There are many things that spring to mind when we think of bad films; plot holes, painful dialogue, and awkward acting all play a part. Eventually, everything boils down to the same thing, believability. This is not a genre specific problem, we can accept that Hogwarts from Harry Potter (2001) is real, likewise we do not question the race or world from Avatar (2009). But when things are left unexplained and stop feeling seamless, we begin to dismiss the realities of the film world, which takes us out of the story.
After Earth (2013) is an M. Night Shyamalan film which he co-wrote with Gary Whitta, and was based on a story idea by Will Smith. It stars Will Smith and his son Jaden Smith.
The story follows Kitai Raige and his father Cypher. While on a bonding mission, their space ship crash lands on Earth and they are the only survivors. Cypher is badly wounded, so it is up to the inexperienced Kitai to traverse the planet in an attempt to save them.
The first problem is that the plot feels generic, the son desperately longs for this father’s approval and we all know that he will manage to get it in the end. Within this basic plot, however, there are a number of seemingly important details that have been added in order to give both the story and characters more depth. Unfortunately they feel forced because of the way that they are delivered. The main example is the use of Kitai’s sister. We learn that both Kitai and Cypher blame themselves for her death and this has affected their relationship. This is not a bad background for the pair, but Cypher’s attitude towards his family is blank and lacking affection both before and after her death, while memories of her only serve as filler for the film.
Will Smith’s character is one of the most boring I’ve ever witnessed. His facial expressions are two-fold; bored and in slight pain (which are probably the two expressions of the audience). There is a very long scene where he describes his first mission in which he has a near death experience, to his scared son where he explains (the tag line of the film) that ‘danger is real, fear is a choice’. This might have had more impact if there weren’t so many pauses, or if there was any feeling at all within the delivery.
I found myself watching, wondering what the plot was going to throw at me next in its attempt to fix itself. It tries so hard to create tension through the possibilities of danger with ‘animals evolved to kill humans’, the temperature constantly dropping and Kitai having less air capsules than he requires for the mission. But there are few animals to be seen – the most deadly being a leech, and Kitai constantly wastes his remaining air supply by complaining or shouting at his father.
After Earth claims to be a science fiction action adventure, but it’s more a meander through a forest that has been explained in a complicated way. A big deal is made about the fact that this planet used to be Earth, but no attempt is made to show destroyed buildings taken over by nature, which could have given an impactful image.
To the films credit, I didn’t turn it off and I did enjoy it. Unfortunately I was enjoying it for the wrong reasons. After Earth is not the worst film that has ever been made, there are many worse that have come before it and there are, undoubtedly many more to follow.
Directed By : M. Night Shyamalan
Screenplay By: M. Night Shyamalan and Gary Whitta (based on a story idea by Will Smith).
Starring: Will Smith and Jaden Smith