Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Written by Gary Whitta & M. Night Shyamalan; Story by Will Smith
Alright everybody, you better take a knee for this one. Ground yourself and find your focus, everything is not what it may seem. Will Smith is a bankable blockbuster star ever since he crossed into the mainstream in the early nineties with his hit television show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He has his name attached to some wonderful summer movie hits, so when he passed up the opportunity to star as Django in Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, the Academy Award winning Django Unchained, I began to get the slightest bit excited. While the potential shown in the trailer is intriguing, the one important thing the promo team seems to be avoiding is the fact that After Earth is directed by M. Night Shyamalan, whose heyday is a bygone era, and seems the shakiest name in the modern blockbuster environs. What could this diabolical combination deliver us!?
Known for his dark, twisting pictures, M. Night takes us into a science fiction future where humans have abandoned earth for life on another planet. While escaping the no longer habitable Earth, humans encounter the threat of the Ursa, a menacing space creature that tracks its prey, humans, by smelling their fear. But Cypher Raige (Will Smith) has shut out all fear, thereby “ghosting” to eliminate the Ursa. His son, Kitai (Jaden Smith) has just failed to advance further than cadet at the academy, so his mother suggests a training trip between father and son, to break from their unhealthy commander/subordinate relationship. The routine mission hits a snag when they hit an asteroid storm, however, and are forced to quickly jettison out of it into an unknown world where their perils gets even worse.
Just minutes into the film I found myself fighting back a facepalm, and then multiple times thereafter. I don’t really know where to begin, or how best to address the things I want to talk about concerning the film, so allow me to just jump in, and probably jump all over the place trying to cover all the things I want to talk about. I suppose I’ll start with the performances, which were fairly uneven. Jaden shows potential for an actor of his age, but Will, due to his character’s traits, is fairly boring and stone faced. Whenever I see Sophie Okonedo, I always think to myself, “Someone find her a decent role.” She is good as the mother, but hardly there, and with a broadly written character to deal with. Kind of curious why Jada didn’t come out of retirement for the full familial experience. Now THAT might have made for an interesting experiment.
The greatest fault of the film was how lazy everything felt, and I do mean everything. For a sci-fi picture, the CGI was sub-par at best, making it feel like a late nineties film. C’mon people, it’s 2013, the technology is there for you. The set decoration was pretty bad too, with the crashed ship appearing to be wrapped in a combination of saran wrap and toilet paper. The greatest wrong committed, however, was the convenience of the script itself, always finding ways to make things work in this future world when in truth, none of them were believable for a second. I could easily list them off here, from the hot spots to how everything on the planet “had evolved to kill humans”, yet the only thing that threatened them was something not from Earth. Really disappointing turn given the potential a story like this has, and what it possibly could have been.
At the center of the film is indeed a compelling concept, that while danger is a very real thing, that fear is a choice humans make, imagining and dreading the future instead of responding to the present to make the best future we can. But our filmmakers seem content to give us this small nugget somewhere near the middle of the film and make no effort to surround it with a feature length atmosphere or story, causing the film to feel very slight, and very stunted. It’s not that I wanted to spend more time in this world, with these characters (because I didn’t), but everything felt so rushed, potential wasted. I will give the film credit for its fleeting moments of adventure and geography, but make no mistake about it, After Earth is the worst film I have seen so far this year.
* – WOOF