I often feel like the internet’s foremost M. Night Shyamalan apologist, mainly because I’ve only actually disliked two of his films. After the mind-numbingly boring The Last Airbender, however, even I was concerned in the lead-up to After Earth’s Australian release. The fact that the rest of the world got the jump on us and heaped poor reviews upon the film didn’t help either. In the end, After Earth is a decent film – nothing spectacular but nothing like the incredible insanity that was on display in Lady in the Water.
The film is essentially a father/son story wrapped up in a sci-fi setting. Will Smith plays Cypher Raige (I know, right?) a military man/way cool space ninja whilst his son, Kitai (Jaden Smith) is a lowly recruit yet to make the grade. When their ship crash lands on an abandoned planet filled with hostile fauna, it’s up to Kitai to step up to the task and save them both.
The two Smiths spend most of the narrative apart, communicating through radio, so it’s the kind of film that demands pitch perfect performances without the aid of a co-star to act off. Smith Snr is typically up to the task. He’s sitting down in a single location for much of the film, but he still displays an unerring sense of subtlety for the quieter moments – something that always features strongly in Shyamalan’s films. Smith Jnr, however, is less talented. Whereas Will has always made acting look effortless, Jaden’s performance feels like he’s trying too hard. Despite what some reviewers have said, this doesn’t break the film, but his input is merely adequate where it should have been the lynchpin.
The futuristic sets and costumes are fantastic. Whereas Oblivion went with a future presented by Apple, After Earth features some truly unique interiors, almost organic in conception whilst still feeling credible and lived in. The visual effects are a mixed bag – some of the shots, particularly those concerning the futuristic bodysuits and some of the CGI critters, look great. There are half a dozen moments, however, that are less than impressive.
James Newton Howard’s score gets points, first of all, for not sounding like Hans Zimmer. Whilst it isn’t as instantly impressive as his work on Signs, Unbreakable or The Village, there are some great cues.
Considering how many big budget fantasy and science fiction films are coming out of Hollywood at the moment, it’s no surprise that After Earth will slip under the radar of many cinemagoers. It’s a solid tale that’s perfectly serviceable without reaching the heights of Shyamalan’s previous work.Rating: