Speculative Fiction Saturday: After Earth…and it isn’t that good

After EarthWell, today’s flick is from M. Night Shyamalan, and I’m sure you’ve probably heard about it already. M. Night’s films have been progressively bad since his landmark film The Sixth Sense from 1999, and After Earth is his worst film since The Last Airbender (which was his last movie if you don’t count Devil). Of course, I knew that when I watched it would not be good, and it just isn’t.

I have seen some films that have been pretty bad, and the problem with this one is I am not certain where this film went wrong. Let’s start with the basic elements, such as the plot. The story isn’t really one that you haven’t seen before. It is about a father (Will Smith) and son (Jaden Smith) who crash-land on Earth, but this is a world that has long-abandoned, hence the title. Think of it as a two-person Lost In Space, with a greater emphasis on survival. By the way, the Smith character have actual names, and they are Cypher Raige and Kitai Rage. Yeah, I think I’ll just refer to them as Will and Jaden.

Now, this could have worked. Heck, I have seen films with unoriginal premises work, like last summer’s R.I.P.D. or Pacific Rim. So why didn’t this work? Well, for one thing, the After Earth setting doesn’t feel like Earth. In fact, in the words of Will Smith, “everything on this planet has been evolved to kill humans”. You see, the sci-fi future of this film has presented a film where humanity has just left, because apparently we wrecked it. So “After Earth” has hostile animals that don’t attack the main character, and an atmosphere that freezes at certain times but still has fertile plant life. Wouldn’t have been cool if Will and Jaden saw a busted Statue of Liberty or something? Yeah, look for that iconic shot in another movie.

You know how Shyamalan is famous for the twist ending? At least for his earlier films. After Earth is as predictable as ever, to the point where Will Smith is practically foreshadowing everything to Jaden Smith with every line of dialogue. This film also has the worst setup for danger that I have ever seen as this starship is carrying a hostile alien. It isn’t carrying this alien below decks under lock and key, but a stupid curtained-off area. So when the ship crashes, guess who gets loose?

Since Will’s leg is broken, it is up to Jaden to go miles away where the other half of the starship has fallen to get the emergency beacon. Why isn’t there an emergency beacon in the cockpit half of the ship? Jaden must race against time because he is taking medicine to breathe in the After Earth atmosphere, and there is apparently more medicine in that busted half of the ship. This is a ship that can carry many, and yet after a crash, there is barely enough of this medicine for two people?

Yes, this film’s premise has more holes than a cheese grater. So what about the characters? They’re flat. I have got to hand it to Will Smith for trying to portray a man who is as far from his natural personality as possible. Will plays a man who has to stifle all fear in order to avoid evil aliens. I can really tell that Will really wants to be his charismatic self, and this Spock act is not natural for him. I suppose that the character story-arc is the relationship between a son that wants to please a father, and if that was done better, then perhaps it would have been the film’s saving grace.

In addition to the faulty plot and botched characters, the camera spends far too much time on things that just aren’t interesting in the first place. For example, there is a lot of CG effects shots of screens that are not “neat” anymore. Not only that, you have to watch Will Smith watching his son. Why would anyone think this would work?

Yeah, After Earth is a film the left absolutely no impact on me, but at least I don’t feel negative in any way. In other words, it could have been worse.

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