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After Earth
Genre Sci-Fi

After Earth is an M. Night Shyamalan film. The director’s signature film is still The Sixth Sense and many would agree that his best years, while love-or-hate projects, surround this film. His most recent “blockbusters” have not lived up to his heyday with invisible, biological retaliation in The Happening and a wishy-washy animation to live-action adaptation of The Last Airbender.

Unfortunately, After Earth is not his comeback. The film may leverage the sentimental father-son team of Will and Jaden Smith from The Pursuit of Happyness, but it’s stunted by it’s own lofty ambitions. Shyamalan manages to create some tense scenarios, but After Earth’s sluggish pacing is further undermined by uninspired performances from Will Smith and his son, Jaden.

Will Smith is a likable actor, often compared to Tom Cruise. However, it’s seems like he’s trying to deny the very charm that made him famous as The Fresh Prince. The accomplished actor’s sparkle has faded and he’s lost that wink-wink warmth. It’s as if he’s brick-walling to be taken seriously as an actor, with a loose attempt to channel Laurence Fishburne in After Earth.

It’s like he’s passing the torch onto his son, Jaden. The young actor has proven himself in The Pursuit of Happyness and The Karate Kid, but literally throwing him into the wilderness to fend for himself is difficult for a cub and even seasoned campaigners like Tom Hanks. Jaden has communication links with his father in a Simba-to-Mufasa dynamic, but his vulnerable performance just doesn’t jell with the onslaught of perils in this do-or-die adventure.

After Earth’s production design is a point of interest. The designers have given this vision of the future a textured, organic feeling, which is different to the hard, glossy and metallic lines of its contemporaries. The teardrop spacecrafts, dashboard technology and camouflage suits are fascinating. Although, much of the awe is extinguished by the occasional cheap prop. Seat belt clips shouldn’t come off rucksacks, especially if they make a swooshing sound and advanced full body “leotards” shouldn’t look like pyjamas.

Many of the film’s flaws seem to have derived from poor conceptualisation. Most of the film takes place on Earth and it’s just an expensive trick to represent “evolved” CGI species instead of the real thing. Then, one of the central constraints (or environmental commentaries) seems flawed or underdeveloped as everything except humans can thrive without a 100% breathable atmosphere. There’s just not enough explanation around an evacuated and uninhabitable Earth.

The film’s influences run deep and wide and it would be a compliment to describe it as a blend between Oblivion, Starship Troopers, Event Horizon and The Grey. Tom Cruise did his best to inject life into Oblivion, a beautiful science-fiction vision that failed to live up to expectations. His scouting, dangerous mission and radio contact with his support have similarities with After Earth.

The film’s central theme of fear echoes Event Horizon, while the graduation to Ranger and alien creature combat have strong parallels with the Starship Troopers series. Then while not as introspective, the crash landing and pursuit by creatures in the wilderness has a number of parallels with Liam Neeson’s encounter with wolves in The Grey.

Unfortunately, it just seems as though the film-makers didn’t prepare well enough. The research seems about as watertight as a Roland Emmerich disaster film and the environmental dangers seem computer-generated or unfounded. Shyamalan’s voyage into the realm of fear doesn’t build enough tension, the pacing makes the journey dull and splitting the co-leads for the majority of the film blunts their chemistry.

The bottom line: Misfire

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