Is After Earth Really THAT Bad?

June 3, 2013 at 10:57 am

Is After Earth Really THAT Bad? | After Earth Review 2013

I woke up this morning and wrote my review for Now You See Me. I saw it on Saturday night with a few friends. Choosing a film that night was a bit of a tough call as it came down to After Earth vs. Now You See Me. Ultimately, we chose the latter and it was disappointing to say the least. The problem is, I think it could have been lose/lose if the reviews for After Earth are any indication.

I almost wrote a post called “5 reasons why I’m skipping After Earth” today.  I had a change of heart when I dug up a post I wrote about a year ago called “After Earth Battle: Will Smith’s Hits vs M. Night’s Flops“.  I decided to find out the answer that question for myself.

Currently, the film has a 12% rating on rotten tomatoes. By my calculations, (read: not a actual statistic) there is an 88% chance After Earth may surprise me…  I’m writing this on the subway. The movie starts in about 30 minutes…

Will After Earth be as bad as critics say?

3 HOURS LATER

Well….. That wasn’t great but it was a lot better than I expected. I read a couple dismal reviews that tore the movie to shreds. Here are a couple quotes:

“From its opening montage to its closing shots, After Earth comes across as an extremely generic effort written by an elementary school student.” (Examiner)

“The characters are emotionally neutered.” (Reel Views)

“After Earth is a wasteland riddled with cinematic trash.” (Hollywood Chicago)

I don’t think it’s a total loss but I would have a better time agreeing with critics if the Tomatometer was around 40-50% instead of 12%.

After Earth is essentially a story about a boy, Kitai, trying to live up to his courageous and respected father, Cypher. It’s 1000 years after humans left the Earth. On their new home, Nova Prime, they are attacked by aliens who use fear smelling…. Alien… dogs to hunt humans down.

It’s a simple setup with a lot of promise but the film quickly morphs into something different.  At first, we are shown a fascinating world but then the movie forgets all that and takes us on a journey elsewhere. After an asteroid accident, we find the Will/Jaden Smith duo stranded on Earth.  (Those damn asteroids have kick started many science fiction stories don’t they?)

His father seriously wounded, the boy must venture into the world humanity left behind, find a beacon and avoid an Alien dog they brought along for the ride.

They don’t mention the aliens who want to exterminate humans again. They don’t delve deeper into why humans abandoned earth in the first place. We really don’t learn anything new once the lengthy, exposition heavy opening ends.

We simply follow Kitai as he dodges bad CG monkeys, birds and other carnivorous beasts like these:

Of course, at the center of the story is a boy trying to free himself from fear and be like his father. A talent known as ghosting. Why? Because it literally makes you invisible to the alien attack dogs… Who are conveniently blind.  I think a lot of people will compare this plot device to the water used in the finale of Signs.

Full disclosure: Signs is one of my favorite movies of all time. It came along at the right time and inspired me. I love that movie.

I did not love After Earth. The movie looks nice, aside from bad creature effects but manages to provide less answers than Prometheus.  Approaching Signs from the minimal perspective of a family on a farm worked. But shrinking such a grand mythology in order to focus on the father/son relationship backfired in my opinion.  I would have rather seen Will Smith in action more and wound him in the third act.  Then let the son rise up and make his father proud.  Of course, that’s my opinion.

What I did like was the tension Shyamalan created throughout the film.  A particularly strong moment occurs when Cypher can see & hear his son but cannot communicate with him. This leads to an emotional moment when he sees his son’s growth for the first time. It’s a great moment.  There just weren’t enough of them to make the film truly memorable. But that doesn’t mean that it’s as horrible as they say.

I think, realistically, After Earth should probably sit around 50% or slightly below. Some people will like it and some people won’t. I think the movie lost 10% because of bad CG. It lost another 15% percent because of the main characters distracting accents. (Something you learn to live with as the movie progresses) I think the final 10-15% is lost due to M. Night Shyamalan’s damaged reputation.

His movies started out amazing and I’m the first to admit I was a massive fan of his early work. I’m also the first to admit that I haven’t really liked a movie he’s made since The Village.  Still, After Earth is the closest I’ve come to liking a Shyamalan film in years. It’s not a come back but he still has a fantastic eye for filmmaking and I hope he matches that talent with a worthy story soon.

Prediction: Shyamalan will announce his return to the supernatural ghost genre soon. Or he will write Unbreakable 2. It will be an effort to remind people what he was once capable of. I’m still interested to see what he does next.

As for Will Smith, who is credited with After Earth’s story, it’s unfortunate that his attempt to do a big budget movie with his own son has seemingly failed. A summer movie starring Will Smith is SUPPOSED to open at #1. I’m willing to give him a pass on this as he did get to make this with his son and he spends most of the movie in a chair pressing buttons.

After Earth will probably be labeled as another Shyamalan flop in the history books but I still think there are people who will connect with the material. I certainly wanted to see more but I expected something a little different. I would still recommend it if you were curious before the reviews came out. You never know which movies will surprise you.  I certainly didn’t see Signs coming.

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