Cinema Review: After Earth

after_earth_trailer_1

 

DIR: M. Night Shyamalan • WRI: Gary Whitta, M. Night Shyamalan • PRO: James Lassiter, Jada Pinkett Smith, Caleeb Pinkett, Will Smith • DOP: Peter Suschitzky • ED: Steven Rosenblum • DES: Thomas E. Sanders • Cast: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Isabelle Fuhrman, Sophie Okonedo

The original teaser trailer for After Earth felt like an M. Night Shyamalan movie. In deep space, in the future, super-soldier Will Smith and his would-be hero son Jaden crash land on an unpopulated, savage world. But twist! It’s Earth!

But much like Shyamalan’s last disastrous venture, The Last Airbender, After Earth isn’t one of the director’s traditional twist-based thrillers, rather a sci-fi action adventure film. And once more the director is considerably out of his element.

Based on a story idea by Smith the elder, and written by Shyamalan and Book of Eli writer Gary Whitta, After Earth is a father/son bonding tale set within a clumsily considered (and more clumsily realised) science fiction universe. The whole venture feels like an excuse for Will to show off his son; Shyamalan certainly has no chance to show off anything here.

Set some 1,000 years after Earth is abandoned for environmental reasons, mankind has settled on a sunny, Grand Canyon-esque planet called Nova Prime (‘new one’ – not even the most embarrassing use of Latin this film demonstrates). Ranger Corps general Cypher Raige (Will Smith, overcompensating for how ordinary his real name is) has become the hero of humanity after defeating an alien invasion; in what would probably have been a much more entertaining movie to watch. He has perfected the art of “ghosting”, suppressing all fear so that the alien beasties can’t see him. But the death of his daughter at the claws of one of the creatures has scarred his relationship with his son Kitai (Jaden Smith), who has sort of been blamed for her demise despite being only about six at the time it happened.

Attempting to reconnect, Cypher takes Kitai on a mission with him, but soon enough an asteroid collision leaves them the only survivors of the starship once it crashes down to Earth. With Cypher’s leg broken, and the only working distress beacon in the tail section of the starship some miles away (alternative title: ‘Lost in space’), Kitai must venture into the sort-of-unknown to save the day and earn top-billing on the movie posters.

The lush landscape of Earth is now dotted with plenty of predators and poisonous nasties, mostly mild evolutions of creatures we already have – slightly bigger eagles, slightly bigger cougars, slightly bigger monkeys, slightly bigger leeches, ordinary-sized boars. But, due to science and why-the-hell-not-ery, the temperature plummets to below freezing after nightfall, meaning Kitai must race to reach a series of hot spots – thermal safe zones, assumedly where he can save his game and regenerate in case he is killed in his mission.

In a plot mechanic worryingly borrowed from space Viking movie Outlander, an alien being transported by the ship has also survived, and is after Kitai, who must prove himself a fearless hero like his father. The alien, a feral xenomorph thing that shoots needles, is called an ‘ursa’, from the Latin for ‘bear’, because screw education that’s why. There is nothing remotely bear-ish about these things.

There is almost a decent story in the pre-Earth sequences of this film, although Will Smith’s robotic delivery and 14-year-old Jaden’s slightly awkward performance don’t capture the militant father/struggling son dynamic as well as maybe it appeared behind the scenes. Smith Sr., reduced to Morgan Freeman impressions in Jaden’s ear for much of the film, gives his son as much room as he can to act the star, but the young performer is just not up to carrying a movie – especially with only CGI animals to perform against for much of the time.

The locations are lush but the CGI is poor, and when swarms of computerised monkeys rumble through the ferns it looks almost laughable. The action scenes in general are disastrous, with all but one of them cut short after only a minute – an aerial showdown with an eagle ends almost as soon as it begins.

While the architecture of Nova Prime is briefly interesting, the story leaves it so quickly that we never have a chance to be wowed by the $130m production values. The inside of Cypher’s ship looks like something out of Blake’s 7, all cardboard walls and hangar netting. They were going for a look, clearly, but they forgot to finish it. The one piece of design truly worth commending is in the Ranger Corps’ weaponry – they wield ‘cutlasses’, blade handles with control panels on them allowing the wielder to select the blade of their choosing to shoot out from it. It’s a nice idea, and gets a few brief clever uses; but if you’ll remember the last time a sword was the best thing about a film you were watching The Phantom Menace.

