Film review: AFTER EARTH, from Built For Speed
M. Night Shyamalan burst onto to the scene with his clever, creepy, atmospheric and twist-laden debut The Sixth Sense. Unfortunately, the quality of his films has plummeted since with his nadir being the dreadful The Lady in the Water. Has he redeemed himself with straight forward sci fi action pic After Earth? Unfortunately the answer is, No!
After Earth, which is based on a story from star Will Smith, is yet another film set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future. Earth has long since been abandoned due to environmental devastation but the move to a planet called Nova Prime hasn’t proven too successful as humans have been tormented on their new world by aliens (whom, annoyingly, we never see) and their pet monsters which look remarkably like the creature from Cloverfield. The man who has led the fight back against the aliens is the ridiculously named General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) who has developed a strange ability to rid himself of all fear so that the monsters (who conveniently can’t see but can smell fear) cannot detect him. With his son Kitai (played by Smith’s son Jaden) an aspiring but wayward cadet, the General decides to take him on an educational space mission. Following a furious meteor storm of the kind Han Solo would have deftly avoided, the Smiths crash land on back on Earth and with dad injured, Kitai must battle this now hostile world and his deep seated fears to reach a distant distress beacon.
The concept of an uncertain character trying to fight his way across a treacherous landscape has great potential for a sci-fi thriller but it only results in a middling and predictable adventure here. There were considerably more possibilities to this scenario than simply having Kitai chased by angry baboons or confronted that tedious modern sci fi cliché the sinewy, skeletal, loping cgi monster. The film briefly suggests what might have happened to Earth’s environment in the absence of human civilization but this isn’t explored in enough detail.
There have also been suggestions that this film is infused with the beliefs of Scientology particularly in General Cypher’s fear suppression techniques although the Church of Scientology has denied involvement in the film.
Sci-fi films, particularly mega-budget ones like this, need a striking and distinctive look but the art direction in After Earth, particularly in the Cypher home and the spaceship interiors, is disappointingly bland and at times look like something out of a 1970’s Dr Who episode. Admittedly, the film does feature some impressive vistas of Costa Rican rainforests and verdant landscapes but these scenes are too often invaded by questionable CGI.
One of the film’s biggest liabilities is Jaden Smith’s performance as Kitai. Despite an attempt to give him a tortured back-story and crippling self-doubt, Kitai is simply too whiny and annoying to be remotely heroic or sympathetic.
Will smith is equally irritating as Kitai’s humourless, hard-ass military dad. He constantly babbles quasi-zen rubbish at Kitai through a com link and berates him for having the temerity to be afraid when a mutant lion is trying to chomp on his gizzards. The film dedicates way too much time to Smith Senior’s waffling making what should have been a pacy action flick a bit of a slog.
Aside from questionable performances, the film features that hobgoblin of Shyamalan films, ludicrous logic. Why, for example, are the Smiths the only ones to survive the crash, why do these highly intelligent people from a sophisticated futuristic society not have some sort of escape pod on the ship or some form of transport that might save them from having to traverse a dangerous jungle? Why does a giant cgi eagle take such a shine to young Kitai?
There’s just enough action to keep us from stewing on these questions during the film but any post- film analysis will inevitably have audiences shouting “hang on, what the hell was that about?
After Earth isn’t a complete turkey but it is a disappointment and a wasted opportunity.
Nick’s rating: Two stars.
Director(s): M. Night Shyamalan.
Release date: 13th June 2013.
Running time: 1 hr 40 mins.
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