Sunday, 9 June 2013

Film Review: After Earth (2013)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan and Gary Whitta
Stars: Jaden Smith, Will Smith and Sophie Okonedo

After the phenomenal success and deserved critical praise of his first three films, it has been all too easy to knock film maker M. Night Shyamalan for his increasingly poor output over the last decade; but After Earth is an absolute disaster and unforgivably bad.

The main problem with After Earth doesn’t actually lie with Shyamalan, or its CGI (which is poor) or its script (which has not one memorable line of dialogue even whilst watching the film) or even the acting (which is easily Will Smith’s most charisma-free performance to date), but in the fact that it is a pointless, rushed, thoughtless exercise. It is a film which doesn’t thrill, doesn’t excite, doesn’t teach, doesn’t send a message, doesn’t take the audience to a believable world, and doesn’t even fall into the ‘mindless fun’ category; it accomplishes nothing from start to finish which is quite a feat.

The opening ten minutes sets the film up for a failure from which it never recovers. There is a voiceover, a flashback, a history lesson of humans leaving Earth, and a terrible shot of the aliens which, I think, are on the newly inhabited planet and hunt humans by sensing the pheromones humans give off when in fear. For reasons which are of no interest, a spaceship going somewhere (no idea of the destination) crashes on Earth and the remaining 70 minutes are spent watching Jaden Smith travel 100km to get a beacon to signal for help.

After Earth is set 1000 years in the future and Earth is still uninhabitable and here is where the film falls to utter pieces with Will Smith telling his son “everything here has evolved to kill humans”. Yet, at no point does the film stop to ask the all-important question: HOW CAN THIS POSSIBLY MAKE ANY SENSE IN EVEN THE MOST LUDICROUS OF SCIENCE FICTION STORIES? THERE HAVEN’T BEEN HUMANS THERE FOR A MILLENNIUM. Moreover, the film only shows some slightly modified primates and big cats on Earth which makes this version of the future no more dangerous than you walking through the African savannah in 2013. For reasons unknown to surely even the writers, there was an alien creature on the ship and is now hunting Jaden because without this the film would have no end battle and there is no other reason for its existence than that. Furthermore the kid learns how to ‘ghost’ and become invisible to the alien; that means the film is hoping we buy into the fact that a human can consciously stop pheromones being produced.

Consciously stop releasing pheromones. Yep, that’s the logic After Earth is working with.

Also, 1000 years in the future humans can apparently fly through space but using non advanced firearms or even lasers, but rather spears with interchangeable weapons; a glorified Swiss Army knife is the best this film could come up with and again it makes no logical or practical sense. Nor does the need to send a beacon from on top of a mountain; what difference does a few extra kilometres make when the signal needs to literally go into space? No one knows.

Any signs of the genuine talent Shyamalan showed in storytelling at the beginning of his career are completely removed in this film and he is serving as just a director for hire. To his credit, he films two scenes with interesting angles; a sustained low angle when Jaden is poisoned puts the audience in an uncomfortable position, and the crash sequence is also framed with Jaden in the extreme foreground whlist bodies get sucked out the ship. Nice touches but deserving of a story which might give them any credence.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: The list of problems with After Earth is as long as the 100 minute running time, but to list them all would be giving the film too much credit. Simply put, it serves purely as a ego-vehicle for the Smith family and only goes to show Jaden is not yet up to the standard of screen presence to hold a film on his own and he comes off looking really quite bad. Jaden is at the start of his career though, so he has plenty of time to put this behind him, but for Will Smith and M. Night Shyamalan, this may be the dullest, lifeless, and pointless film from two such high-profile names.

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