It’s impossible to know what anyone saw in this project. What is the moral? Certainly not environmentalism – mankind has only been gone a millennia and Earth looks gorgeous again! The father/son bond is central but never really pushed, and climaxes on a remarkably awkward joke that suggests not so much an understanding has been reached but that neither man is up to their line of work. Wedged in the middle is the most preposterous re-enactment of Androcles and the Lion you could ever hope to witness. The running theme of overcoming fear allows for a lot of The Secret-meets-FDR nonsense talk from Smith, suggesting fear is something we choose to have, even when watching our sisters get impaled by colossal lizard bug monsters, called bears.

Shyamalan’s failure is most of all not knowing how to control an action sequence, and he seems to have no sense of what audiences want from their thrill rides. Lacking pacing, drama, emotion, action and even a truly unique vision, After Earth is about as big a dud as Hollywood can hope to churn out these days. Not even the combined starpower of Mr. and Mr. Smith can save this one.

 

David Neary

12A (see IFCO website for details)

99 mins
After Earth is released on 7th June 2013

After Earth – Official Website

Share

The Karate Kid

The Karate Kid

DIR: Harald Zwart • WRI: Christopher Murphey • PRO: James Lassiter, Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, Ken Stovitz, Jerry Weintraub • DOP: Roger Pratt • ED: Joel Negron • DES: François Séguin • CAST: Jackie Chan, Jaden Smith, Taraji P. Henson

Like most people of my generation, the news that another ‘reimagining’ of a hallowed ’80s institution gave me sweaty palms and sleepless nights. Nobody could take the place of Danny LaRusso or Mr. Miyagi – and no phrase on earth would ever usurp the iconic, the beautiful, the sublime ‘wax on, wax off’ of the original. It was with low expectations, therefore, that I gathered my nieces and nephews together to attend the family screening of the new The Karate Kid movie, already convinced that Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan could only desecrate a legend. How entertaining it is to be proven so wrong!

First and foremost this is a children’s movie, but like all the most successful of this sub-genre, it is also a family movie that can be enjoyed by both the kids, and the adults they have dragged in with them. This small but salient point means that while the children giggle at the comedy and cheer at the action, the adults can nod sagely at the lessons of respect, hard work and friendship buried in the subtext. This is not to discount how action-packed the movie really is – the initial bullying-kid-beat-up is really quite brutal, but in keeping with how harsh the world has become for young kids. And this is a film about young children – gone is the hard world of the 17-year-old original; here, the protagonist is 12 years old, and so are all the bullies. This doesn’t mean the fights are less realistic – in fact, it makes it even harder to watch, seeing young children engage in this behaviour.

But Jaden Smith makes every moment work – a carbon copy of his famous Dad, he is Will Smith in absolute miniature. He has amazing comic timing, can throw himself headlong into all-out action, and is more than capable of engaging with dramatic moments and emotional scenes. In fact, all the adults in the movie are playing catch-up with his fantastic performance. His character, Dre, is the classic fish out of water, moving with his mother to Beijing, where everything is strange and scary to him. There, he meets kung-fu bullies, a pretty girl, and a grouchy mentor – Mr. Han. While no Mr. Miyagi, Jackie Chan shines onscreen, creating a believable and emotional rapport with Jaden. In fact, their comedic and dramatic interaction provides a solid backbone to the entire movie.

There are quite a lot of subtitles, seeing as how half the characters are Chinese, so although the film is 12A, younger children might struggle – unless you’re willing to spend much of the movie reading to them. However, it’s perfect for the 8-14 age group: the action scenes, comedy moments, and relationships – both with his mother, and the young girl Dre takes a liking to – are played out to perfection, and the kids in the cinema were cheering and clapping by the finale. The movie has its faults, of course, (Mr. Han’s back-story could have been left out, for one thing) but Jaden Smith is a star – and probably the most talented and likeable child actor to light up the screens in years. His easy manner and obvious enjoyment ensure that you identify completely with him, and follow his story every step of the way. This is not the The Karate Kid of the ’80s – it’s a martial arts remake that’s a whole new breed, and the introduction of a legend to children of a whole new generation. ‘Jacket on, jacket off!’

Sarah Griffin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
The Karate Kid
is released on 30th July 2010

The Karate Kid Official Website

Share