Director: M. Night Shyamalan Writers: Gary Whitta (screenplay), M. Night Shyamalan (screenplay) Will Smith (Story)
Stars: Jaden Smith, David Denman, Will Smith
M. Night Shyamalan’s name strikes fear into the heart of the keen cinema-goer. After early promise with writing and directorial credits on Unbreakable, Stuart Little, The Sixth Sense and Signs, his career started to go into a distinct decline, his name becoming a by-word for flash-in-the-pan success and even spawning some internet memes. So it came as some surprise to see the director not only working again, but working with someone who was also one of western cinema’s biggest draws, Will Smith. Smith had been named the most powerful actor in Hollywood by Newsweek in 2007, but had been on a short hiatus from acting, concentrating on production work, including on a remake of The Karate Kid, also starring his son Jaden (which has a sequel in production as I type) before re-entering the fray with Men in Black 3.
However, the trailer for the pair’s collaboration After Earth appeared online and it looked, well, GOOD. The story certainly sounded intriguing. The excellently named Kitai and General Cypher Raige occupy a future where humans had to abandon earth 1000 years ago due to lack of resources. Now they were battling against the creatures of Earth, which had evolved to kill human life. The trailer also LOOKED good too, with some neat design elements that hinted at some real depth of thought into the future world.
But that was the trailer, and it seems that aside from that initial concept of humanity abandoning Earth, not a lot of thought had gone in to an actual plot. The film basically sees a spaceship crash land leaving Kitai having to search for a lost beacon. That’s it. Yes, there is some back story about why General Cypher Raige (I do have to say that in a gravelly voice, even in my head) and his son are so at odds, and a vague element of peril with a monster which has been set free by accident, but otherwise this is a single issue movie- man vs nature. The overall plot is too thin to really sustain any interest in what was a very promising concept.
There are some redeeming features to the film. The design elements overall are interesting, with some intriguing concepts and textures for the human technology and the colour-changing suit is a neat narrative device. I would like to think we’d be slightly further forward in our military technology than the clunky beacon Kitai is searching for, which seems to have the reception capabilities of a 90’s mobile phone. The concept behind the weird futuristic accent everyone has is intriguing, although it to my untrained ear it does sound like my bad, drunk impersonation of someone from Boston.
Another major issue is that Kitai is both annoying and unlikeable for much of the movie. He is surly and petulant, with seemingly no redeeming qualities. Put against Will Smith’s emotionally dead General and it is very difficult to generate any sympathy, even when presented with their backstory of bereavement. Normally so charismatic, Will Smith becomes a cartoon of a man who has seen and experienced too much, but with no hint of warmth behind it.
After Earth had a promising concept and some great visuals, but was ultimately was let down by a thin plot and weak characters, leaving a distinctly hollow cinema-going experience. Sadly it looks like M. Night may have to wait a while longer for his big comeback.