Much of the point of the original science-fiction film The Day The Earth Stood Still was that it was a terror tale for the Atomic Age, less about bug-eyed aliens than about man's growing ability to destroy his species and his planet. The film features relatively little action; it's more about the sadness and grim fatalism of an outsider looking at our race and our planet.
For maybe half its run time, the 2008 remake helmed by Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism Of Emily Rose) pokes thoughtfully at that sense of sorrow over a suicidal race and a dying world. But it lacks the courage of any convictions; the crisis that brings Keanu Reeves (smartly cast as a robotic, almost-emotionless, only-sorta-human construct) to Earth is laid out in the vaguest possible terms. For a film that takes so much joy in the minutiae of military weaponry and response, the new Day The Earth Stood Still is irritatingly broad and mumbly about why the human race might need to die.
Like Steven Spielberg's 2005 update War Of The Worlds, Derrickson's film sets out to update a classic with modern trappings, mostly seen in the special effects, and in the focus on how America would react when a giant, glowing alien sphere flies through the solar system, lands in New York's Central Park, and ejects a visitor who wants to talk to the leaders of the world. (Answer: with a lot of guns and paranoia.) The level of detail is reminiscent of Michael Crichton's nuts-and-bolts approach to speculative fiction, though a subplot involving the long-delayed bonding between astrobiologist Jennifer Connelly and her young stepson Jaden Smith (Will's son, who was also the cute kid from Pursuit Of Happyness) provides a squishy emotional side. Derrickson also spends a great deal of time panning over Reeves' robotic sidekick Gort and that glowing alien sphere, which are both nicely rendered, but not to such a degree that they substitute for plot.
But unlike Spielberg's film, Derrickson's doesn't shoot for any particular contemporary relevance; where specific messages about technological threats, political meltdowns, or environmental catastrophes might have grounded this film in a time or place, Day punts with a nonspecific message and a similarly inchoate set of storylines, and ultimately falls back on a big special-effects ending that's as limp and lacking in emotional stakes as everything else. Like the big shiny sphere at its center, the film is fairly pretty, but there's no real sense that there's anything inside it.