The difference is so stark even the Editorial page of The New York Pravda noticed:
The remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” is a sentimentalized take on the 1951 classic. The new version has its uses, so see it. Then rent the original and watch it late at night — the way bleary-eyed adolescents did when it could be seen only on grainy broadcasts in the wee hours of the morning.
I compared the two earlier this month, watching the vintage version for the first time in at least 25 years. I was reminded of how deeply it had insinuated itself into the DNA of popular culture. I also thought of Norma Desmond, the fallen movie idol in “Sunset Boulevard,” who said of her spent career: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”
Digital effects have revolutionized the monster, science-fiction and superhero genres, making the films larger than ever visually. But the same effects have whittled away at the acting space, making the movies smaller in the dramatic sense.
The minimalist — and altogether cool — effects in the 1951 film leave lots of room for the performers. Michael Rennie is aces as Klaatu, the brainy, handsome and thoroughly polite alien who threatens to eliminate every creature on the planet — kittens, puppies and cute little babies included — if earthlings become a danger to the galaxy.
Watching the movie as a middle-aged man, I saw what I lacked eyes to see as a 12-year-old. There is no shred of sentimentality in Rennie’s performance. He is a congenial exterminating angel, dropping round for tea to tell of horrors to come.
Rennie’s Klaatu is God-fearing, emotionally sophisticated, superior to but indistinguishable from the earthlings among whom he walks. That’s an open-minded characterization at the start of a decade dominated by red-baiting and fear of outlanders in general.
Keanu Reeves’s Klaatu is numbingly monotonic. He is emotionally underdeveloped, and suffers from a robotic flatness of affect. Instead, the scriptwriters gave him powers that are predictably demonstrated through pricey special effects that do not sustain dramatic momentum. With all this digital sleight of hand, the performers are reduced to the equivalent of bystanders at a fireworks show.
By making the new Klaatu emotionally naïve, the writers make him subject to earthling tears and cuddly puppy influences that would have cut no mustard with the Klaatu of old. This emotional vulnerability allows for a great deal of unjustified optimism about the human race’s ability to change its destructive behavior...
It gets worse. In the original, Klaatu was simply saying: look, we've made this race of police 'bots who react swiftly and sternly to unprovoked aggression in space. You cats had better mind your manners out there.
None of this inane prattle about "destroying the earth to save it" that's right out of the D.o'D. playbook. After all, it's our world. Global destruction was simply the bottom of the menu of things Gort could do if we insisted on being Asses in Space. You'll note Gort only takes out the weapons, not the soldiers, at first, and only two soldiers after they've killed Klaatu.
The differences in behavior are even more inane. In the new movie, ours is a liveable world the aliens want to preserve for "everyone"(?)- and the aliens want to go and sterilize it and repopulate it with "correct" lifeforms they've re-engineered derived from the original?
Why not let us sterilize it instead- if that's what we were going to do anyway?
Answer: Because it's not our world, any more than Iraq belongs to the Iraqis anymore...
But I digress. The original 1951 movie was a pop culture Molotov thrown at Allen Dulles' CIA, which was busy expanding the Invisible Empire with pre-emptive police action wars in Korea and VietNam. Some of the actors in the Day the Earth Stood Still were blacklisted during the McCarthy red scare.
The current movie is something else entirely, bankrolled and produced by a pseudo-environmental corporate wing of the same security industrial complex that feels entitled as Team Amerika, World Police, to destroy the Village to save it.