Review of "After Earth (DVD)"

published 06/09/2013 | afy9mab
Member since : 11/07/2000
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All of my DVD reviews are film only, so do not include pricing information. If you have time, please read and rate my Batman V Superman review.
Not for me
Pro A potentially solid cast.
Cons Lame direction, writing, performances and effects.
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"Why on Earth Would You Bother?"

Teenager Kitai Raige goes on a deep-space mission with his father. But when a meteor shower sends them off course, they crash-land on a hostile planet where everything has evolved to kill humans. Kitai is shocked to discover that this is Earth, which the humans abandoned a thousand years ago. Now father and son must fight to survive in the most dangerous place in the universe.

It is a long time since M Night Shyamalan was considered the brightest young thing in Hollywood. After a series of increasingly contrived and self-indulgent films, producers seem to have finally taken his toys away from him and are allowing him to work only as a director for hire. It is probably a good thing. But without his own ideas to play with, he seems content to pilfer from others. So the whole shebang looks like a generic modern science fiction film. The characters live in a world seemingly designed by Apple; their homes are monuments to minimalism, monochrome and sleek curves. The spaceships take their lead from nature. The humans fly around the universe in ship shaped like a stingray, which looks suspiciously similar to the Gungan sub in “The Phantom Menace”. However, when it is ripped apart by the crash, one of its main constituents appears to be acres of toilet roll over an insubstantial honeycomb framework. As in virtually every science fiction production in the past forty years, the protagonists are clad in jumpsuits. But although Kitai’s costume has a nifty colour-change function that signals danger, it feels a bit clichéd. The monstrous creatures owe a huge debt to the work of Ray Harryhausen. There is one scene in a gigantic eagle’s nest involving a giant sabre-tooth cat that feels like it has been lifted from a Sinbad movie crossed with “One Million Years BC”.

The director doesn’t bother with character development, so the protagonists remain bare-bones stereotypes, making the father-son dynamic a hard-sell, particularly as the screen and real-life relations barely share any screen-time. Consequently it is well nigh impossible to care about any of the players. In addition, the production lacks any palpable tension. The foes that Kitai finds himself up against are all giant computer-generated creatures, which aren’t always very well integrated into their surroundings. I can’t help thinking that if there were more physical challenges to the young actor that he would find it easier to react to them and that there would be a greater sense of danger as a result. The storytelling is also problematic in this regard. Every time Kitai is in danger his father or his near-magical survival suit saves him. Once this pattern has been established, it never feels as though there is any real threat to the character. And without suspense, there is no excitement. And with no excitement the film is a tedious hundred-minute slog to a predictable and underwhelming payoff. Not only that, but the pacing stutters between action sequences, as we are exposed to more turgid radio exchanges between father and son.

I can understand why actors want to write their own screenplays; to ensure that they get the best possible roles. But what I can’t fathom is what possessed Will Smith to come up with such a generic and frequently nonsensical mishmash of science fiction ideas. Admittedly the screenplay is actually credited to Gary Whitta and Shyamalan, so Smith can’t take all of the blame. The writers appear to have a very shaky grasp of science. They believe that animals could evolve into gigantic, almost pre-historic versions of themselves within a millennium. Not only that, but they think the beasts would develop an instinctive urge to kill humans, despite the species being absent from the planet for hundreds of years. But then, when a member of the human race proves himself to one of the creatures, it denies its instincts and sacrifices its life for his. In addition, Cypher manages to survive being apparently forced out of a spaceship at a phenomenal altitude at immense speeds with only two broken legs. And quite how he ends up in the cockpit is anyone’s guess. Whitta and Shyamalan also credit the human race with very little common sense. Assuming you have mastered interstellar travel and there are plenty of planets that could support human life, why remain on a planet if the occupying species take such a dislike to you that they start hunting you down with gigantic, ravening beasts whose attacks are provoked by the smell of fear? Wouldn’t you try to reason with the monsters’ puppet-masters instead of accepting the attacks? And why would you transport one of said ravening beasties through space with little or no protection? And how would the creatures find enough food to survive if they were sensitive to only one stimulus? How would they have evolved anyway? In fact, how would they do anything if they had no eyes, sense of touch or hearing? Wouldn’t they constantly be tripping over things and bumping into the furniture?

The characterisation is pitiful. Cypher Raige is a humourless authority figure whose lack of emotions make him a hero to many. Sadly the same lack of emotions makes him little more than a soulless automaton, with whom it is virtually impossible to empathise. His son, Kitai, idolises him, but is unable to replicate his father’s stoicism in the face of danger. So we are meant to empathise with him because he has human frailties. And perhaps we would if he had more personality. It is a shame the two male leads get the lion’s share of the screen-time, as they aren’t actually very interesting. Cypher’s wife Faia is little more than a plot device, who pushes her husband to spend more time with their son, while their daughter Senshi is a cautionary tale made flesh and, in a sexist twist, seems to exist to show that women just aren’t as good at controlling their emotions as men are. Meanwhile all of the peripheral players are nothing more than cannon fodder. The dialogue is stilted throughout.

Will Smith plays against type as the terse, taciturn Cypher Raige. But shorn of his usual quips and cheerful demeanour, he is utterly charmless. Essentially he sits in a chair and gives po-faced orders to his son for most of the movie. He lacks personality and is distinctly unsympathetic. Jaden Smith is photogenic, fearful and fresh-faced as Kitai Raige. He throws himself into the action and hits most of the emotional highs and lows. But he hasn’t quite grasped all the nuances of acting yet. Sophie Okenedo is under-used as wife and mother Faia, while Zoe Kravitz is little more than a plot device as Senshi, so doesn’t really get to show what she can do.

The original music by James Newton Howard tries desperately to confer an epic quality on the production with full-blooded arrangements of dark piano, tense strings, rumbling kettle drums, burring flutes and choral flourishes. But because the action doesn’t quite match up to the composer’s intentions, the music tends to feel bombastic.

I went into “After Earth” knowing it was directed by M Night Shyamalan, so my expectations weren’t very high. Yet I still came out disappointed, probably because I hoped the stars could elevate the material. The direction is bland, the writing is hackneyed and ill thought out and the performances are passionless. I found the whole enterprise utterly soulless and frustratingly formulaic. As a result I cannot recommend it.

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Comments on this review

  • xmum2fourx published 07/09/2013
    What a shame x
  • Anti_W published 07/09/2013
    Brilliant review, and further confirmation to stay away from this movie! Oh Will Smith... :(
  • lml888v published 07/09/2013
    Really enjoyed reading your review ... E
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Product Information : After Earth (DVD)

Manufacturer's product description

Product Details

Actor(s) (Last name, First name): Smith, Will

DVD Region: DVD

Director(s) (Last name, First name): Shyamalan, M. Night

Classification: 12 years and over

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Listed on Ciao since: 05/09/2013