Idaho; he followed The Lake House with a stint in A Scanner Darkly (Note: ASD came prior to TLH, not the other way around. - Ani). After DTESS, he'll be starring in The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, due out in 2009, directed by relative newcomer Rebecca Miller.
For all the professional success that most Hollywood actors would trade their right arm for, Reeves' private life has seen its share of tragedy. His good friend River Phoenix passed away in 1993 in a drug-induced haze.
Then, half a year after the release of The Matrix, the baby he was expecting with girlfriend Jennifer Syme was found to be stillborn. The two separated soon after, and Syme died in a car accident in 2001. His sister Kim has been fighting a long battle with leukaemia. And due to his enigmatic nature, he is often the target of paparazzi photographers, who make Agent Smith of The Matrix look as sticky as a decade-old postage stamp. Which brings us to DTESS, where Klaatu threatens to unleash millions of tiny robots that can destroy everyone and then clone them to make a new world. It sounds like the inspiration of an evil genius. So has Reeves gone to the dark side once again?
When the producers offered Reeves the role of Klaatu, he didn't quite jump at the opportunity. He certainly wasn't interested in revisiting familiar ground. Says producer Erwin Stoff: "Keanu'c concerns were about bridging the gap between playing an alien and having an emotional core, a real character arc. Because what happens is a gradual humanising of this Klaatu guy, and he wanted to know what the humanising arc was."
After much deliberation with the director and producer, Reeves saw potential to make the role his own. "(Klaatu) was pretty idealised in the original film," Reeves says. "He had a certain kind of Christian, spiritual overtone, and a naturalism at the same time. He was more human than human." Reeves promises that his take on Klaatu will be a little different. "Klaatu discovers his humanity during the film and that is a journey for him. So I played him as a man who has an alien inside him but is embodied by human flesh, and that changes him.
"I SAW THE FILM WHEN I WAS A KID AND LOVED IT." - Keanu Reeves
The fact that he is a fan of the original helped spur him on when doing the remake. Reeves continues: "I saw the film when I was a kid and loved it. It is interesting to watch it as a young person and see it again as an adult and realise how subersive it is. It talks about the media, the idea of manufactured fear. I think DTESS is topical just as the older film was very topical, dealing with the context of the Cold War. It was a cautionary tale."
Director Scott Derrickson says he was impressed not only by Reeves' commitment to the script but by his finesse onscreen. "Keanu is a very disciplined guy," he says. "He's very well-read, very intelligent and very articulate in the way he expresses his concerns for scenes in terms of what he thinks a scene may be lacking.
"He's a movie star because there is something compulsively watchable about him," Derrickson elaborates, "and there are certain kinds of roles that he's particularly right for, and good at. And this is most definitely one of them. He has a quality few actors have - he can engage the camera, and therefore the audience, non-verbally, with a certain kind of minimalism."
Derrickson believes Reeves has a definite link to the audience. "He draws the audience in and makes them want to understand what's going on inside him, even though he's not giving a lot of it away. It's one of those things that actors like him don't always get enough credit for because there are not a lot of actors who can do it."
But it will take more than just Reeves for audiences to decide if they'll take to the new DTESS. The whole issue of how it compares to the original hangs in the air. Stoff has vivid memories of the first time he watched the original, which made quite an impression on him. "When I was a kid, I saw only two American films before I was 12 years old because I grew up in Romania and there was censorship there, which meant no American films were let in." He had never seen a science-fiction movie, and when he saw DTESS, he didn't speak a word of English. "The notion of a flying saucer was something I had never seen depicted before, so I remember watching this movie from beginning to end and just being completely hypnotised by it."
Re-watching the film as an adult made him come to a realisation. The entire canon of sci-fi in America had been constructed in such a way as to reinforce the fear of the Eastern Bloc. Everything was about reinforcing that fear, and the 'monster' in such films was always a metaphor for communism, as was the case in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. So what was remarkable about this movie was that it placed the burden of responsibility equally on both sides. The thing to fear in the original The Day The Earth Stood Still was the nature of man, and the terrible things he is capable of."
So why do a remake? Stoff explains: "One of my favourite movies is Cape Fear. I can watch the original movie over and over again, but I can do that for Martin Scorsese's version, too. But the way you have to approach a remake is first to look at it thematically and ask, 'Why is it worth retelling this story?'"
Derrickson had no delusions that remaking the classic would be an easy ride. He had his reservations, but finally decided he would be the right person to do it. After all, he didn't want it turning out like other disastrous remakes. Planet of the Apes anyone?
