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Saturday, June 1, 2013

After Earth Movie Review

What do you get the kid who has everything? Apparently, his own movie franchise. That's the only possible explanation for why "After Earth" was made, because it certainly wasn't made for the audience's enjoyment.

Will Smith is rapidly re-defining the term "resting on his laurels". With an upcoming shooting schedule silly with numerals ("I, Robot 2", "Hancock 2", "Bad Boys 3") he has obviously surrendered to the paycheck, which is understandable given its size, but there is a difference between sins of omission and commission. Unwisely claiming a story credit on "After Earth", he makes it clear that this whole affair is his fault from the inception. A clearly desperate M. Night Shyamalan , who rode his one trick pony to death years ago, not only managed to find someone to hire him as director but also gets a screenplay credit, presumably for 'punching up' the script by post-apocalyptic writer Gary Whitta .

Sadly, none of these three chose to bring to the table the vaguest notion of science, reality, pacing, drama, or, really, filmmaking. In the first 5 minutes we learn that humanity was forced to abandon the Earth due to its continuing abuse of the environment, colonized a new planet, and is under constant attack by a species that is attracted to the pheromones caused by fear. The good news is that these creatures are also blind so if you aren't afraid they can't smell you and they can't find you. So, naturally, people train themselves to not be afraid so that they can get close enough to use their fancy future-type swords to kill the attacking monsters. They don't train themselves to use guns, bombs, airplanes, a rubber suit, or any other advanced technology, which would seem to be the far easier and obvious choice. That any of this technology is beyond them, considering that they have colonized another planet, and fly hither and tither in their faster-than-light spaceships, is not addressed at all. In that point alone the screenwriting is so lazy and contrived that it's actually offensive.

That said, the fellow who is the best at this is Cypher Raige . Alas, while leading the war against the aliens, he neglected his fatherly duties, leaving his son alienated and desperate to follow in his father's footsteps in an attempt gain his approval. Of course, he hasn't been able to get the whole feel-no-fear thing down just yet. After failing yet another exam to join the elite fighting force known as the Rangers (commanded by Cypher), Kitai accompanies his dad on his one last training mission before he retires. Things go awry and the two find themselves marooned on Earth, which, devoid of its human population, has been reclaimed by nature. With a thinned atmosphere barely suitable for breathing and temperatures that drops to flash-freeze at night, this is not the place to be. Also, "everything has evolved to kill humans." The question of how or why everything would evolve to kill a species that isn't around anymore isn't addressed. The remainder of the movie is occupied with the problem of how to get off of Earth. Along the way, Kitai must confront his demons (physically and psychologically), conquer his fear, and earn his father's respect.

M. Night Shyamalan does little to help the situation. There are serious pacing problems and almost no tension, but he does display an eye for the beautiful wide shots of sweeping vistas. None of them particularly drive the story, but they do provide some eye candy in a film otherwise devoid of anything remotely redeemable.

Stretching his acting muscles by playing Cyper's son Kitai is Will Smith's son Jaden Smith who basically mopes through the whole movie. His acting chops are non-existent, but his enthusiasm for the project still manages to come through and can, at times, make the audience feel bad for the fact that he clearly doesn't realize that he is trapped in a poorly-conceived vanity project.

Will Smith can be forgiven for wanting to get his son into the family business, but he might want to remember that princes who are forced to pay their dues before ascending to the throne generally make better kings. Then again, maybe headlining "After Earth" and the already-announced "After Earth 2" is some sort of lesson in humility.

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