Film Review: After Earth (2013)

I’m really torn about whether to write this review or not. It’s scarcely worth wasting words on, and yet they feel like they need to be extracted from my brain. I also keep hearing “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. But that’s total bollocks of course, it’s exactly that anodyne mentality which permits others to be racist and do terrible things to one another: I don’t have anything nice to say about Mr David Cameron so I’ll say nothing about his selfish bullshit lies and political destruction of our economy, freedoms and infrastructure. Or I can just call him a monstrous twat and move on.

Ah, we seem to have begun this review without intending to. Judge me then by my actions.
After Earth is the freshly excreted crappuloid effort of director M. Night Shyamalan. In his defence (or to at least explain my bias) this is not the only grossly disappointing, stupid and inane film he has made. With the arguable exception of The Sixth Sense (which had a fairly clever twist that I failed to spot until the intended moment) his films are abysmal – in dialogue, concept and execution. Unbreakable is almost unwatchable drivel (“I read a lot of comic books and I realised that the world must be exactly the same as things we write about” fuckwit; thankfully the world is not like the dire minutes that someone allows M. Night to inflict on us), The Village filled me with frustrated pain, Signs I had to turn off for fear I’d be forced to hunt him down and kill him and Drowned Girl or whatever he called it was a bridge too far – I could not allow more than the eye-clawing trailer to enter my mind. So I was ready for this to be perhaps less than brilliant; I was right.

So the concept: father and son get marooned on future Earth, have to find a doohickey to get help and avoid being killed. Fine. Execution: a totally emotionless Will Smith directs his gurning son through the medium of a dull video game while bleeding out. Son encounters mild, irrelevant threats and finally achieves what he believes will earn him respect in his father’s eyes; they are saved. That’s a quick summary that I’d like to complain about in greater detail.

It is THE FUTURE, mankind fled Earth after ruining it (as we are now) and go to live on other planets. Those planets are also populated by terrifying aliens who unleash monsters on the humans. The humans stay on those planets. Their culture, all architecture, spaceship design and clothing are based on tissue paper and latex sheets. Their scary monster enemies (like someone played some games and shat a lump of memory into a bucket) are only able to detect humans by the smell of our fear pheromones. I’ll skip the science aspect of that and just deal with how stupid that is, and how awful it’s done in the film. They can literally only find humans by the smell of fear, so if you can master your fear you can walk right up to them and cut their legs off. They can’t see you – that would be too easy and if they could see you they wouldn’t need to smell your fear and there would be no reason for Will Smith to be weirdly estranged from his own son because he has no emotions because he has no fear and also his daughter got killed by the monster and Daddy wasn’t there and his son is really scared of them but wants to be like his Daddy but can’t be because he gets scared so he can’t ghost so his Daddy doesn’t love him so a stupid fucking story is contrived to make them love each other again.

Basically, the beasts are unable to hear you, infer your presence from movement, foot marks in the gravel, your violent actions towards them, or realise that you’re killing them. The notion that one could pursue Jaden Smith up a volcano (which are fine and easy to run up, no noxious gases here) is ludicrous. The thing might be a threat if you were stuck in a room with one, but how the fuck it would figure out how to get into your room is a mystery. It does however provide Shyamalan with the opportunity to torment young Smith and the audience repeatedly with the beast torturing his sister for no reason other than because he needs young Smith to be even more afraid of the creatures than would be normal.

All of this only matters because as a crude plot device Daddy takes his son on an apparently military day trip to a training planet (or some bollocks, it doesn’t matter) in an attempt to rebuild their relationship. He is chided into doing it by his purposefully bland and unimportant mother (Shyamalan really does loathe women and relegates them to plot points and victims) – the painfully stilted dinner together made me wish I’d brought whiskey to the cinema. They fly a bit in their spaceship made of bog roll and beige and show us that there’s one of the beasts in a cocoon (again, or something – it doesn’t matter). Uh oh. Yep, they soon hit a field of asteroids, which Daddy notices because he can feel gravitons (don’t think about it, you’ll want to scream), and by jumping suddenly into magic space they crash into long lost Earth. Everyone else dies.

I’m only growing angrier as I write this.

Sadly Smiths Senior and Junior do not die, though Will is pretty fucked up, having surprisingly failed to die. Sigh. Will promptly sends Jaden off cross-country with some inhalers and a colour changing suit. I have no doubt that you will join me in praying that they both die quickly. You will be as disappointed as I was. Earth, apparently, is a place where everything has evolved to kill people. Except we left it a thousand (or ten thousand – I can’t remember or give a shit) years ago. So… animal and plant evolution would have evolved to have no clue what humans are. Anyway, only two animals are a threat – level 1: baboon monkey things and level 2: some cat-hyena things. Big birds from Lord Of The Rings are initially dangerous, but once all their babies are killed and you fail to prevent it, then they’ll give up their life for you. All plants are fine. But it gets crazy cold at night, except for in teeny tiny hot spots conveniently placed a video-game level apart. It’s tedious and they’re both dicks about survival.

None of that is dangerous enough. Will has a horribly broken leg, though he’s mostly man enough to cope with sitting in a chair bleeding while telling his son to “take a knee” and watch him running through a jungle. Jaden is just a sulky little twat, but that’s not especially dangerous. What is dangerous is the alien monster – an Ursa (that’s right, a bear…?) that was roughly forced into the plot, and managed to survive the crash. It displays peculiar Shrike like behaviour, pinning corpses to trees (how does it know where they are once they’re dead?) to freak out young Jaden (how does it know Jaden is coming?) and is obviously going to be the level 3 boss. Luckily Jaden’s got a magic nano-sabre which is an ugly unconvincing stick that changes shape – Darth Maul weapon or ice axe. In a different film it would have been awesome. In this film I wanted Jaden to trip and stab himself.

There’s a fight at the end, after Jaden defies his father, nearly freezes to death (bird saviour), loses a stick, finds a stick, gets lost, draws a map over some cave paintings, finds the beacon, loses his connection to Pa, goes up a volcano, fights the Ursa, launches the beacon thing and they get saved. Thank fuck for superluminal communications. It’s utterly worthless and has no value in its presentation or repetition of clumsy father-son themes. Oh, and in some way Moby Dick is a metaphor for something in this ghastly train wreck of a film.

It’s possible that there is only one redeeming moment in the entire film since we’re denied the joy of either character dying or being beaten to a pulp. During the last viewing of Jaden’s sister being beaten and stabbed to death by the Ursa that got into their house, we see that she hides young Jaden in a terrarium. It’s hilarious – he’s all bundled up looking like he just needs an apple between his teeth. I was wrong – it doesn’t redeem the film but it did make me laugh.

You remember Will Smith – the charming, funny guy from Men In Black (not the awful sequels), that actor who I instinctively like and am drawn to? Well, he’s totally absent from this one. What makes it worse is that this appears to be a vanity project – he wrote this futuristic failure as something to do with his son. They don’t spend any time together in the film, at least not until the dreadful bit at the end where he salutes his son and we all squeeze the trigger and blow our brains out. He was the only reason I gave this film a chance yet he has no chemistry, not even with his son. Fuck.

And that is why you have to say something, even if it’s not nice. All we need is for film makers to take a stand, to say something and make sure that M. Night Shyamalan never makes another film.

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