Film Review: After Earth

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 3rd December 2013.

During a trip to NYC earlier this year, there were very few places to turn without being confronted by a huge billboard promoting the then upcoming Will Smith movie, After Earth. Co-starring his son, Jaden, Columbia Pictures had high hopes for the big budget sci-fi flick.  Will Smith is one of Hollywood’s biggest, and most importantly, bankable stars. His name alone above the title should have guaranteed a blockbuster. Unfortunately, audiences voted with their wallets and the film tanked, returning only US$60 million from a budget of US$130 million. Lab coats and gloves on folks, it’s time for the autopsy of After Earth.

In the future, the polluted Earth has been abandoned and mankind has escaped to a new planet, Nova Prime. Alas, Nova Prime is already an alien race’s humble abode and after numerous ignored eviction notices, the deadly Ursas are dispatched to wipe out the humans. Ursas are attracted to human fight or flight pheromones and it is only through the fighting prowess of the Rangers, who can completely control their fear, that mankind prevails.

Legendary Ranger General Cypher Raige (Smith) is on his final mission, accompanied by his son, Kitai (the other Smith), when an asteroid storm sends their ship crashing to Earth, where all living creatures have evolved to kill humans. With his legs broken, Cypher sends his son on a dangerous mission to retrieve a homing beacon. The only problem is that Kitai is a failed Ranger cadet and is unable to control his fear.

Actually, there is another problem, the film is terrible.

Adapted from a story by Smith, After Earth is the ultimate vanity project. The film is produced by Smith, his wife Jada Pinkett Smith and his brother-in-law Caleeb Pinkett. Make your son the co-star and voila, potentially eliminate any objective filmmaking whatsoever. Luckily, Smith found himself a fantastic director. Oops.

Ten years ago, M. Night Shyamalan (pronounced Shama Lama Ding Dong) was the hottest auteur in Hollywood. His thrillers with a twist, The Sixth Sense, Signs and Unbreakable were massive hits. And then it all went downhill. The Village and Lady in the Water showed that the formula was wearing thin. The Happening and The Last Airbender were completely unwatchable. Now a gun for hire, Shyamalan’s name is nowhere to be found on any promotional material for After Earth.

For some reason, Smith has chosen to extinguish all of his natural screen charisma and charm in favour of a cold and humourless performance, complete with bizarre accent. And Jaden fares little better. The cute kid in The Karate Kid remake (you know, the one without any karate), is now a whiney teenager. By the middle act of After Earth, I was hoping that he’d be lunch for one of numerous CGI creatures.

In the future, everyone wears beige, and lots of it. Despite this, I appreciated the futuristic design of the spaceships and dwellings. Based on organic shapes found in nature, the art design overall is excellent. Note that the none of the art designers’ surnames is Smith.

Plot holes abound in After Earth. One of the driving tensions is the film is Kitai’s dwindling supplies of breathing vials. Why does he require them, yet his father, trapped in the debris of the spaceship but breathing the same air, does not? What is point of a high tech survival suit that changes colour to display the health of the wearer? Let’s hope those CGI killer baboons are colour blind. Hypercolour clothing is so early nineties.

With his legs broken, Cypher injects himself with a pain killer which warns of drowsiness. Perhaps the DVD box should have come with the same warning. Even Smith can’t stay awake in his own film.

After Earth is a dull snoozefest. All the way through I couldn’t help but think about what I wanted to do after After Earth. My verdict is best described by my favourite lines of dialogue from the film:

Kitai Raige: “That sucked.”

Cypher Raige: “That is correct.”

After Earth is now available on DVD, blu-ray and on-demand.

Published in: on January 7, 2014 at 16:39  Leave a Comment  
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