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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Keanu Reeves admits to being a big science fiction fan, so when offered the chance to play an alien for new movie "The Day the Earth Stood Still," Reeves said he jumped at it.
But before his fans think the "Matrix" star has signed on for just another big-budget space flick that is long on action but has little to say, Reeves wants them to know this remake of a 1951 cult classic speaks to today's audiences.
The movie is released in U.S. theaters on Friday.
"It's about the world we live in and the destructive nature of man, so it gives you a lot to think about," Reeves told Reuters. "It's very timely."
Growing up in the 1970s, Reeves, 44, who was born in Lebanon and raised mostly in Canada, said he loved the "Star Wars" movies and read books like "1984" and "Brave New World." As an adult, Reeves has always wanted to play characters in sci-fi films.
He burst into the limelight in an escapist fantasy, 1989's "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure," as one of two bumbling, time-traveling teenagers, and throughout his career has worked in the genre in films including "Johnny Mnemonic."
Even love story "The Lake House" had a supernatural element to its tale about two people living in different time periods who trade letters dropped into a mailbox.
By far, Reeves' biggest foray into sci-fi was the three "Matrix" movies, in which he portrayed a computer hacker who is suddenly thrust into the role of humanity's savior from machines that rule the world. The trio of blockbusters raked in more than $1.6 billion in global ticket sales.
But Reeves calls "The Day the Earth Stood Still" more than a standard sci-fi film.
"It's also a suspense drama, and it hopes to entertain in a "lets-go-to-the-movies-and-eat-popcorn way," he said.
In "The Day the Earth Stood Still," humans react with panic and terror when an alien craft lands in New York and an alien Klaatu (Reeves), backed up by the towering, indestructible robotic figure of Gort, emerges to warn people and world leaders that the planet is facing a crisis.
Klaatu has come to Earth to judge whether or not humans should continue to exist because of their harmful effect on the other animal life on the planet.
"Of course, the welcome committee don't exactly help the human cause as they immediately shoot him," laughs Reeves.
But he noted that his version of Klaatu is different than in 1951 because this new version is more sinister, and is both a judge of humanity and its executioner.
Reeves said a key aim of the film is to explore human nature and how people react in a time of crisis.
The message, he said, is that "when we are faced with a crisis, we can change for the better."
Despite being one of Hollywood's most successful leading men, Reeves has managed to remain an elusive, even enigmatic presence in a town where scandals and 24/7 tabloid coverage are seen as badges of honor.
"I'm a very private person and I like to lead a pretty low-key lifestyle," admits Reeves. "I don't go out of my way for the whole partying scene -- though I did have my phases back in the early '90s. But I've grown up since then."
He also admits to being "a bit of a loner, at least some of the time. ... I'm really happy getting on a motorcycle and just riding alone across France like I did last summer. No one bothered me and I had a great time."
Editing by Jill Serjeant and Cynthia Osterman