Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Produced by: Caleeb Pinkett
Jada Pinkett Smith
Screenplay by: Gary Whitta
M. Night Shyamalan
Story by: Will Smith
Starring: Jaden Smith
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cinematography by: Peter Suschitzky
Editing by: Steven Rosenblum
Studio(s): Overbrook Entertainment
Blinding Edge Pictures
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Release date(s): May 31, 2013 (United States)
June 7, 2013 (United Kingdom)
Running time: 99 minutes
Country: United States
Production budget: $130 million
Box office revenue (as of publication): $199, 141, 216
Aloha there folks, I'm belated as ever. This is my last review for the month of June and the two films I saw during my sabbatical, and then I'll be following it up with a Film of the Month post. For July, I've already seen The Internship and This Is The End, and have plans to see Man Of Steel, The Act Of Killing (a documentary produced by Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, which I've heard good things of), World War Z, Pacific Rim (which I'm looking to!) and others, so, for all the very latest in movies and what have you, keep your eyes posted!
Today's film up for analysis is After Earth, also known as (at least to me, anyway!) The Smith Family Robinson, given that the major selling point of the film is a collaboration between Will Smith and his son Jaden, their first onscreen outing together since The Pursuit Of Happyness. Jada Pinkett Smith, wife to Will and mother to Jaden, and Caleeb Pinkett, her brother, also have producing credits alongside Will Smith's regular producing collaborator James Lassiter, which lets you know that this is, for all intents and purposes, a family affair. It's also the first directorial work of M. Night Shyamalan since The Last Airbender, a film which continued the ongoing downward spiral of a director who, not ten years ago, was heralded as a contemporary heir to Hitchcock and one of the most exciting people in Hollywood. After producing 2010's Devil, a serviceable horror-thriller, Shyamalan was roped into doing this by Will Smith, both of whom had planned on working together in the past. Basic synopsis here, a vessel, commanded by General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) crash lands on Earth, the difference being that this is one thousand years after humans were forced to abandon the plant after a series of cataclysmic events, and the place is now inhabited by highly evolved creatures that, though blind, are able to smell human fear and kill them as a result. Raige is injured in the crash landing, and it is up to his son Kitai (Jaden Smith), who failed to become a member of The Ranger Corps as a result of recklessness, shaming his Ranger father, to recover a rescue beacon to have them be saved and live up to his father's reputation and need to be acknowledged by him. I'm done with that, don't get me started on all that 'ghosting' shit!
To start with the good about After Earth (and to be frank, there ain't much), I'm actually going to compliment director M. Night Shymalan. The material he has to work with isn't exactly up to scratch, but you can tell he's doing his best with it, even if he has been reduced to a director-for-hire role. After Earth could really have been one of the worst films ever made, but Shymalan does at least attempt to keep some semblance of control. Also, even if it's not particularly well-executed, the central father-son in peril premise is enough to garner a relative degree of interest. Finally, although this is obviously a personal thing with me, I felt for the big giant condor and the stuff with it's chicks. Maybe it's an animal lover thing, but anytime a movie pulls the old 'dog in peril' trope, no matter how many times I see it, I still go with it, so, wahey, you got me again!
However, that is about as much as I can manage to say in favour of After Earth as it is otherwise a uniformly terrible film. The reason I say 'uniform' is because it's not a film that, no matter how bad, makes me actively angry, but rather one that is just consistently boring. I tell a lie, bland is probably a more appropriate word in relation to this film. To start with the issues, and I'm not going to stay on the script as usual, because there are so many things wrong here, but the script is a mess. The basil exposition stuff in the first act takes way too long to explain, and as a result, it takes approximately thirty minutes before the film actually gets going, and when it does, boy does it move in predictable ways. I don't know if Gary Whitta and Shyamalan could have written a more dull, textbook script, because this just takes the single most predictable route possible, and it's not like they even gave this predictable route a bit of character along the way. Right down to the dialogue, it's things that we are all well and truly familiar with. Also, I'm not going to rag the actors too much (and I'm certainly not going down the nepotism route, which is a ridiculous tabloid-esque form of journalistic mud-slinging), but at what point was it decided they would talk like they do? After one thousand years, it's understandable that human speech patterns would change, hell, they probably wouldn't even be speaking English, but do the Smith's really have to talk like a bunch of stilted mannequins? I think HAL 9000 had more character, and this is me talking about Will Smith, a man who sweats charisma! Although Will's the star, it's Jaden's movie, and frankly, he fails to get across to me the necessary emotional curve that his character is meant to be going through. In fact, his depiction of Kitai comes across as pathetic and irritating, also problematic that the script doesn't do anything to convince us that the character is something worth rooting for ("not going to rag the actors too much..." hmm?). The other main outstanding issue with the film for me is that, despite being a film with a budget of $130 million (that's a whole hundred million more than District 9's $30 million budget), technically the whole thing looks pretty low-rent. The actual ship itself before crashing looks something in between rejected models for 2001: A Space Odyssey with flimsy bits of cardboard and paper maiche spray painted brown. Also, I know it's meant to be a tight space, but really, you're going to have a slightly elevated walkway at one point? Talk about undercutting practicality! Also, some of the props look decidedly like a contemporary equivalent to the kind of things you'd find in 1950s science-fiction b-movies like Teenagers From Outer Space (an underrated pic, I might add). I mean, the things that Kitai has to use every twelve hours in order to breath in Earth's atmosphere (which really could have been done as capsules or something) look like they've essentially inserted egg yolk into two ceramic dishes glued together! Also, once we're off on our journey, although there was (purportedly) a good bit of location shooting done in Costa Rica and Switzerland, most of it has that look we associate with a sound stage, with not a whole lot of actual location work being done. Problematic too is Peter Suschitzky's cinematography. A fine d.p., unfortunately here not only does he go for digital photography, which undercuts the low-rent effects and production design, the film is also pretty brightly lit, so that we can actually see how poor some of the film looks. What he should have done is played the illusionist and gone for a lot of low-key lighting, so that we were unable to see how shoddy the overall thing looked. I'm sure I could point out more issues with the film, but frankly I feel burnt as I had etched most of the movie from my memory and recalling it has now given me mild nausea.
What I have come to realise in the course of this review is that although After Earth is a film that does not actively prod me and annoy me into thinking it's a bad film like something along the lines of Project X, a film that is absolutely hateful but to get too angry about would be to do it a compliment. However, despite a very few little things that save it from being one of the worst films I have ever reviewed, After Earth is still a godawful wreck of a film that is so bland, so dull, so without character as induce mild nausea in yours truly just recalling it, that it's not far off being one of the worst. Dull, dull, dull, bland, bland, bland, blah, blah, blah!
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 1.1/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Haven't you got the point (nausea!)
P.S. I had to go all the way back to Vampires Suck in 2010 to gauge how bad I thought this film was! Incidentally, if you google The Thin White Dude's Reviews and Vampires Suck together, you can find my spamming of the official Facebook with my review which got me banned from the page and abuse reported against me. Toodles!