Last summer, the film After Earth was labelled as rubbish by the vast majority of critics. They were all wrong, it’s much worse than that. After Earth came from a story idea by Will Smith which was fleshed out into a feature length screenplay by M. Night Shyamalan and Gary Whitta. The movie was directed by Shyamalan and was produced by and starred Will Smith and his son Jaden. The film gives its audience so little to enjoy that it’s almost offensive and provides none of the action or comedy that we have come to expect from a Will Smith fronted movie.
Set in the distant future, humanity now resides on the planet Nova Prime with the Earth abandoned. A thousand years after their arrival on their new home, the planet is invaded by aliens (irony alert) who wish to destroy our species and conquer the planet. Their primary weapon is the Ursa; a large, blind predator that is able to smell human fear. One man, General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) has the ability to ‘ghost’ – be free of fear and as such invisible to the Ursa. His son Kitai (Jaden Smith) is a Ranger Cadet who has hopes of replicating his father’s talents. The two are somewhat estranged but Cypher takes his son on a training mission which inadvertently crash lands on Earth, home to numerous deadly creatures as well as an Ursa on the loose.
I actually bored myself by writing that last paragraph and could barely be bothered to type it all out. The plot is so dull and recycled that it’s a surprise that it actually got past the page and on to the screen. Had the movie not been a vehicle for one of the world’s biggest stars, I doubt it would have. One of the main problems with the plot is that it requires its central actors to become emotionless. Buster Keaton aside, there is no fun in watching your actors plod through a film without a smile, a laugh or a tear. What’s worse is that the film uses one of the most avuncular and charismatic actors in Hollywood and asks that he plays the exact opposite. He’s a stern, humourless man with no emotion. Nobody wants to watch that. Back story aside, the basic premise of the entire one hour and forty minutes is that a teenager who has something to prove, must traverse dangerous ground and fight off deadly beasts to prove he is capable. It’s a tale that has been told countless times and the idea that the characters are on a future version of Earth provides little added intrigue.
The opening act on Nova Prime was beyond dull and the only enjoyment to be found was to gaze upon the nicely, if badly designed buildings that our race had constructed. Apartments are fitted with light screens instead of doors, none of which actually provide any privacy. The technology and overall design of the film is very good and the special effects also work very well. I also liked the locations too. The forests and mountains look very pretty. When the action goes from Nova Prime to Earth, it goes from dull to dull and preposterous. Will Smith’s character describes Earth as a place in which every life form has evolved to kill humans, thus showing a complete lack of understanding as to how evolution works. Animals don’t evolve to kill other animals that they would never meet. They adapt to their surroundings. This aside, not every species ends up being out to kill young Jaden and I fact, one or two do quite the opposite. Still, there’s some angry looking baboons and a poisonous slug which attempt to create drama and fail miserably.
The script attempts to inject some excitement with some broken apparatus that allows the younger Smith to breathe Earth’s inhospitable air but you know full well that there is no danger as not only is he the star but this all happens long before he is able to have his one-on-one with the Ursa that stalks him. The plot is so repetitive and obvious that it almost seems to be laughing at the stupidity of its audience. For a writer like M. Night Shyamalan, this continues a long, downward trajectory which shows no signs of slowing down. While the younger of the two Smiths is dangerously jumping over tree trunks and worrying that his rubber outfit is changing colour, Smith Snr, is in one half of the crippled spacecraft, doing his best to further his son’s career. Nepotism isn’t new to Hollywood and the Smiths aren’t the first and won’t be the last to try and help each other’s careers but one feels as though the film’s vast publicity machine sold the movie as ‘A Will Smith film, featuring a Will Smith son’ whereas in fact, it is Jaden who has the majority of the screen time.
I remember seeing the trailer for the movie in the cinema last spring and turning to my girlfriend to suggest that it didn’t look as though Will Smith was actually in the film very much. The trailer attempts to hide this fact but the general marketing did a better job. Smith even rolled out DJ Jazzy Jeff and Alfonso Ribeiro on The Graham Norton Show here in the UK in an attempt to bolster publicity for the movie. In the end the film just about made a profit but performed far below the Will Smith norm. What I found odd about the movie’s marketing is that it wasn’t until its release that I realised it was an M. Night Shyamalan movie. The director’s name was kept very quiet which further exemplifies his extremely poor run.
I think that my main problem with this movie is that it feels like a waste of talent. Will Smith is an A List movie star who is capable of injecting fun and excitement into even the worst (Men in Black III) of movies. Here he is given no opportunity to do so. Jaden Smith showed he can act in Karate Kid but here is miscast and shows no signs of taking over his father’s crown. He lacks the charisma and magnetism or Smith Snr. M. Night Shyamalan’s direction is fine here and his images crisp. His writing though is something which people are learning to avoid like the plague on a Jehovah’s Witness. Almost everyone associated with this giant mess of a film has let themselves down and the waste in talent and resources is shameful.
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