After Earth

Widely regarded as a hit-and-miss director, M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth is a sci-fi film that is conceptually withstanding but tonally inept.

Widely regarded as a hit-and-miss director, M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth is a sci-fi film that is conceptually withstanding but tonally inept. The film also finds itself in dangerous proximity to Oblivion, a recent and similarly themed sci-fi film that turned out to be a sacrifice of substance in favor of style.

 Based on an original story by Will Smith, After Earth begins with a murky prologue and a familiar post-apocalyptic premise.  Humans have rendered earth uninhabitable before a mass exodus to Nova Prime, a new world beyond our Solar System. The story begins a thousand years after this, when Prime Commander Cypher Raige (Smith) leads a team of Rangers to victory after battling predatory aliens called Ursas. He does this by developing a technique called ‘ghosting’, a method that suppresses fear, thus making humans invisible to the already blind Ursas. Trying to man-up to his father, Teenager Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) gets his chance when their spaceship crashes into Earth. With his father injured, Kitai must find a way to get help while surviving Earth which has ‘evolved’ into a very hostile and unforgiving planet.

 We have seen it before, in various shapes, sizes and colors, but the central theme is the film’s coming-of-age story: the moment when a boy must shed his skin and become a man. In adapting from Smith’s story, Shyamalan’s screenplay is evidently grand with a wide-angle focus on various other themes. Amongst this is Darwin’s scientific theory of evolution and the survival of the stronger species. But also running side by side is the growth of a father-son relationship and a tragic background story.  These plot shifts become tonal shifts and this is why viewers will be on the edge of their seat one moment, and bored stiff a moment later. The same thing goes for the film’s visuals—some scenes are shot at 4K resolution on the new Sony F65 camera, whereas other scenes comprise of flat CGI rendition. There is one scene where you see the blackheads on Will Smith’s nose and clearly…someone forgot to leave that bit on the editing room floor. The camera doesn’t lie and another example is the uninspiring performance by Jaden Smith. Whatever magic they had in their first film together (The Pursuit Of Happyness) is somehow missing here, and I hope I’m wrong, but the charisma of Smith Sr. is missing in Smith Jr.

It was many years ago when Shyamalan first amazed us with his storytelling prowess in Sixth Sense(1999). What followed were multiple attempts to reclaim that nuance, including the abysmal The Last Airbender (2010). With After Earth, Shyamalan shines in a few scenes, especially action and terror, but dramatic scenes involving Jaden Smith are rather dull and the young actor appears, well, too young for certain moments during the film. Overall, this is not Shamalan’s worst movie and there are definitely surprises, both thrilling and dull. But considering its shock and awe potential, After Earth is neither a hit nor a miss, rather a mixed bag of potluck moments.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.