After Earth (2013)
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Running time: 100 minutes
Now Showing this week is After Earth, the latest film directed by M. Night Shyamalan and starring Will and Jaden Smith in the starring roles. One thousand years prior to the film’s events, mankind fled a polluted Earth in order to find a new home. They found one by the name of “Nova Prime”, and promptly begun a new era of civilization there. However, an alien race also had their eyes on Nova Prime, and to fend off the humans they used an army of creatures called Ursas, huge beasts whose primary sense is detecting pheromones excreted from humans when they experience fear. The Ursas dealt huge amounts of damage to humanity until Cypher Raige (Will Smith) came along with the amazing ability to not feel fear, becoming essentially invisible to the Ursa. Cypher taught this ability to others (nicknaming it “ghosting” and humanity once again reclaimed their new home. But after all that setup, After Earth focuses on the scenario of Cypher Raige and his teenage son Kitai (Jaden Smith) being marooned on Earth with Cypher unable to walk, thereby leaving Kitai to trek alone across the dangerous landscape in search of their distress beacon. But the woods surrounding their ship may contain a loose Ursa, which begs the question: can Cypher teach his son how to “ghost” in time to save them both?
I haven’t seen an M. Night Shyamalan movie in a long time, not since The Village some ten years ago, and as a result I have completely missed the huge stains on his career that I keep hearing about. Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender etc have all been slammed by critics and the general populous alike, and a recurring criticism I have seen for those films (maybe not so much The Last Airbender) is that Shyamalan’s signature trope of having a twist in the story had gotten to the point of stupidity. Well, you can all calm down because After Earth is a major change in Shyamalan’s film career as he alters his formula accordingly to those criticisms. Unfortunately, I feel After Earth would have been much better had it included a classic Shyamalan plot twist!
Allow me to explain. After Earth was, by no means, a boring film (at least, to me it wasn’t). The events that transpire are interesting and entertaining, however I found that the main source of my interest came from me wondering what the real key to “ghosting” was. I was getting a constant vibe that there was something special about it, and that something was going on behind the scenes that would be a shocking reveal. On top of that, there were so many possibilities for intrigue to pay off with a twisted surprise; one example, why is the Earth now so fertile and populated with animals only one thousand years after we made it uninhabitable? Or, who were the aliens that created the Ursa and what happened to them? But sadly, none of these avenues are explored or even mentioned, and After Earth plays out exactly how you would expect it to with absolutely no surprises. I suppose this is not necessarily bad, but it is very disappointing.
Performance wise, After Earth was a bit hit and miss. Jaden Smith’s Kitai was, at best, decent. Once he was alone in the wilderness he really starting getting into the flow of things, but in the introductory scenes on Nova Prime and on the spaceship, Jaden seemed a bit flat, with a habit of rushing his lines and having no conviction. Will Smith as Cypher was a slightly different story, his performance having a heavy monotone for a lot of it and just being closed off from any emotion. I suppose his lack of emotion is the result of his ability to “ghost” and therefore makes sense contextually, but it didn’t really make him very interesting to watch. It was only when he was able to open up and talk about his first “ghosting” experience that I found myself to be really engaging with him as a character.
I know it sounds like I’m really ripping into this film, but to be honest I did quite enjoy it while I was watching it. But that enjoyment came, as I said earlier, from my intrigue towards some potential payoffs that never eventuated. So I suppose this tale of a father trying to make his son into a sociopath on a hostile Earth isn’t so great in hindsight, but it was a decent watch at the time. And while I did have fun that first time, I don’t think I can, in good conscience, recommend it to anyone.
See you next time!