After Earth - DVD Review

'M. Night Shyamalan’s journey from being one of the 21st Century’s most excitingly promising directing talents to a purveyor of self-indulgent, uninteresting dross is one of the most disappointing yet fascinating of the last decade'

A spectacular fall from grace. A wealth of potential not only unfulfilled but squandered. Fate putting an expanding ego firmly in check. No matter how you describe it, M. Night Shyamalan’s journey from being one of the 21st Century’s most excitingly promising directing talents to a purveyor of self-indulgent, uninteresting dross is one of the most disappointing yet fascinating of the last decade. You’d be forgiven for not even knowing After Earth is Shyamalan’s latest, so absent has his name been from its promotion, signifying yet another step down from the heights of his Sixth Sense heyday. Even his last film, the universally trashed The Last Airbender, was sold as “An M. Night Shyamalan Film”. Maybe Shyamalan himself has at last realised that his name now universally serves as a warning label for bad films.

Sadly, After Earth doesn’t buck the trend in the director’s career. From the opening voiceover delivered by Jaden Smith’s Kitai Raige, it’s clear that After Earth is a film proclaiming itself as a serious sci-fi drama; a proclamation it comprehensively fails to live up to. Spouting some pretentious guff about humanity wrecking the planet that you’ve heard written much better countless times before, Smith’s character might as well be telling you to leave your sense of humour and fun at the door, because you definitely won’t be needing it here.

With Smith Junior putting in a consistently unconvincing performance as Kitai, the appearance of Smith Senior would in most films be more than welcome. Unfortunately, the role of Kitai’s father quickly reveals itself to be one of Will Smith’s most disappointing to date. Cypher Raige spends the opening act sucking any remnants of entertainment out of the film, militarily berating Kitai to ridiculous levels and essentially rendering any authentic relationship between the two defunct before the story’s even begun. With a name that, homophonically at least, is a blunt synonym of “secret anger”, it’s hardly a surprise that Will Smith’s character lacks any form of subtlety or craftsmanship, drawn throughout with broad, clumsy and uninteresting strokes.

Whilst matters become marginally better when the action transfers to an Earth quarantined for a thousand years and the story kicks in properly, there’s far from enough here to save Shyamalan’s film with much that fails to impress. Earth is set up as a place where every living thing has evolved over a millennium to kill human beings, but apart from a run-in with a pack of baboons (casting rejects, and deservedly so, from Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes) and a relatively easy escape from a giant bird of prey’s nest, the planet is woefully bereft of threat. Kitai’s quest across the not-all-that-dangerous terrain feels like it’s been lifted wholesale from a video game, complete with flying level and final boss battle.

The criticism of After Earth could go on and on, from its ecological message forgotten after the first five minutes, to its dangling plot threads, to its hurried and severely unsatisfying ending - even compared to everything that’s preceded it. But the critical issue with After Earth is that you just won’t care about anything it has to offer, from the characters to the setting to the story. This is a film entirely forgettable, but offensive in its forgettableness due to the smattering of ideas here that, in another film entirely and with skilful direction, could perhaps have actually become something interesting.





By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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