Twitter Plot Summary: Will Smith and his son crash on Earth centuries after it was abandoned by humanity. They have to call for help before they die. That’s it.
Director: M Night Shyamalan
Key Cast: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo, Zoe Kravitz, Glenn Morshower.
Five Point Summary:
1. All the best bits are in the trailer
2. Never have I seen Will Smith being quite so… boring.
3. There’s a big eagle. Yay.
4. Lots of CGI makes Simon something something. Disappointed. Yeah, that’s the word.
5. We’re going from A to B, but never going to C. Yippy do dah.
I tried to like After Earth, I really did. My initial thoughts afterwards were that it was a mostly competent sci-fi film, but one in serious need of restructuring and a plot. That opinion still holds true, but my overall rating has been lowered after pondering it for a little while longer. The story meanders from minor set piece to minor set piece, and it’s rarely engaging. It’s a shame because there’s actually some good ideas dotted around the place. I’ll get to those in a bit. First of all – did you know that this is actually an M Night Shyamalan movie?
Given his previous bad press and the critical mauling his last few films have had, it’s no surprise that M Night Shyamalan’s name was almost completely absent from the pre-release advertising. It’s as if everybody involved thought that putting his name front and centre would be commercial suicide – just focus on Will Smith and it’ll be okay. Apparently not, it seems. It’s not done particularly well at the box office despite Mr Smith’s face being plastered all over the promotional materials. Whilst it’s Shyamalan’s best film in a long time, this doesn’t say much. It’s relatively well directed and realised, but the story and characters are poor. So very poor.
Will Smith looks bored. In fact, so does Jaden. Okay so there’s the argument that they’re both trying to do away with emotion (or just fear, actually) in order to become invisible to the strange alien things that can smell fear (like John Matrix in Commando – always stay downwind), but the end result is two characters who we don’t really care about. Can you engage emotionally with a sentient frown? No, clearly not. And there’s a lot of frowning in After Earth, frowning and the visual appearance of having had a few too many spoonfuls of chilli at your local Mexican diner. That, along with the incredibly linear and disengaging story do it no favours. There have been some surprisingly good sci-fi films out in the cinema this year (yep, it’s not just Star Trek) and After Earth isn’t one of them.
Good points – yes, there are a couple – I loved the design of the future human colony, lots of interesting building designs and reliance more on what looks like great big huge flaps of skin rather than solid doors and walls. Bearing in mind this is supposed to be centuries into the future and following a mass exodus of humanity to another world, the new designs are flawless. Same again for the accents they use in this strange future. To me it had an essence of the American Deep South, but as I’m not an expert on accents I could be completely wrong. Suffice to say it was sufficiently different to make it feel like quite a bit of time had since our current era without having to resort to futuristic slang.
Some of the settings and locations are also pretty good. That scene from the trailer with Jaden near the active volcano is visually arresting, as is the final scene on the volcano itself. Future tech is nicely realised and I get the impression that most of the pre-production work went into this aspect of the film.
It’s a massive missed opportunity. Fleshing out the post-abandonment Earth would have made for a much better film. More importantly, the story should have backed up what the trailers implied, a coming of age story set in the distant future, rather than the boring A to B story that we were treated to.
Also: Cypher Raige. Silly name. That is all.
Favourite scene: The crash sequence.
Quote: “Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me danger is very real but fear is a choice.”
Silly Moment: Will Smith walking through a battlefield, looking bored.