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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Deluxe Movie Packaging: same movie, bigger box

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 19th November 2013.    

Many moons ago, I spent a North American summer working as the World’s Oldest Camp Counsellor™. It was a rich kids’ camp and I will never forget parental unit visiting day. One of the campers in my cabin was handed a brand new music CD as a gift. He immediately took the disc out to play the inevitably horrible music contained within, throwing the case and liner notes in the bin, or trash in this instance. As a music collector I was shocked. Although the music is, obviously, the most important element, I love having my CDs stored in their cases on my bookshelf. Besides, how on earth would he know the names of the songs?

Fast forward to today and music CDs are practically an endangered species. However, when it comes to movies, the industry has shifted to the opposite extreme. Perusing the shelves at my favourite non-specific movie retailer and their online store on the weekend, it was hard not to notice that the emphasis is now on the packaging, not the film. Why buy just the film on your preferred format? You need to shell out the extra bucks for a fancy box too.

Here are my favourite deluxe editions that I am sure will be on many a Christmas wish list.

et

Remember everyone’s favourite alien? No, not Lady Gaga, I’m referring to E.T. Steven Spielberg’s sublime masterpiece hit shelves last year in beautiful high definition blu-ray to celebrate its 30th anniversary.  The movie on blu-ray can be picked up for a reasonable $13, but why stop there? For just an extra $150 you can get the film with a 26cm “collectible” replica of E.T.’s spaceship complete with flashing lights, music and moving parts. That’s a very expensive box. I’m sure a real spaceship wouldn’t cost much more. Maybe Clive Palmer will build me one if I ask nicely.

i robot

If more redundant films are your thing, how about I, Robot? Recently released in 3D (I’m not sure why), the disc will set you back about $30. For $120 more, you can buy the deluxe gift set which includes a full scale robot head bust. For that price, I don’t think anyone is getting a gift, except the film distributor. Forgettable film, unforgettable packaging…

breaking-bad-series-on-blu-ray

Everyone seems to love Breaking Bad at the moment. Having recently completed a brilliant 5 season run, the complete series will be released later this month on blu-ray for around $150.  Add an extra $85 and you can get your hands on the very same discs, stored in a replica money barrel, as well as a commemorative coin and apron. What, no replica crystal meth too?

The X-Men franchise has vacuumed up over $1 billion worldwide. This Christmas, you can add to this total by purchasing the Adamantium Collection. That’s six discs (5 of them already available as budget titles) stored in a weird looking stand which features a replica of Wolverine’s bladed fist for $170. Please note that only right handed versions are available. I don’t know about you, but I have enough trouble keeping my discs scratch free without storing them in a box with claws.

predator3D-1024x905

I probably should mention the Predator 3D deluxe edition which comes with a predator’s head and the Under the Dome limited edition set with the discs stored (wait for it) under a dome. For true fans of the show, the dome should be sealed so you can’t open it.

under_the_dome_limited_collectors_edition

As a cinephile, I’m all about the films, not the elaborate packaging. I’m (mostly) with the summer camp kid on this one. Just give me the movie in a boring old case. The film should take me to other places and worlds, not the box.