Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Now before we begin, "After Earth" is a deeply flawed film that is harmed by a series of very poor decisions. The plot is fairly stupid, in fact, even nonsensical, but luckily all its really there for is to set up a SciFi future survival in the wilderness tale. And that's what you have to set yourself up for, you kinda gotta ignore the crap about the backstory (which doesn't make a lick of sense), or how the evil aliens sense fear, or whatever. Basically its a son overcoming adversity to save his father and escape from Earth, which is now crawling with mutant animals. That's it. And that does make for compelling cinema, at as far as I'm concerned. M. Night Shyamalan chooses simply bizarre directorial choices, such as a fantastically weird and inconsistent space accent that everybody is speaking. He also still cannot seem to be able to direct people, allowing Will Smith to create the most wooden performance of his entire career, and probably ruining poor Jaden Smith's acting career forever.
Honestly, I'm disappointed I enjoyed this movie at all, since I was expecting a new "Battlefield Earth" or something. Rather, I was actually finding myself enjoying this film. I mean, its nothing great, but its rather better than some other cheap SciFi films that have come out this year. The main duo are fairly flat, the plot is silly, but I was pretty impressed by a relatively simple survival story, combined with a troubled father-son relationship which ultimately drives the film and the characters. Even if you can accuse Will Smith of the worst of foolishness by trying to give his son a Blockbuster role, I don't really think he was trying to do any harm here. He just wanted to make a movie with his son, is that so bad? There's nothing so terribly wrong with "After Earth" that makes it worthy of its status as a laughingstock. I'd even recommend it as a rental.
However, Will Smith's name in this film is "Seifer Rage". You can laugh about that now.
Also, worthy of laughing about is the simply freakish accent that M. Night Shyamalan chooses to give all of his actors. This is what really kills the film. Poor Jaden Smith sounds like English is not his first language, and he given no directions beyond pouting or crying. Will Smith sounds like he's trying to be Morgan Freeman. A few other extras sound like they're from Eastern Europe. I think Will Smith was going fort a cold performance in order to fit his character, which is a very hard personality which is very very reserved with his emotions. Its definitely a huge left turn for Will Smith, who is usually a warm, charming, loudmouth, almost as if he were playing Tommy Lee Jones' character in "Men in Black". But it makes no sense. Yeah, I'm sure 1000 years in the future we'll all be speaking in bizarre new dialects and probably new languages, but we can take artistic license and just have characters speak normal English. Especially when it breaks your leading actor's ability to emote.
Jaden Smith, by the way, is not a bad actor. Or at least, can be used as an effective actor from different directors. He was fine in "The Pursuit of Happyness", a far superior and more charming father-son project from Will and Jaden Smith. Heck, even in the remakes of "The Karate Kid" and "The Day The Earth Stood Still", Jaden wasn't awful, at least not like here. In "After Earth", he is completely gone. This is like Star Wars Prequels-level of acting. Personally I blame M. Night, who has created freakshow performances out of otherwise fine actors in other movies. After a turkey like this, Will Smith will probably recover perfectly fine by the time he does something that's more within his element, but Jaden Smith is just starting out, and this could not be a worse move for his career. You have to feel really bad for him considering what's befallen him. I also feel moderately bad for M. Night, consider his career has fallen so low that he's no longer an auteur and is instead doing contractor work for passion projects of other people. Then again, you make "The Happening", you get what's coming to you.
The point though, is that the movie isn't that bad. The presentation needs work, but this isn't an embarrassing movie to suffer through. I feel bad for the actors and the director merely because of the response this film has received, not for the work they put in. Shyamalan is still a fairly competent director, able to create plenty of tense scenes of fine action. What I really liked about the movie was that underneath the fluff and the CG it was really just a movie about a father and a son learning to communicate. Movies these days are usually about the cars jumping out of airplanes or the CG, they aren't usually about the characters. And Shyamalan for all his pretentious faults, still wants to make movies about people. So really, I give "After Earth" a fine pass.
Now if you want an embarrassingly stupid movie from 2013, go see "The Host". That's the kind of movie that gives off a turd stink that will follow you around ruining your social life for weeks. Enjoy.