It was difficult," he says. "On the one hand, you have to take on board the expectations of a modern audience - the kind of things they're used to getting when they pay to see a big event movie. On the other, you want to pay respect and show appreciation for the original and rememeber that is still means a lot to all its fans." In Derrickson's re-imagining, however, man has unwittingly found new ways to harm himself and his environment, and the only way to hel pis with some tough extraterrestrial love. "I guess it's in our nature as human beings to destroy ourselves," says Derrickson. "The struggle to not do that is quite a profound struggle, and it's particularly interesting when viewed by an outside viewpoint as extreme as that of an alien - an outsider's perspective that takes a good, hard look at the human tendency to self-destruct."
DTESS - RELOADED!
So what can we expect to be different? Plenty.
The original Klaatu was a sort of Christ-like figure who sought to redeem humanity. In his human form, he took on the name of John Carpenter, who survived two fatal injuries before being brought back to life. About the role of Klaatu, Reeves had his own take on how to update it for the new millenium. "My idea for him is that he does not have a body. He is energy and energy moves between vessels. I was just trying to protray what it would be like to have this unusual consciousness and deal with its embodiment.
The spaceship has also shifted locations. The aliens have decided not to land at a baseball park in Washington but to head straight to Central Park in New York, as Klaatu has decided to go straight to the UN building to convince the world's leaders to turn away from their destructive ways.
What about Gort, his watchful, silent companion? The original had him as just slightly taller than a regular man. In DTESS, he's the size of a towering office, and the rays that emit from his eye panel won't just be for disintegrating rifles and tanks. Prepare to see him dole out some major damage.
The most noticeable change may be the spaceship that Klaatu arrives in. The original was a gigantic white dinner plate with a speed bump. The new version is a sphere that looks like it's set on permanent spin-dry. It sure ain't your grandpa's UFO.
"THIS IS DEFINITELY NOT THE HUGGABLE, NAIVE KLAATU OF THE ORIGINAL."
The character Helen, who finds KIaatu's humanity, has also been beefed up considerably. Played by Jennifer Connelly, she's an astrobiologist with an African-American stepson from her marriage to a soldier, who was killed in Iraq. She may hold the answer to Klaatu's final decision to save or destroy the world. Derrickson felt that Oscar-winner Connelly would bring a level of realism to the role, and be a figure the audience can empathise with. "She serves as a symbol of the human race, in a way. She is what Klaatu has to relate to and connect with, to get an understanding of humanity," Derrickson says.
Reeves also believes the new version will be relevant. "The film is about an interesting theme - the feeling of being on a precipice. As soon as a film like the original becomes a classic, it becomes easier to transfer it to another time. So I felt the retelling of this classic story of the alien - the outsider coming to Earth - was appropriate. He is a reflection of the conditions of the world."
He adds: "One of the last lines in the film is from Jennifer Connelly, who says, 'This is our moment'. That is an interesting line because it is a two-headed snake: it could mean 'this is our moment to begin' or 'this is our moment to begin the end'."
Reeves is optimistic that the film will resonate with audiences despite its big-budget backing. "I was hoping that in a mainstream Hollywood movie, with all the resources and storytelling skills we have, this film could really provoke interesting conversations as well as be entertaining." He reveals that there'll be a slight twist at the end that will iron out some inconsistencies in the original. "The original is a classic," Reeves says, "and our hope and ambition was always to reach for that level of excellence."
The Day The Earth Stood Still opens Dec 11.
He's The Man
British comedy star and Monty Python veteran John Cleese plays the Einstein-like scientist Professor Barnhardt in the film. While reading the script, Cleese recalled thinking: "'Klaatu turns around in the doorway and sees an old man,' I thought, 'I wonder who's playing the old man...?"
[ jenny from the blockbuster ]
A Beautiful Mind
The world certainly isn't standing still for Keanu's Oscar-winning co-star Jennifer Connelly.
Jennifer Connelly may not strike you as a seasoned showbiz veteran, but she's got over two decades' worth of feathers - and an Oscar win in her cap. Connelly's latest venture, The Day The Earth Stood Still, sees her as Helen, an astrobiologist who may hold the key to stopping Klaatu from fulfilling his mission to kill everyone on Earth.
This is the latest in the assortment of roles she has taken on since her acting debut at 14 in Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time In America (1984). But it was through Jim Henson's Labyrinth (1986) that she got her first star turn, as a latter-day Dorothy who pits her wits against David Bowie's nasty goblin king. However, the attention was short-lived, and despite the film's relative success, her career stalled. Even so, Connelly's voluptuous figure and stunning looks did clinch her the odd sexpot role, such as in The Hot Spot (1990) and Career Opportunities (1991).
