Review by Paul Preston
Well, it’s not embarrassing.
You’ll hear me mention a few things in this review that I liked about “After Earth”. It seems like the career of M. Night Shyamalan has gotten to the point where “it’s not embarrassing” is high compliment.
“After Earth” is about a spaceship crash-landing on Earth about 1,000 years from now when the planet has become uninhabitable and humans live elsewhere. A peacekeeping ranger and his son are the sole survivors of the crash and must signal a beacon for their rescue, or risk being attacked by the animals now overrunning Earth, not to mention an Ursa, a deadly creature that has gotten loose on the planet.
The son is played by Jaden Smith, and if the jury’s been out on whether he’s a real leading man at the age of fourteen, allow me to take a stab at being the foreman. Not so much. The story rests on the son, as his father (in the film and in real life, Will Smith) is injured in the crash. So it’s the son whose journey we’re really on. And there’s a three-pronged flaw I found there:
– The first, they can do nothing about, and it’s that I rarely enjoy the adventures of people who are fourteen. I mean, you’ve got to be animated or “X-Men: First Class” for me to get too excited.
– Second, Jaden has no gravitas. He draws tears at one point, but regularly throughout film, he’s just not as compelling as he might be ten years from now, but this kid’s anointing can’t wait, apparently.
– Thirdly, for the son of a man who became famous for his voice, Jaden’s voice-over leaves much to be desired, often lapsing into incoherence. He even awkwardly screeches some when he gets emotional.
I wish Anthony Mackie played this part ten years ago, with Denzel as his dad.
To be fair:
– Jaden’s character does have a turn at the end of the film that is noticeable. Not entirely surprising, but noticeable, so I’ll give him that.
– AND both Smith’s are saddled with a “Where Are You From?” dialect that doesn’t serve anything. 1,000 years ago humans have a bad British-meets-mid-Atlantic accent? Why is this?
Papa Smith plays “Cypher Raige”, the best phrase since “Unobtanium”. In a unique character trait, Raige has the ability to “Ghost”, which means he can surpress all his fear and feel none of it. That’s a cool concept, and I wish I saw more of it, but again, we’re not following Will Smith into battle, we’re following Jaden Smith into adolescence.
Another flaw, however, is that Will Smith plays a character so devoid of fear, they’ve forgotten to leave him with any other emotions. I was leery of this film as soon as I saw the trailer ‘cause Smith doesn’t smile once! He’s pouty and pissy and angry and barking and all the stuff we love about Will Smith is GONE. Maybe he was trying to stretch? Didn’t work.
Also gone are the days of M. Night Shyamalan’s originality. I think they ended right about the time he put out books and TV specials all about his originality. Now he seems like any other director you could attach to a project. “Hey, who should we get that will make sure this looks like a movie? Shyamalan? Antoine Fuqua? Renny Harlin?” I can give him some credit in that this movie has no business being a summer film. It’s not action packed, there are brief stretches of action in between shots of Will Smith grumbling at the camera and Jaden looking uncomfortable. And it has some of the slow pace that worked in something like Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” and hasn’t worked anywhere else. He was again trying his thing, but the results were rather tepid and static. But he TRIED, at least, to be epic. He ended up, however, epic fail.
The story for this film comes from Will Smith, and the result is just….kinda…I don’t know…weird? Creepy? It comes across as a kid trying desperately to please his famous dad. I’ll leave it up to you as to whether I was referring to the story of the film itself.
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Release Date: May 31, 2013
Run Time: 100 Minutes
Distributor: Columbia Pictures