After Earth Review
Reviewed by Jordan Goodier
When I first saw the trailer for After Earth I was excited. It looked decent enough, a gritty sci-fi drama with a father and son story at its core, and it was fairly shocking watching a ship being ripped apart as Will Smith’s character was seemingly sucked into space. The only thing that made me cautious of the film was that it was directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who is notorious in the film industry, in recent years, for not making good movies. He once had a promising career, but releasing flop after flop has damaged his reputation. I however remained hopeful that he would find a triumphant return to form. Then I saw the reviews. And then I saw the film…
It’s not quite as bad as critics have been saying and not as bad as I thought it was going to be. The film’s central dynamic is the relationship between a father, legendary General Cypher Raige (a name probably taken from a cheesy 80s Sci-Fi comic) and his son, Kitai Raige. The film is set in the far future, a thousand years after humans left Earth due to pollution and the damage they’d done to the planet. When out on a mission with his son, (in order to rebuild their damaged relationship) they enter an asteroid belt and crash land on Earth.
I didn’t notice anything particularly bad about the CGI, as reviewers have, but there weren’t any moments that really stood out. As for the whole premise of crash landing on Earth, it seems a little pointless. Because, other than the three different species of animals that we see during the film (supersized due to evolution, we’re told) there is nothing indicating that the planet is Earth. They could have easily done this film about a different planet and it wouldn’t have made a lick of difference.
Will Smith definitely scaled back his performance to give his son some room, but Jaden really doesn’t give a decent enough performance to warrant his father scaling down his.
Smith’s performance, because he was under acting, wasn’t anything special but for me still ending up being the highlight of the film (that should tell you something). His character, Cypher Raige is the general of an elite soldiers unit known as “The Rangers”, who has mastered the technique known as “Ghosting”; a state in which you are completely fearless. This technique helps the Rangers to defeat an alien species that waged a small war with the humans once they reached their new home world. These aliens, can only sense fear. They have no smell or sight, so use fear to track their targets.
All these ideas sound good to begin with, but they’re executed poorly. The fact that these aliens even exist in the premise for the movie is so that Jaden’s character can have a final showdown at the end, and that in itself seems a little pointless. The idea of the aliens is good, as is the “Ghosting” idea, but there should have been more to it, such as a larger conflict with the Ursas who could now inhabit the Earth?
Jaden Smith’s performance is where the film falls on its face. I imagine people would have enjoyed the film a fair bit more if he’d given a more compelling performance, but as it is he’s just bland. Not much emotional range shown, and he appears to only have two facial expressions. Sad (also used for angry) and neutral. Though, I can’t exactly blame Jaden for his performance here (not entirely anyway), I’m going to have to go easy on him because it’s got to be pretty hard being a child star and that trying to jump into a mature adult role (I liked the work he did in The Karate Kid reboot… ish). But overall, Jaden just seems a little in over his head in this film. It doesn’t appear he knows exactly how to play his character half the time or how to bring out his best performance from the dialogue given to him. There’s a scene in which he’s blaming his father for the death of his older sister, years earlier (for which his father appears to have always blamed him for) and he almost manages it, but some dodgy editing in the scene (and throughout the rest of the film) does him no justice. His lines, when delivered, seem fractured and unnatural.
The father-son story is the center of the movie and it’s the part that works the best. However, due to the performances of the two leads, though some dialogue got a chuckle from me and was a little heartwarming in places, this film is ultimately something that should have been much, much better. It’s a film filled with failed execution and a lot of padding, to make up for the lack of ideas that should have been present on the planet Earth itself.
As for the whole “The film is based on Scientology” thing, it’s one of either two things:-
1. So, someone took inspiration from something that interested them? Blimey, because that’s never been done before.
2. So, the writer of the film’s a scientologist? He wanted undertones from his faith in his script? Well I never! Various writers have never put religious undertones of Christianity into their scripts before. Nope. Not even once.
After Earth, I wanted to like you, I really did. The trailer had me hooked; the central premise of the film, of a father and son rebuilding their damaged relationship whilst stranded in a life threatening situation is a good one. And as good as some of the dialogue was (in particular Cypher’s monologue about fear not being real), the film ultimately fails because of the poor dialogue, a poor lead performance by Jaden Smith, and the failed execution of almost all of the film’s ideas.