Something has gone terribly wrong. A catastrophe similar to the one our world experiences in M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie (surprise!) has happened and has similarly made me want to flee the planet. It’s called After Earth.
After they crash land on a dangerous little planet called Earth, Katai must reach the remaining wreckage of the destroyed ship to save his stoic father’s life and master his emotions to survive the deadly wilderness that has adapted to kill humans.
Did anyone happen to miss the name M. Night Shyamalan? If you did, it’s understandable — a ridiculous amount of effort has been made by the powers that be to hide the fact that he is behind this latest blockbuster.
But there is no hiding the awfulness of one of his movies — it can’t be unnoticed.
Let’s not beat around the surprise-plot-twist bush: After Earth is terrible. Not the kind of terrible that makes you angry, since it was bound to be bad out of the gate due to its origins. Rather, it’s the frustrating kind of terrible that comes from just wishing it was over already.
It feels like there were two interests at play here: Shyamalan going for more of a slow-burn father/son story and the Smiths and other producers looking to make the next big-budget Avatar knockoff. What we have here is the smoldering wreckage of both. Only much more boring.
Shyamalan is known for his more elaborate pacing but making a movie that’s an hour and forty minutes feel like that and a half is criminal. After some unintentional hilarity in the opening prologue and general setup, the movie starts to clunk into an hour and a half of slow motion agony. A drinking game could be formed for every time Will or Jaden Smith blankly stare into the camera for an uncomfortable amount of time, desperate for a line of dialogue. There was more than one point in the movie where the ceiling of the theater was more interesting than what was going on on screen.
Shyamalan uses many flashbacks to a backstory involving Katai’s sister but it’s a mishandled case of show, don’t tell. No less than five scenes showing Katai’s sister and what happened to her are retreaded to the point of being redundant. Conversely, there is a scene in which Katai’s father vocally tells him about an encounter he had with a hostile alien, for which a visual flashback would have been much appreciated, if not necessary.
The reason the flashbacks come off as so redundant and the whole movie isn’t interesting is that the characters are planks of wood. Even if it’s a narrative necessity, having your characters lack any emotion is dull beyond belief. Being subjected to both Smiths mumbling through their distracting, misconceived accents is a test of patience — one which I failed.
It may be a nice gesture to give your son the starring role in a summer blockbuster, or maybe it’s nepotism, but it would be a bigger favor to let him cut his teeth and work up to such a thing first before throwing him to the wolves. As is, Jaden Smith is not up to task. His performance here is stilted and lacks the charisma his famous father used to show eons ago. Yes, he’s just a kid but someone higher up should have known better than to let this happen.
Even if it’s a disaster, there is some minuscule thing to be said about the movie having production values. The ships have a cool organic look to them, the wild environment is palpable and James Newton Howard continues his trend of writing terrific, effective scores to abysmal movies.
But doesn’t that say it all? One has to look to the minor production details to find something to praise because the story, direction and acting is so tragically lacking.
Some have said that After Earth acts as a recruiting tool for Scientology with its strong theme of controlling emotions. Whether or not it does isn’t perfectly clear but if so it’s about as effective as handing someone a brochure, then pumping them full of horse tranquilizer.
As sad as it may be to say, After Earth is a low point in the careers of everyone involved (not godawful like The Last Airbender, but awfully boring). Maybe they all just need a long nap to regroup and figure out what to do next. Luckily they’ve provided one of the best anesthetics ever.