Review: After Earth


After EarthOnce again I find myself asking the question, "WHY does anyone keep letting M. Night Shyamalan make movies?" In 2010 he single-handedly decimated The Last Airbender, creating the sort of flop that not only ends careers but makes people re-examine a director's previous body of work with a sour eye. After that flop he has returned with After Earth, co-written with Gary Whitta, based on a story idea by Will Smith.

Starring Smith and his son Jaden, After Earth is a family-friendly adventure movie that couches itself in the elements of good sci-fi but fails to realize even a hint of the greatness of the films from which it derives. The reason can be boiled down to one simple statement: Good sci-fi doesn't insult the audience's intelligence.  After Earth does so in dozens of simple ways.

The basic setup is that 1,000 years in the future, mankind has exploited Earth to the point of uninhabitability and therefore has left to colonize other systems. Somewhere along the way, we met a hostile alien race who rather than attack us with superior technology, sends giant angry sightless monsters that can smell (and track us by) the pheremones released by fear. Smith is the first warrior who can completely suppress his fear, thus making himself invisible to the enemy. Due to a freak accident, he and his son crash-land on Earth and must survive until help arrives.

Before going into any details, even the basic idea has flaws. Aliens that can only track us by scent, and we can't simply wear sealed suits?  A thousand years in the future, and we have to fight with bladed weapons instead of guns and lasers?

Getting into the execution of these ideas in the script, even worse problems jump out. A routine flight is forced off course by an "asteroid storm"?  In order to effect their rescue, they must recover a distress beacon that for some reason wasn't activated BEFORE the ship crash-landed. These are supposed to be people a thousand years more advanced, but they have been scripted as stupid in unnecessary ways to set up a very contrived plot.

Other blunders in After Earth include an Earth that is a virtual paradise despite nightly flash-freezes worthy of the worst Roland Emmerich threw at his characters in The Day AFter Tomorrow, which is also listed as "Class A deadly" with every life form evolved to kill man ... but the deadliest thing they face is the alien they brought with them; zero remnants of the civilization that supposedly made the planet uninhabitable; unintelligible accents because hey, it's the future and people will talk different; an amputee with no prosthetic in an awkward scene that exists only to set up Smith repeating the line "Stand me up" at the end of the film; and finally, a plot ripped straight from The Matrix, which requires Jaden Smith to effectively become Neo by conquering his mental block and realizing there is no spoon, or in this case, fear.

Looking beyond the weak story elements, the film suffers from inconsistent quality of art design (at times lackluster but in some scenes really nice), and several shots in the opening scenes look unfinished, as though the film is still in post-production.

After Earth does have some things going for it, however. Sophie Okonedo (known to Doctor Who fans as "The Bloody Queen") brings a grace and polish that can't be tarnished by Shyamalan's direction.  The score by James Newton Howard was enjoyable and for me perhaps the most memorable of his extensive body of work. The makeup, for one shot in particular, was exceptional and terribly effective.  

If you can ignore the many weak points in the story, After Earth is a fun adventure that will play well to pre-teen boys. It just fails to engage the audience with a strong plot, tease the intellect with finer points of story detail, or move the viewer emotionally. So, you have to ask ... Wy DO they keep letting that guy make movies?

I don't believe the press or

I don't believe the press or the critics on this one. They know this movie was set to be one of the summers blockbusters and they are trying to make it fail. I saw the trailer and it looks amazing. I want to see it