After Earth [Review]
Starring Will and Jaden Smith
Written by M. Night Shyamalan and Gary Whitta
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
I want to call this the little movie that could have, and should have been really good. Instead of good, this movie is simply a collection of things that could have, and should have been done much better. I wanted to like this movie, and I still do, but I just cannot, I have instead relegated it to the unspecific classification of “it could be worse, but I don’t care to imagine how”. More specifically, why do they keep letting M. Night Shyamalan ruin movies? Upfront I will say there are redeeming qualities about this movie, but those redeeming qualities unfortunately do not balance the scales.
Set one thousand years in the future, humanity has abandoned earth and settled on Nova Prime. Unfortunately, there are residents of Nova Prime that don’t care for humans. Functionally blind, they hunt by scent, specifically the pheromone secreted when you are afraid. Aside from the fact that they don’t really explain why they abandoned the Earth, and they don’t really explain much of anything about these violent aliens, we can accept those premises as an audience without much back-story.
On Nova Prime, the Ranger Corps head the defense from these aliens, and General Cypher Raige heads the Corps. The general is the first person to figure out how to “ghost”. Ghosting is the act of rendering yourself invisible to these aliens simply by not being afraid. Sure, ok. In training is the general’s son Kitai, but he has some performance issues and has just been denied graduation into the Ranger Corps. This is, understandably, a disappointment to his father. At the urging of his wife, he decides to take his son on a trip to what I believe is a nearby training planet. However, things take a turn for the worse when they run into an asteroid storm. Seriously, an unavoidable asteroid storm. Damaged they somehow make it to Earth, and crash. Kitai and Cypher, as the only two survivors, must now depend on each other to make it out alive. Unfortunately, the crash damaged the emergency beacon and Kitai has to make the 100-kilometer trek across a hostile and evolved earth to the other half of the ship to retrieve the other emergency beacon. Also Unfortunately, Cypher was critically injured and is therefore confined to the remains of the ship’s control room, where he can use a video uplink and the ships probes to help guide and coach is son though the journey. The remainder of the story is predictable and uninspired and the only surprises are unpleasant plot holes that require significant navigation, and severe suspension of disbelief.
For all the faults, this film has, and there are multitudes, none of the faults are in the performances of Will or Jaden Smith. I have enjoyed Will Smith’s career, and I applauded his more recent expeditions into roles that challenged him and forced him to grow as a performer. I believe he has risen to each challenge. Jaden Smith I believe is also growing (figuratively and literally) as a performer. However as he doesn’t have much of a back catalogue it’s difficult to gauge how much growth he has achieved. I will say I believe he has all the potential his father possesses, and the luxury of having the freedom to grow and develop at his own pace. I look forward to watching where this career goes; I only hope this film is not held against him. No actor is an island; none can create a character and performance without direction. A good actor takes instruction from the director and delivers the performance as requested. Some do this better than others do, what we saw in this film is an example of good actors receiving bad direction.
Almost everything wrong with After Earth can be placed at the feet of the notorious M. Night Shyamalan. His fingerprints can be seen all over this movie, however carefully they tried to cover them up. Trivial details receive attention, such as the development of an unidentifiable accent, while he overlooked major details, such as basic continuity, and relevant information regarding the action onscreen. It’s maddening to watch. It is akin to stubbing your toe in the middle of the night, but not being able to figure out what the offending object is. I’m not convinced he was paying attention to what was happening during the filming, that or he was fixated on minute details. I’ll give a few examples. Cypher has returned from deployment and later that evening his wife is working at her computer terminal. She finishes her work, saves her file, and the holographic display disappears. Cypher sneaks up behind her holding a necklace, but by the time he reaches her, she has already been sitting at the desk staring at a blank display for several seconds. I could rattle off a list of infractions, but I don’t think the world need another list of things M. Night Shyamalan got wrong.
Overall I cannot in good conscious recommend anyone expend the resources needed to see this movie in the theatre, it’s really not too bad, but it’s far from too good. Will and Jaden Smith did a great job, and the story is actually cool and novel. That is the only reason I could recommend watching this movie at home, rent or stream.
I give After Earth one and a half out of five stars, for two good, but misdirected, performances.