<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by M Night Shyamalan. Starring Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo, Zoe Kravitz
It’s true if you disregard the director credit you’ll probably think this film isn’t that bad. It’s just not very good either.
M Night Shyamalan has gotten a very bad name across the globe with movie duds like The Happening, Lady In The Water, The Last Airbender and not since his Sixth Sense and Unbreakable have we seen any hint of his twisty mind brilliance. Perhaps he just got lucky on those two. Even Signs, as slow as it was, evoked… well signs of some greatness. But such is his reputation now that Columbia Pictures and Sony decided to omit his name from all promotions and leave the credits to the end of the movie.
In actuality though, this film is a Will Smith & Co. family affair. The original story was written by Will Smith. His son Jaden has been given a platform to be the next big thing. His wife Jada Pinkett Smith is one of the producers. So let’s not unjustly blame poor M Night Shyamalan (who should probably now change his name) for this pretty but boring sci-fi film.
In the future Earth becomes uninhabitable – the favourite premise of most sci-fi films these days – and mankind is forced to relocate on some other planet called Nova Prime for 1000 years. But this planet has some aliens who breed (stock) monster bug creatures called Ursa to kill humans. But they can’t see them; they can only smell their fear. The humans who will evade them are the ones who have no fear and can ‘ghost’ the vicious Ursas!
General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) is one such ‘ghost’. He wasn’t around to protect his Ranger daughter when an Ursa attacked though. And he blames his teen son for not doing anything to stop her death. Anyway, so within the CGI created slick white world (these sci-fi films seem to like the whole silver white future colours, god it will be difficult to keep all that clean in the future!) Cypher’s wife convinces him to bond with his 14-year-old Ranger-to-be by going on a space adventure in a ship that’s carrying a captured Ursa. The ship – that looks like it’s made from bamboo and plaster of paris – crashes on a planet far away… well you can guess where.
Will Smith’s legs are broken (rendering him sitting in one place throughout the film) and only he and his son Katia… oops Kitai (Jaden Smith) survive. The only working emergency beacon is in the tail end of the ship that’s 100kms away and Kitai has to go fetch in a planet that, ironically, ‘has evolved to kill humans’. And Kitai whines, and whimpers across faced by some very bad CG apes, a giant Eagle and some sabre tooth tigers.
The first half of After Earth is exceedingly slow. Will Smith mouthing dialogue that is stilted in a tone that is robotic doesn’t help. For some reason they confused not having fear with not having any emotions whatsoever. This is not how we want to see Will Smith. And even though it’s clearly a platform for his son, unfortunately even Jaden Smith fails to deliver any depth of emotion or range of expressions. The whole premise of him being a 14-year-old warrior is also a bit circumspect considering his wiry frame and propensity to cry every now and then. By the end of the film he tells his dad that he’d rather work with his mother, who probably has a safer job, and you know he’s not joking.
The only message you can get out of After Earth is that in the absence of humanity for 1000 years, the near-extinct populations of animals like whales have now thrived and are in abundance. Thankfully, they now eat humans for a change and the humans are unlikely to come back.
PS: Nevertheless, I think this film had a lot more background richness and promise than Tom Cruise’s Oblivion.