Friday, June 14, 2013

Film Review: After Earth

Grade: C-

After Earth is a science fiction survival film starring Will Smith and his son Jaden Smith. Although After Earth can be called many things – science fiction, action, space adventure, survival film – it is always primarily a father-son and coming-of-age story. It features plenty of action and CG spectacle but, to its credit and detriment, After Earth lays the morals, lessons, and drama on thicker than is usual for its brand of “popcorn movie” summer fare.

 This effect is of course contingent on the chemistry between Will and Jaden Smith and when working together they mostly succeed. The relationship between the two is palpable and when together they lend the film a deeper sense of gravity. Unfortunately for most of the film they are separated, connected only by chat communication, and each Smith is unable to provide the same kind of punch on their own, much less salvage a generic, vanilla script.

Will Smith especially seems wasted on the film. His role as a strict, authoritarian military father not only fails to play to his strengths as an actor but manages to dry his signature charisma to a crisp. It certainly doesn’t help that he is immobile through most of the film. While yes, it is more of the son’s (Jaden’s) story, and the plot centers around the passing of the torch from father to son, if I were to have Will Smith working for me in a movie I wouldn’t strap him down to a chair for seventy minutes.

As a consequence of this the entire film comes to rest solely on young Jaden’s not quite capable shoulders. While he puts in a passable performance and shows some signs of greater things to come, he is just obviously not ready for this level of play yet (or at least not in this genre). His strengths of sincerity and emotional vulnerability just aren’t up to task for carrying a movie of this scope and even in the under two hour viewing time it is hard not to tire of his more repetitive quirks that begin to border on stagnation.

Director M. Night Shyamalan (The 6th Sense, Signs) has been on rocky road for some time now and while he doesn't dig himself in any deeper with After Earth he also hasn’t made it out of the hole with it either. It is a by the numbers effort that appears content to coast on mediocrity. Contrary to his reputation for absurd twist and turns, After Earth’s main problem is ironically the opposite: nothing happens. If you saw the preview trailer, you know the story – far in the future father and son crash land on an abandoned, uninhabitable Earth and must fight to survive against all manner of hostile Earth predators.

 After Earth has some visual splendor in its magnificent beasts, hyper realistic landscapes, and sci-fi tech but coming on the heels of heavyweights like Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness, After Earth’s smaller budget shows. In comparison the CG is a little more digital and murkier and the mostly tight, close shots don’t “wow” as much as the vast geographies of Oblivion. The cinematography is unremarkable and the only thing that has stuck with me is the abundance of “point of view” shots, which are generally not that effective.

 I wasn’t expecting a lot from After Earth and while I did enjoy parts of the film, it overall felt undercooked. There is a solid concept and mythology behind the story but the movie squanders it.  After Earth isn’t bad but it’s bland, shallow, and simply underwhelming.
By: Terry Pierson, Library Clerk/Page