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1950s Sci-Fi Movie Gets Update in 'The Day The Earth Stood Still'

A cautionary science fiction tale from the 1950s gets a 21st Century do-over as a big Hollywood action film co-starring Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly.

The first time around The Day The Earth Stood Still landed at theaters in 1951 with its alien visitor named Klaatu and his imposing robot Gort touching down on the Ellipse in Washington.

The original, directed by Robert Wise, reflected the concerns of a post-World War II audience coming to grips with the nuclear age.

Adapted from the script for the 1951 film, the 2008 version also has an visitor named Klaatu with a tall, powerful robot. They land in New York's Central Park and, as in the original, their motives are questioned from the outset.

Director Scott Derrickson believes science fiction continues to provide filmmakers with a way to entertain audiences and also address important social issues.

"That's at the heart of why I wanted to do the film," Derrickson explains. "I think that the original tapped into fears of the Cold War and possible annihilation from the nuclear bomb …the mass destruction that could bring to the entire species. I think that the peril we are dealing with in the modern world is different. I don't think it's so much about fear as recognizing our capability and propensity for self-destruction and certainly it has something to say about how we are treating our planet: this planet that keeps us alive. That is becoming a true, impending threat. Those were the two primary social issues that were replacing the social issues of the original."

"I share the perspective of the film: that we are in crisis and we are at a crossroads and it is not only for ourselves, but the other species that we share the planet with," adds Keanu Reeves, who was the savior-like Neo in "The Matrix" films, Reeves plays the another possibly messianic character as Klaatu.

"I think it is a story of our time and I also liked the positive aspect of it: that in crisis, at a crossroads, that is a time when the best of who we are as a species can show up," Reeves says.

Jennifer Connelly co-stars as Helen, a widowed mom and a scientist whose expertise and insatiable (very human) curiosity brings her face-to-face with the alien so many on Earth find frightening.

"I like the idea that she is a little bit impulsive and really quite brave; but also, if you think about it, she is an astro-biologist," Connelly says. "She has been studying live in extreme environments on Earth and contemplating what may be elsewhere. Here comes this being beyond any of her wildest imaginations and nothing she ever would have predicted, but she is confronted with this thing, which is so astounding and awe-inspiring. I think absolutely she would have stuck around to see what happened."

The Day The Earth Stood Still also features Jaden Smith (Will Smith and Jada Pinkett's young son) as the boy who helps teach Klaatu what it means to be human. John Cleese is the brilliant scientist Dr. Barnhardt; and Kathy Bates plays the officious cabinet secretary representing the government's approach to the mysterious visitors. The robot GORT, played in the original by an actor in a foam rubber suit, is now a hyper-real digital visual effect created by WETA, the New Zealand shop that built Middle Earth for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The new screenplay is by David Scarpa and the appropriately ethereal soundtrack is by Tyler Bates.