IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME:100 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In the near future, an environmental cataclysm forces the human race to abandon Earth and look for a new home, eventually finding a new pristine world they call Nova Prime. One thousand years later, The Ranger Corps, a peacekeeping organization commanded by General Cypher Raige, battle and defeat the S’krell, alien creatures who intended to conquer Nova Prime. Meanwhile, Cypher’s son Kitai blames himself for the death of his sister Senshi and, not wanting to fail his father again, trains hard to become a Ranger like him, but his application is rejected due to his recklessness and Cypher views him as a disappointment. When father and son begin a mission and their spaceship is caught by an asteroid shower forcing them to crash-land on Earth, both of Cypher’s legs are broken and the main emergency beacon has been damaged…..
I find it absolutely sickening. No, not the movie, though it isn’t a good one. No, I’m talking about all the vitriol against young Jaden Smith, which had already started to turn nasty when The Karate Kid remake came out, and has now reached absurd proportions. He’s not a great actor, but he’s okay, and so what if he wants to follow in the footsteps of his father,or his father want him to follow in his footsteps? It’s one of the worst features of the Internet Age, the way people quickly jump on a bandwagon to be hateful and cruel. Now this may seem a strange way to begin a review of a film, but it seems that, related to the above point, that critics have decided to follow each other like sheep and decide that After Earth is complete and utter rubbish before they’ve actually seen it .Worst film of the year? Really? I’ve seen several already that are worst. At least, for example, it’s professionally shot unlike Les Miserables, isn’t made up of parts from other movies like Oblivion, is less dull than Lincoln and less dumb than The Host. That doesn’t automatically mean that it’s good, but it really isn’t as bad as all that.
I was really hoping that I would find myself defending After Earth, partly because, I suspect, I have a liking for the underdog, and partly because I used to be such a fan of M. Night Shyamalan. I wasn’t actually wowed by The Sixth Sense, partly because its twist I had seen more than twice before in films, but it was certainly well crafted, and Unbreakable, Signs and The Village showed a fine director with a unique voice and style. Then, suddenly, something happened. His films became crap. I do admit a fondness for The Happening because it is so unintentionally funny, but it’s not a good film, and Lady In The Water and The Last Airbender were appalling. I so wanted After Earth to be a return to form for Shyamalan, and it actually is marginally better than his last one, but it is clear that he has ‘lost it’ as a filmmaker, totally incapable now of writing and directing a good film, though of course Will Smith had a hand in not just the story of After Earth but may have controlled the production, Shyamalan being more of a hired hand.
So After Earth is poor, but it’s not that poor, just weak. In fact, you could almost say that makes it worse, because there’s just not much of interest in the film. There is much to criticise, but not that much that is truly awful. This film is just plain bland, mostly lacking in much imagination and spark, and almost having the feel of a TV production at times. In fact, for much of the time it doesn’t seem much like a Shyamalan picture at all [for good or bad], even though it contains his oft-used theme of dealing with fear, and a few other situations here and there that are familiar. The movie begins reasonably, with a decent design of a futuristic city built in a huge canyon [ it’s as if the Eloi in The Time Machine remake had advanced a thousand years but not actually moved], and okay filling in of the background, but once we switch to earth, interest starts to wane when it all becomes about Kitai going on a mission while his dad languishes with a broken leg. He has various encounters with animals, and some of these scenes are exciting, though the CGI is mediocre, and as it went on I began to realise that it wasn’t just all about Kitai going on a mission while his dad languishes with a broken leg, because…..
Well, all I need to do is say the word Scientology, and most sane people will probably be running for the trees. I couldn’t give a damn what people believe in as long as it isn’t dangerous, but the various rumours about this ‘religion’ make me very uneasy, and even if it’s all just rumours, it’s objectionable when Hollywood stars use their latest film as a platform for ‘spreading the word’. From being in the present moment to suppressing emotion, there’s a fair bit of Scientology stuff in here, and, while those not in the ‘know’ will probably just see all this stuff as mumbo-jumbo, it’s all rather devious. Then again, there’s something off-kilter about the whole father-son relationship in the film, with father trying to get rid of all emotion and son calling him “sir”. Despite it supposedly being the heart of the film, I wasn’t caught up in their relationship once, meaning that I didn’t really care.
And yet, After Earth is often watchable. The pace alternates being extremely slow and rather hurried, but there are strong moments, and two scenes; a sky-diving sequence, and a confrontation with a cousin of the monster from Cloverfield, are extremely thrilling. The film often looks great, Peter Suschitky’s photography sometimes being quite striking, the colours of the jungle almost bursting off the screen. So many things let it down though. Certain vagueness maybe put down to rumoured studio editing. For example there seems to be a theme concerning man’s, or at least Kitai’s, relationship to nature or animals, but it’s not developed. The script is often shoddy, from the ridiculous concept of a jungle which freezes every night, to one of the worst written speeches in ages where Cypher tells his son of how he first ‘ghosted’ [suppressed his fear], a scene not helped by Will’s wooden performance. Now I don’t expect him to do his usual ‘thing’ in every film, but here is really is like a robot. Which of course brings me back to Jaden, and, while he isn’t really strong enough an actor for a part which requires him to be on-screen on his own for most of the time, he does okay. There’s a scene where he argues with his father, and he certainly carries off the requiredemotion and intensity. I don’t care that much whether he carries on being an actor or not, but I would like to hope he doesn’t let the insane idiocy going on affect him too much.
James Newton Howard, as usual with a Shyamalan film, contributes a strong score, though this time he sadly resorts to those ubiquitous bloody tako drums, heard far often in current Hollywood movie scores. After Earth is not really awful, but it is still without a doubt a folly….albeit one which I almost want to admire, but cannot bring myself to do so. While I wouldn’t be surprised to see Smith back at the top of the box office charts again soon, I hope Shyamalan thinks long and hard about his next project [which had better not be the rumoured sequel to Unbreakable].