After Earth may just be M. Night Shyamalan’s last chance in the world of big budget Hollywood productions. Did he succeed?
The answer to that in a nutshell is No. After Earth is not a bad movie per se, but it’s also not a good movie. And when a $130 million production budget (not accounting for marketing) is attached and you’ve only pulled in $30+ million in the first two weekends you can bet that a lot of people who sit on the board of Sony are not happy. Granted, the international market may save After Earth from being a complete financial disaster, but only time will tell.
But let’s put aside the money aspect and just talk about the movie. Infinispace Bullet Review incoming . . .
- The Story. After Earth is the staple story of an estranged father and son who are thrown in to a perilous circumstance and must work together to survive. It’s also a coming of age tale for the boy (Katai Raige) and a coming to terms tale for the father (Cypher Raige). There’s nothing ground breaking here with regards to the story. The only interesting aspect of the story is the many references to the book Moby Dick. I’ve tried to make a connection to any sort of theme they may share, and the only one I could come up with is that the Ursa is equivalent to the whale Moby Dick and Katai uses the knowledge of the Ursa to overcome the daily fears he had to overcome. Much like the crew of Ahab’s ship did curing Moby Dick. Fear, and the controlling of it, is also a common theme throughout the movie. Danger is real, but fear is a choice, and surviving both means controlling one’s fear. But this theme did not directly resonate with the many references to Moby Dick. Instead my first connection was with Frank Herbert’s Dune where fear is also a prevalent theme, and the control of it is what separates a human from an animal.
- The Players. This movie is a two man show. There are supporting characters in small parts, but this is the Jaden and Will Show. M. Night Shyamalan has the annoying tendency to direct his actors a bit like lifeless automata who plod through his movies speaking in monotone. After Earth is no different. Will Smith’s character rarely breaks this cadence, and Jaden Smith’s awkward puberty crackled voice hides any emotion he may be trying to project. In fact, Jaden’s voice is borderline annoying. Jaden lacks the charisma needed to carry a film that has no real supporting cast. Just like his character Katai, he looks out of place and bewildered for most of the film struggling to project emotion out of the screen or at his father on screen. Cypher Raige has the ability to hide fear from the blind alien Ursa’s, but that should not mean he should be devoid of almost all emotion.
- The Science. After Earth plays fast and loose with science, which seems to be the norm with Hollywood anymore. The characters survive atmospheric decompression and orbital reentry wearing tiny breather masks. Portions of Earth inexplicably freeze during the night, yet these same areas are lush and green during the day, continually going through this cycle every day. It’s a contrivance to drive drama. It’s 1000 years in the future yet they wield swords (cutlass) instead of any sort of gun. Granted, the cutlass is a pretty cool sword. The Ursa’s are blind and can smell fear? Why? Because it drives more manufactured drama.
- The Effects. As a whole the movie looks pretty good, but it’s not a special effects extravaganza. Much of the movie is shot out in the real forest, and on what appears to be the real set of a crashed ship. All of the animals and creatures are CGI. While After Earth looks and feels adequate from an immersion perspective, it doesn’t have the look of a $130 million movie. It has the looks and feel of one with about half that budget. There have been some movies made for even less that have looked equally good (or better) . . . District 9.
- The Verdict: As mentioned above I didn’t find After Earth to be a bad movie, it’s just not a good movie (yes, that’s praise). There is some stigma attached to it because it was directed by M. Night Shyamalan, and just as it has become popular to bash George Lucas over the past decade or so, M. Night is not far behind. So any project that has his name attached to it will never get a fair shake from critics or audiences. After Earth is being dismantled by critics and panned by audiences, but I don’t have as harsh an opinion about it. There seems to be a lack of middle ground these days when it comes to opinion, something either has to be adored or reviled. After Earth falls squarely in the middle ground for me. I paid matinee prices and came out of it mildly entertained. Would I drag a family of five to go see it at full price? Absolutely not! Value propositions still apply! At a minimum I would recommend that fans of the genre check it out on DVD/Bluray when it hits the street. M. Night has certainly been on a decline since Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. But After Earth is nowhere near as bad as, say, The Happening. Not even close. The Happening was utter putricide, and it has a sightly higher (yet still very low) RottenTomatoes score than After Earth. If The Happening has a 17% aggregate at RT, then After Earth deserves a good 40% rating in my opinion . . . which puts is squarely in the “Meh” range for me. This just shows how out for blood critics and fans are for M. Night. I’m not trying to defend him, but when I go to a movie I’m not looking to lynch someone with bias. I rate a movie based on the level of entertainment, regardless of who is in it or who directed it. After Earth offers 100 minutes of mild distraction from our own messed up Earth.
© 2013-2019, Neal Ulen. All rights reserved.
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