After Earth


Reviewed by: David Graham

After Earth
"It’s not over-the-top enough to be so bad it’s good, and the occasional scenes of genuine tension aren’t enough to make up for the meandering action."

When even a title fails to make sense, you have to worry about the final product, and true to form, After Earth doesn’t disappoint in terms of head-slapping stupidity (only director M Night Shyamalan’s usual self-aggrandising prefix could make matters worse). A vanity project for Will Smith and his son Jaden, it’s the weakest sci-fi fantasy in a long while, bordering on unintentional hilarity at many junctures. Despite some appealing and unusual visual design, a potentially exciting idea is ruined through woeful dialogue, po-faced performances and a wonky approach that mirrors the narrative’s reliance on ridiculous gimmickry.

Humanity has fled a ruined future Earth for the distant Nova Prime, landing itself in a war with another alien race that uses vicious blind beasts called Ursas to do their ground-work. Cypher Raige was the first soldier to master the ‘ghosting’ technique, which allowed humans to fight back against the marauding creatures by suppressing the signs of fear that they use to hunt. Now nearing retirement, Cypher attempts to reconnect with his teenage son Kitai by taking him on an interplanetary expedition, but an asteroid storm leaves the pair stranded as the only survivors on a nature-reclaimed Earth. With Cypher’s legs broken, it falls to a terrified but eager-to-impress Kitai to retrieve an SOS beacon from their ship’s remains, miles away across a deadly jungle populated with evolved animals and subject to wild shifts in climate.

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Beginning with flashes of the pivotal disaster, Shyamalan jumps back via pretentious narration to fill in mankind’s travails as well as the domestic dysfunction that forms a background to the central father-son dynamic. Despite an impressively stern Smith Snr’s best efforts - he’s actually pretty convincing as a harsh military man – this relationship is sunk by Jaden Smith’s stilted delivery of some already clunky lines. Kitai is a typical petulant teen, his guilt over helplessly witnessing his sister’s death and failing to satisfy his proud father spilling over into melodrama rather than providing the depth needed to make him an engaging protagonist.

Having the characters speak in a bizarrely affected manner made sense in retrospect for the likes of The Village, but here it just makes them insufferable (it’s even more irritating than the dodgy future-speak in Cloud Atlas). Poor Jaden’s accent is perhaps the most cringe-worthy. He intones some lines like he’s just stepped off a plantation and others as if he’s preparing for a Royal visit.

Of course, it doesn’t help that there are only two characters for most of the duration, with Smith Snr’s usual muscular appeal restricted by Cypher’s injury, and Jaden obviously struggling to look natural against all the CGI (even when he’s meant to be looking uncomfortable).

Frequently cutting away to a near-comatose Cypher, the action is often diminished by Shyamalan’s overly showy direction. It’s as if he’s desperate to make up for not being the scriptwriter (as well as his string of recent mega-flops) through bewildering attention-grabbing camera angles deployed just for the sake of it and repetitive editing that milks laughable flashbacks way beyond their worth. Even now he's reduced to a hack-for-hire, Shyamalan’s distracting tics are deeply irritating.

Then there are the undeniable religious undercurrents, with echoes of Battlefield Earth’s Scientology espousal as well as all sorts of blatant Christian imagery. Combined with Shyamalan’s emphasis on the mystical – there are several parallels to be drawn between this and the likes of Signs or Lady In The Water - the film becomes a sickening mess of jumbled symbolism and mixed messages, right down to Kitai’s bizarre friendship with a massive condor that inexplicably flips from threatening to nurturing in a Tolkien-esque deus ex machina moment.

That all of this somehow remains strangely compulsive is perhaps due to its spectacular messiness, but this doesn’t make it enjoyable. It’s not over-the-top enough to be so bad it’s good, and the occasional scenes of genuine tension aren’t enough to make up for the meandering action, with Kitai being repeatedly plucked from sure-death in increasingly frustrating fashion.

The technical credits are reasonable – there are pleasingly organic echoes of bio-marine life in the futuristic ship and city designs, while the CGI landscapes are certainly pretty enough – but no amount of novelty gadgetry can make up for the lacklustre script and acting. Smith’s nepotism has backfired on him and his unfortunate son badly, while Shyamalan’s saddening fall from grace continues apace. Good luck to them eking a franchise out of this tripe.

Reviewed on: 11 Jun 2013
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After Earth packshot
A millenium after humans abandoned earth, a father and son find themselves stranded there.
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Director: M Night Shyamalan

Writer: Gary Whitta, M Night Shyamalan

Starring: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Sophie Okonedo

Year: 2013

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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