After Earth Movie Review
What can I say about the new science fiction film AFTER EARTH? Well, I didn’t despise it, but it really isn’t a very good film. I take that back, I kinda despise it. The film is so painfully ordinary, it’s offensive.
Other than starring one of summer’s biggest blockbuster champs in Will Smith, AFTER EARTH is also directed by Mr. nosedive M. Night Shyamalan who’s name has become synonymous with twist ending. To right that ship, M. Night has left out the twist in exchange for such a direct narrative that the film flatlines. In fact, there is nothing remotely exciting or interesting that happens and the climax is as predictable as it is bland.
A thousand years after terrible events caused the human race to leave earth, a crew crash lands on the planet. The only survivors are a father and son (played by real life father and son team Will Smith and Jaden Smith). However, Cypher Raige (Will) is badly injured and the distress beacon is damaged beyond repair. The only solution is to send his inexperienced son Kitai (Jaden) on a three-day trek through the dangerous environments of earth to find the tail of their spacecraft where another beacon is located. Of course, there is one major problem. Among the cargo from the ship’s tail is a monster that hunts by literally smelling fear, hot on the trail of our young frightened hero.
Will Smith plays a high ranking officer who has the ability to “ghost,” which basically means he is so fearless that the large horrific alien monsters are unable to find him. Walking directly up to them without being detected, he can kill them swiftly without harm. This information is provided by a sleepy narration from Jaden Smith at the top of the film, which leads right into Kitai failing his training academy after the instructor informs him and the audience that he excels in nearly every aspect but is simply not ready. Kitai mouths off to his instructor as he does when his father arrives home after a lengthy leave. Clearly, Kitai seeks his father’s approval while simultaneously being an annoying bratty teenager.
It’s not hard to figure out what is going to happen in AFTER EARTH. Preparing him with six breathing mechanisms (that are inhaled much like the drugs in MINORITY REPORT) that should be plenty for his journey across the wild earth, Kitai’s father explains that there will be creatures bred to oppose humans and the climate will change rapidly in the evening. These clue the audience to expect the breathing mechanisms to deplenish, ferocious animals to chase him down, and his struggle to reach hot spots before freezing to death. While the ideas have potential for excitement none of them are shot with any intensity. He runs, he breaths, and he gets cold. The danger is only seen by over-explanation, while never actually being felt by the audience. I never worry about the character’s safety and even worse, I don’t particularly care.
All the details surrounding the film don’t help the situation. AFTER EARTH attempts to be grand in beautiful scenery and colorful special effects. Only nothing feels real or genuine, which is either the reason or cause for the lowered sense of danger. Even within the spacecraft, everything from simple seat belts to flimsy tent-like doors come off as a high school film project. Two things do work: the ever changing body suit and the larger more advanced swiss army-like weapon. Both with abilities that are never fully explained, only shown. Perhaps from the lack of anything original is the reason these two items stood out, but that should definitely be used as a note on how to let the action tell the story rather than the stiff dialogue.
Will Smith, who came up with the rather generic story, will bounce back and Jaden Smith will continue to get better because of opportunities provided by his father and mother. M. Night Shyamalan however, I’m not so certain about. I for one have been a long time supporter. THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE and SIGNS provided plenty of compelling, nerve-racking and original ideas. Then came THE VILLAGE, LADY IN THE WATER and even THE HAPPENING, which while very flawed still contained many exciting and unusual moments. Most of his films are critically panned but I’ve usually found them inspiring as he sticks everyday characters in extraordinary situations. I think science fiction fans would appreciate his films a lot more if they happened upon them without the hype and expectations brought on by the masterful THE SIXTH SENSE. With all that said, I’m afraid I cannot defend Mr. Shyamalan’s most recent work. AFTER EARTH is a science fiction film that offers nothing new or original created by poor dialogue, wooden performances, a bland story and forgettable characters. It’s OK not to have a twist ending, knowing full well how a film is going to end, but at least make the journey enjoyable.