Release Date: May 30, 2013
Running Time: 100 minutes
Why would anyone give director M. Night Shyamalan $130 million to make a spiritual sequel to his nonsensical eco-horror chiller The Happening? Blame Will Smith, who conceived After Earth and handpicked Shyamalan—a director who is in a creative and commercial downward spiral—to oversee this sci-fi survival thriller. Smith’s slight story, which he entrusted Shyamalan and The Book of Eli’s Gary Whitta to script, isn’t the problem. After Earth is set 1,000 years after humanity has abandoned a ruined world to take up residency on Nova Prime, resulting in a war with an alien race. In the meantime, Earth has turned into a hostile environment, with animals evolving into deadly killing machines and the planet freezing over at night. Mother Nature no longer wants to share her home with human, and she will do whatever is necessary to keep them as far away from her as possible. Smith stars as the laughably named Cypher Raige, a Ranger whose absence of fear is his greatest weapon. Smith’s 14-year-old son Jaden stars as Raige’s son Kitai, a failed Ranger cadet who is terrified of his own shadow. Father and son crash land on Earth during the routine transportation of a lethal alien creature known as an Ursa. An injured Cypher remains in the spaceship as Kitai negotiates 100 kilometers of harsh territory to activate a distress beacon. In addition to the dangers that he must face in the wild, Kitai has to remain one step ahead of the Ursa that stalks him by smelling his fear. Shyamalan is all wrong for After Earth. He fails to inject a sense of urgency to Kitai’s trek, even though Cypher lies dying in the spacecraft. There’s a lack of tension to be found in Kitai’s efforts to elude certain death, especially whenever the teen crosses paths with the alien creature that looks like a smaller and less-threatening version of the Cloverfield monster. Instead, Shyamalan directs After Earth such with such aloofness that it’s impossible to care whether both Smiths survive their ordeal, let alone mend their strained relationship. This obviously does irrevocably harm to a space opera Will Smith envisages as an examination of a young man who must overcome his fears and live up to his distance father’s sky-high expectations. It doesn’t help that Will Smith chooses to play a man without fear as a man also without any feelings. He’s robotic in both the way he talks and moves. Imagine Spock devoid of his human side. At least it’s not painful to watch Will Smith, which can’t be said about Jaden Smith. He delivers his admittedly awful lines of dialogue with such flatness that it appears he’s reading off cue cards. He also cannot express the terror that constantly grips Kitai and the boy’s fear of failing his father without resorting to laughable epileptic-like shaking fits. Maybe Jaden Smith can’t act. Or perhaps he’s failed by his director. It’s fair to say that Shyamalan, who got a Oscar-worthy performance out of The Sixth Sense’s Haley Joel Osment , who’s lost his ability to coax strong performances from his young actors judging by The Last Airbender. All things consider, no wonder After Earth doesn’t pack the emotional punch Smith clearly wants it to have. Also, for a film that cost a reported $130 million, After Earth looks damn cheap, especially when it comes to digital environments Shyamalan creates. The volcanoes and mountain ranges Kitai makes his way to seem so fake. Heck, even Cypher’s spaceship appears to be cobbled together using toilet paper and recycled cardboard. There’s little doubt that a resourceful genre director like Neill Blomkamp, Gareth Edwards, or Duncan Jones could have made After Earth for half the budget and been twice as imaginative as Shyamalan. If anything, After Earth continues to reinforce that belief that Shyamalan is a one-trick pony whose best days are sadly behind him.
Aired: May 29, 2013
Web site: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/afterearth/discanddigital/