After Earth Review
Danger is real. Fear is a choice.
The MovieAs if Hollywood wasn't already awash with below par sci-fi mush, sadly, Will Smith uses his Hollywood gravitas to push through what I can only describe as a chilly torrent of Sci-Fi drivel, riddled with a bewilderingly misplaced sense of emotional resolution between two characters who, in essence, are deliberately designed to be the most boring people in the universe. If that's not enough to whet your quivering whistle, it also stars Jaden Smith - offspring of Daddy Smith who, despite numerous attempts now, does no more than remove all doubt that he has an ounce of talent when it comes to acting.
The premise is pretty basic and simple, but fundamentally flawed
To say that it's no surprise that M. Night Shyamalan has failed to deliver once again is an understatement. However, it's impossible to rest all the blame at the under-performing director's feet as his story is based on an original concept by, you guessed it, the Fresh Prince himself. Not to say that he's incapable of having a good idea, it's just that he hasn't had one yet. After Earth's main problem is it's concept and sadly there's just no getting away from that even if you put an in-form director at the helm. The premise is pretty basic and simple, but fundamentally flawed and I'll explain why.
Some time in the future, Earth has been abandoned due to some sort of catastrophic eco disaster, or something. Cypher Raige (Will Smith) is a veteran of The United Ranger Corps, a peacekeeping military unit responsible for protecting Nova Prime, humanity's new home, from an alien species hell-bent on destroying all humans. The Aliens primary weapons are creatures called Ursa's - gruesome predators who are blind and prey only on the scent of pheromones released when the emotion of fear is felt. Cypher was the first to realise that by hiding the emotion of fear, a man can walk among the Ursas unseen.
Returning home to his family from a very long tour of duty, Cypher realises that reconnecting with his family after so long without emotion is difficult, particularly with his son, Kitai (Jaden Smith). When Kitai and Cypher's transporter is struck my an asteroid, they crash land on Earth and find themselves alone. Cypher is badly injured and unable to move, so he guides the fearful Kitai across hostile terrain in an attempt to ensure their safety. For his entire life, Kitai had wanted to be like his father, and now, faced with all the terrible creatures inhabiting the lost planet, he will get his chance.
My main problem is this – if you're asking the audience to engage with characters, you have to give those characters something for us to engage with. What After Earth does is to remove the humanistic elements from it's characters by making their main goal in the movie to have less emotion. Less emotion means less personality, something that Will Smith seems to pull off with incredible ease here, and less personality means less interest. We're effectively watching Will Smith train his son in how to become more boring as a character. Believe me when I say this, Will – he doesn't need your help there.
In terms of the cast the first thing that springs to mind is that for a bunch of actors trying their hardest to be like robots, they do a pretty good job. When Jaden's character, Kitai, is first introduced, I took an instant disliking to him. He is irritating, annoying, and walks around with an expression like he's just about to whimper. No sooner than I realised that his role in the movie was to develop his character from someone who was overly emotional for a boy his age, to a stone cold killer, I initially was hopeful. What transpires, sadly, is wholly dissatisfying. It's literally impossible to see Will and Jaden onscreen as anything other than The Smiths. Will Smith is blank and expressionless throughout, which I thought was a shame because I know he's got charisma by the bucket loads, but the real gaff of the movie comes in a pint-sized Smith – I'm afraid to say that when it comes to acting, Jaden is a complete dial tone.
The script is abysmal and serves no purpose other than to give The Smiths something to do with their mouths. It's about as emotionless and boring as the central characters are trying to be. Perhaps when it comes to Shyamalan I've been overly harsh. Despite his lack of spark in recent years, I struggle to believe that even he would have cast Jaden Smith in After Earth had Will Smith not been bankrolling the project. Still, if Shyamalan was in any way interested in his audience's approval he would have walked away from this train-wreck, but he didn't – he sold out for cash.
What I would say though is that the movie boasts some pretty decent production design. The sets are luscious and quite inviting with vibrant colours and some extremely impressive looking CG backdrops. The CG itself is fairly mediocre really, which is yet another thing that smacks of the producers believing that the lack of story and intrigue will be masked by the pretty images. We're just not that dumb!
When all is said and done what I can take away from the experience or, if you prefer, “ordeal” of watching After Earth is that Will Smith should give up the writing and go back to acting; Will Smith should stop bank-rolling his son in hollywood blockbuster movies that are designed mainly to ensure he has a career and instead buy the kid some acting lessons; M. Night Shyamalan should maybe think about hanging up his lenses; and I should know better than to think there's any good to be had from a Sci-Fi flick in which Will Smith is actively being a platform for his son's career especially when it lines up on the release calendar next to the likes of the rather stunning and wholeheartedly authentic Sci-Fi epic, Oblivion. What Oblivion got wrong measures equally to what After Earth got right, that is to say – not a lot!
After Earth is proof that throwing $130,000,000 at a bad idea will not make it shine.
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