I’ll try and think of something positive to say about M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth while I write this short review, and hopefully by the end I’ll have come up with something, but I’m certainly not willing to make any promises at this early stage. In the meantime it will be easier to give you several reasons why I hold this joyless sci-fi blockbuster, set 1,000 years in the future, in contempt; and yes, given that I’m reviewing a film that was savaged by critics upon its release a couple of years ago, I freely admit that I will have little to say that hasn’t already been said.
First and foremost is the low standard of the acting: both Will Smith and son Jaden – who previously appeared together in The Pursuit Of Happyness – are dismal in this film, playing a dreary father-son team with unresolved issues and a penchant for grimacing. In fairness to the pair both of their characters are poorly written by Shyamalan and Gary Whitta, and they have to plough through a lot of bad, cliché-ridden dialogue, much of which is apparently laden with Scientology-related subtext. Legendary military warrior dad Cypher Raige (yes!) is as serious as they come and spends the entire film lying prostrate with a scowl across his fizzog, while son Kitai is a sullen, walking disappointment who shows few signs of following in Cypher’s footsteps. This is problematic enough in itself, but complicating their relationship further is the fact that both characters blame themselves and each other for the death of another family member at the hands of the Ursa, giant bug-like monsters who have attacked humanity on the newly-colonized planet Nova Prime. Cypher and Kitai tediously carry on like this until a traumatic incident predictably and conveniently irons out their long-standing problems. The dreadful screenplay also includes more dimwit-friendly plot exposition and supremely naff ‘Fire up the Aldi Beam and plot the jump to the Lidl Sector’ tripe than you can shake an angry stick at.
Um, what else? The CGI is disappointing at times. There are a couple of half-hearted scenes in deep space at the beginning of the story, but much of the action takes place on an Earth that has become inhospitable to humans, and though we don’t see much of the animal life we do get a few unintentional laughs when a troupe of giant, fake-looking baboons appears for five minutes. The Ursa creatures we see also fail to convince, which is a shame considering the film’s hefty budget of (at least) $130 million. The story is dull, the pace is plodding, the same flashback is repeated over and over and over again, and throughout Will Smith seems determined to destroy his reputation as a charismatic, fun-to-watch blockbuster actor. In short it’s a disaster, though naturally it went on to make a considerable profit at the box office, so let’s just ponder how awful the world is for a minute before weeping at the fact this has allowed Shyamalan to continue making utter dreck. I really don’t want to waste any more time or energy writing about After Earth, but at least in doing so I have thought of something positive to say: a number of matte paintings are used for the giant vistas of futuristic Earth, which kind of resembles prehistoric Earth, and whoever made them is clearly very talented. But that is all.
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan.
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan, Gary Whitta.
Starring: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo.
Cinematography: Peter Suschitzky.
Editing: Steven Rosenblum.
Music: James Newton Howard.
Running Time: 100 minutes.