Writer: Elaine EweWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects: Cinematography: Watch this if you liked:
Jaden Smith and M. Night Shyamalan
As the newest entry in Hollywood, "After Earth" is bad by film standards. As the latest entry on director M. Night Shyamalan's resume, "After Earth" is an improvement over the dismal mess that was "The Last Airbender".
The film opens with a narration by Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith), son of General Cypher Raige (Will Smith), whose abilities for 'ghosting', a technique to completely suppress fear in order to battle the Ursas, large predatory creatures that hunt by 'sensing' fear, is well-respected. This puts a huge amount of pressure on Kitai, who longs to live up to his father's skills. Kitai also carries a chip on shoulder in the form of his sister Senshi's death at the hands of an Ursa. When Kitai's promotion to a Ranger is rejected, his mother Faia suggests that Cypher brings him along on his last mission so that they can bond as father and son. However, their spaceship is caught by an asteroid shower forcing them to crash-land on Earth, now a dangerous planet. With Cypher critically injured, Kitai must learn to make decisions and fend for himself in the wilderness in order for them to survive.
The basics for a coming-of-age story are all in place: the naïve boy who yearns for his father's acknowledgement, father and son are forced to go on a journey, and then the boy discovers himself in his journey. However, this is probably not what M. Night Shyamalan had in mind should he choose to write such a script, resulting in the narrative's half-hearted attempt to take off. "After Earth" is so straightforward that it is almost painful to watch, because there were so many opportunities present for ramp up the drama, such as Cypher Raige's severely broken leg, the death of Kitai's sister, but the narrative barely does anything to build the tension. Cypher tells his son, "Danger is real," yet there is hardly any danger or urgency in the film. We know that Kitai will not die because face it; he has to at least survive until the last 5 minutes of the film before we begin to prepare ourselves for the expected M. Night Shyamalan twist that Kitai may or may not die.
For a character drama or rather, a movie imitating life, a compelling lead performance is needed to make it work, but teen actor Jaden Smith meanders through his role and fails to convey any deeper emotions or conflict. Sure, he can cry and convey a sense of fear properly, except that his behaviour comes off as irritating than sympathetic. Part of the problem comes from Will Smith, whose charisma and talent magnifies his son's lack thereof despite only sitting in front of the control panel for the whole of the movie. If there is one thing that we learnt from "After Earth", is that GPS companies can hire Will Smith to record his voice for their navigation systems and it will make big bucks.
Matters are made worse when we get our first glimpse of the film's CGI. The fake monkeys would not have offended so much if the film is also marketed as a test drive for students who have just got accepted into film school aside from being "the Jaden Smith film", but it is not. In addition, the production design, props and costumes are blandly generic and cheap. For example, the cutlass weapon, when sheathed, looks just like a bamboo container that was used by the Chinese as they make long journeys. The "smart suit", meanwhile, looks like a costume reject from "X-Men".
In conclusion, "After Earth" is a paint-by-the-numbers, "what you see is what you get" film. It is the toddlers' guide to making science fiction films that can sell, but for a director whose career once consisted of films like "The Sixth Sense", "Unbreakable" and "Signs", it should have been more than a vehicle to promote Jaden Smith, who is clearly not ready to be the next big star in Hollywood. Inane, cliche and unfeeling, the only twist in this coming-of-age science fiction film is that it got made at all, and with such a huge budget to boot.Cinema Online, 05 June 2013