However this was no airheaded Hollywood ingenue. In between movies, the actress read English at Yale before transferring to Stanford. A series of independent movies followed, but none did much for her career until Requiem For A Dream (2000), where she played a drug addict willing to go to any length for a fix. That led to a major role opposite Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind (2001), where her sterling performance as the long suffering wife of John Nash won her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
Several plum roles followed and Connelly continued to build up her acting cred in films like House of Sand and Fog (2003), and was possibly the most interesting character in Lee Ang's sleep-inducing The Hulk (2003). One of her more recent roles was as a photojournalist opposite Leonardo DeCaprio in Blood Diamond (2005).
After The Day The Earth Stood Still, the 38-year-old actress looks to have a busy year ahead. She has a penchant for playing the love interest of troubled male geniuses, like Nash and American painter Jackson Pollock (Pollock); and she can add Charles Darwin to the list when she plays his wife in Creation, scheduled for release next year.
Of course, this is no one-trick pony we're talking about. Fans can expect to see Connelly in the upcoming comedy He's Just Not That Into You, which also stars Jennifer Aniston, Scarltt Johansson and Drew Barrymore.
The mother-of-two, who is married to British actor Paul Bettany (and fellow Beautiful Mind co-star), once said in an interview that a film is "a personal archaeological dig every time you work on a project". And it sure looks like she's been hitting paydirt.
It's Not Easy Being Keanu
Keanu Reeves has had his share of ups and downs. And even though he makes those tentpole movies, he doens't turn his back on indie projects either. We chart the highs and lows of his career.
(Typist's note: This is the text only version for archiving and search engine purposes; for the chart format and the whole of this article in its original form, scroll down for the pic; it can be enlarged.)
Young Blood (1986)
Box-Office Takings (US$): $15,448,384
Minor role as an ice-hockey goalie.
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)
Box-Office Takings (US$): $40,485,039
Scores a box-office hit with this time-travel comedy playing a high-school doofus who "cheats" on his history project. Little acting was required at this point.
Point Break (1991)
Box-Office Takings (US$): $43,218,387
Stars as an FBI agent who infiltrates a gang of surfers to solve a spate of robberies by guys who wear masks of ex-US Presidents.
My Own Private Idaho (1991)
Box-Office Takings (US$): $6,401,336
The indie film by Gus Van Sant gives Keanu street cred; he stars as a gay hooker opposite River Phoenix.
Little Buddha (1993)
Box-Office Takings (US$): $6,401,336
Plays Siddhartha in this Bernardo Bertolucci film. Considers this his favourite role. And why not, since all he had to do was stay still and look serene.
Box-Office Takings (US$): $121,248,145
Can things get any better for Keanu? A blockbuster smash about a runaway bus rigged to explode that spawns a whole sub-genre of films set within a single location
Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
Box-Office Takings (US$): $19,075,720
When you get so high, there's only one way to go. Keanu puts in a wooden performance in this adaptation of a William Gibson short story.
Chain Reaction (1996)
Box-Office Takings (US$): $21,226,204
A moderate box-office success. Keanu plays a machinist who discovers nuclear fission - and you thought he was an airhead.
The Devil's Advocate (1997)
Box-Office Takings (US$): $60,944,660
Takes a pay cut to act with Al Pacino. Not the first time Keanu gets close to infernal powers. Again, it fails to impress.
The Matrix (1999)
Box-Office Takings (US$): $171,479,930
Overturns two years of blah box-office performances when he takes on the role of Neo in a flick that earns hundreds of millions worldwide.
The Watcher (2000)
Box-Office Takings (US$): $28,946,615
Takes a break from good guy roles to play a serial killer being hunted by James Spader. Doesn't find much of an audience.
Sweet November (2001)
Box-Office Takings (US$): $25,288,103
Earns himself a nomination for Worst Actor at the Razzies in this remake. Hey, any press is good press right?
The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
Box-Office Takings (US$): $281,576,461
The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
Box-Office Takings (US$): $139,313,948
Back with the Wachowskis to flog the cyber-franchise and earn loads at the box office, but response is mixed.
Box-Office Takings (US$): $75,976,178
Was the unlikely - and much criticised - choice for the quintessentially British comic book anti-hero created by Watchmen scribe Alan Moore. Still, the movie rakes in a scary heap of cash at the box office.
A Scanner Darkly (2006)
Box-Office Takings (US$): $5,501,616
Determined to prove he's not a Hollywood goon, Keanu gets rotoscoped in this independent animated feature by Richard Linklater.
The Lake House (2006)
Box-Office Takings (US$): $52,330,111
Reunites with Sandra Bullock but the combination fails to score with audiences. Where's a runaway bomb when you need one?
Street Kings (2008)
Box-Office Takings (US$): $26,418,667
A noticeably bloated and weary-looking Keanu plays a disillusioned police officer in this problem-plagued film.