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Monday, June 10, 2013

After Earth

Check out the user comments of my review of the film at Channel 24 if you want to find out a) how awful a critic I am and b) how very, very wrong I am about Shyamalan's latest cinematic catastrophe. Read on here, though, for my own unabashedly negative review of one of the worst science fiction films I've seen in years.

What it's about

A millennium after humanity were forced to leave an inhospitable earth, a young military cadet, Kitai, and his estranged father, Cypher, find themselves stranded on the planet after their spaceship is brought down by an asteroid storm. With Cypher badly imaged, it's up to Kitai to traverse one hundred kilometres of poisonous air, rapidly shifting temperatures and a host of deadly animals to send out a beacon and secure their rescue.

What we thought

There's something kind of hilarious about After Earth being released in this country the same week as Star Trek Into Darkness. Not just because it's going to be fun watching Star Trek kicking M. Night Shyamalan's latest disaster all over town but because After Earth is actually similar to what Star Trek was quickly on its way to becoming before JJ Abrams came along and gave Gene Roddenbery's tired franchise the adrenalin shot in the ass it so desperately needed.

Star Trek at its worst, particularly in its later incarnations, had dull characters, stodgy dialogue, boring plotlines and wooden acting so it's interesting to see that just as JJ Abrams has done everything in his lense-flair-driven powers to return Star Trek to its Shatner-led glory days - but with a new, accessible and hyper-active sheen - Shyamalan has effectively made something that looks like a long-buried episode of Star Trek: Voyager but with worse writing and direction.

After Earth may not be quite as laughably bad as Shyamalan's worst film, The Lady in the Water, but that only really makes it all the worse. At least his laughably stupid attempt at a modern day fairy tale, replete with its water nymphs, evil film critics and Shyamalan himself as the saviour of all mankind, was unintentionally funny and interesting in a car-wreck kind of way. After Earth is just horribly dull, very poorly made and utterly lacking in any sense of character, vitality and humour.

Much has been made of young Jaden Smith's admittedly rubbish performance but it's hardly fair to blame the poor kid. Quite aside for the bullishness of picking on an actor who has only barely hit puberty, it's pretty clear that Shyamalan's staggeringly bad direction is entirely to blame for just about everything that's terrible about After Earth. Everything else, of course, is the fault of the equally staggeringly bad screenplay that he co-wrote with Gary Whitta. Whitta's only previous screenwriting credit, incidentally, was the silly but perfectly decent Book of Eli, which is a far better alternative to After Earth if you're looking for something in the post-apocalypse sub-genre.

It's just astonishing how far Shyamalan has fallen since the days of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable as this former “Next Spielberg” (a title now held, fittingly enough, by one JJ Abrams) has systematically unlearned everything that was good about those films, while only amplifying the more questionable stuff like a lack of a sense of humour and sometimes cruddy dialogue.

Remember the suspense and visual flair of The Sixth Sense and the intelligence and humanity of Unbreakable? Well, you may, but M – if that is indeed his real name - sure as hell doesn't. Visually, After Earth looks an awful lot more like Battlefield Earth than The Sixth Sense, especially as he lifts that film's (seriously, did no one mention to the man just how reviled that Scientology-inspired dud remains to this day?) horrible close-up-but-slightly-skewed camera work wholesale. Oh and the CGI work looks pre-Toy Story to boot!

Putting aside the look of thing, Shyamalan's storytelling has never been weaker. The basic plot is pretty weak but everything from the pacing to the characterization is simply atrocious and, would you know it, the film makes no sense whatsoever. Pssssst, M, over here: if the earth has been made entirely uninhabitable to human's then it really should look a bit more Mad Max and significantly less The Jungle Book on steroids. And it really shouldn't have freakin' baboons – ya know, humanity's closest relative - running around! Oh, right, the animals evolved to hunt humans by... growing slightly larger or something? Yeah, that explains it...

Worst of all by far though, is what Shyamalan does to Will Smith. He may not exactly be entirely free of blame as he did produce the film and wrote the original story on which the screenplay was based, but Smith has always been an intensely charismatic screen presence with a particular knack for comedy and a sure hand with drama. Not in After Earth though. Will Smith, for the first time in his admittedly spotty career, is dead weight on screen with all the personality of a putrefying turnip. Apparently resurrecting Bruce Willis' career with The Sixth Sense came with a price - but who could ever have expected it to be this great?

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