Thursday, June 20, 2013

Squalor: After Earth

So, uh, I saw After Earth. It's, um, not very good. Like, there's an actual absence of good. It's like there's this math problem and you're looking at one of those graphs and you're supposed to figure out to the decimal point the exact amount of good present in After Earth and then you realize it's practically a trick question and the point is in the far bottom left corner of the negative zone. Vertical axis = potential to be good, horizontal axis = measurable good.  In this equation, the presence of M. Night Shyamalan (M) cancels out the charisma of Will Smith (W).  Basically, the After Earth equation is like M + W - 100 = X.  Solve for X. What do you get? Negative good. In some places, we call that bad.  Here, actually, we call that bad.

The film is made of disastrous stuff, beginning with the easily twisted title (I'm resisting that urge so hard) and without a foreseeable stopping point.  Though Will Smith has had tremendous success with science fiction material in the past, his on-screen presence here is nothing short of robotic. Smith senior stars as Cypher, a heroic general who has mastered the art of a self-controlled martial art called 'ghosting' in poorly explained battles with a monstrous alien being.  Cypher is present mostly as a tool to access family memories and tap into a dull background story for teenage protagonist Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith). At the behest of his mother, Kitai is brought along on a routine mission with his emotionally distant dad.  When the ship crash lands on the former Earth (how this happens is basically a feat of expository will and the puppeting hand of an incompetent writer), Kitai must journey across predatory lands with minimal supplies to retrieve the ship's beacon and save his father. Of course, Kitai is overambitious and eager to please to a moronic fault,  and as After Earth takes turn after obvious turn, he becomes a gratingly inaccessible lead in an even more inept example of genre filmmaking.
Many have offered a polite nod and claimed to see the film's raw potential. They're being too nice.  After Earth is stupefyingly sloppy, far too choppy and poorly realized to possibly exist in a landscape of super-slick, glossed-up summer blockbusters.  It looks and feels like a project crafted on the quick and immediately forgotten, left to be slapped together by disinterested editors instead of reshot or cared for.  What I don't understand --and why I needed that over-complicated and likely inaccurate mathematical model-- is how it's possible that there are successful people working in Hollywood who failed to see what was wrong here and stop it, who couldn't predict the outcome of that previous equation.  The pieces of this project simply don't add up to anything other than a lumbering mess, and while I've marveled at M. Night Shyamalan's roach-like ability to remain afloat in Hollywood despite his clear inability to self-edit (or generally direct), this time it seems like the real blame should perhaps be passed to our star and producer, the Fresh Prince himself: Will Smith.  Shyamalan? That dude is probably just thrilled to be working at this point, right? I mean, The Sixth Sense was alright, there's a shimmer of something in Unbreakable, but it's been one long downhill journey to remedial level storytelling since.  You peaked, dude. Take a break. Do some traveling. Watch the entire list of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Take a few courses on aesthetic theory and creative writing. Reflect on your sins. Don't force it.  Big Willie Style, on the other hand? The Willennium is over. Take a seat, we need to talk about some shit.
Dear Mr. Smith-

I like you, Will Smith. The country likes you. The world likes you. You're a likable guy. Because of that, you have been gifted with a type of star power that very few have the privilege to know.  You are on the A-list. You have the power to grant terrible scripts greenlit life with the swoosh of a signature and a transfer from your bank account. With great power, Will Smith, comes great responsibility.  With that I ask: what. were. you. thinking?

Let's review an abridged version of what we have with After Earth, shall we?

1. A father-son vanity project in which the much-loved, well-recognized father steps back and sits immobile in a chair speaking in monotone for the entire run-time while junior carries out the action.
2. A major trauma plot point involving a kid squatting in a terrarium.
3. A future where every building is uniformly constructed out of sails of canvas. IS THAT A SKYSCRAPER TENT YOU'RE LIVING IN, WILL SMITH? How practical is that? Huh? I'd love to know...
4. Hideous, cheap spaceship set design. When you sat in the vessel your character is supposed to be hurtling through the cosmos in, Will Smith, did it occur to you that it appears to be made of paper towel tubes, bed sheets, and paper? Because...the crash scene looks like the aftermath of a high school TP jag.
5. An opening sequence involving a clunky, poorly phrased voiceover narration that eschews having to show anything in favor of what appears to be a stock footage montage. Will Smith: that's not the way to do it.
6. THOSE GODDAMN ACCENTS. What is that? WHAT is that? The sound of the future? In the future are we South African by way of Australian by way of Colonel Sanders by way of crossbreeding with Jar Jar Binks and JFK?  I can't even fathom how those were devised. Or why. Will Smith, what did they tell you to do to prepare for that? Why did you do it?
7. The slowest action sequences on the planet.  Before, during, or After Earth. Will Smith, you've been in movies where all the shit blows up. The White House, Will Smith! What is this? I'm pretty sure the apocalypse came and went while I struggled to keep my eyes open because...
8. You cast your son as an incompetent, annoying hero. He's not like that for real, right? Because, if he is, you may need to have Willow talk to him about shutting the hell up and owning it. No one wants to watch the underdog hero cry, whine, call out for his father, and flail around a field for two hours before suddenly, miraculously becoming a magical zen master. I don't buy it, Will Smith. I just don't buy it.
9. To make matters worse: he's an incompetent, annoying hero who can't take orders literally to save his life. Sure, kid, throw a rock at the pissed off ape. Go for it. Will Smith, why would you let Jaden's character act so stupid?
10. M. Night Shyamalan inexplicably KILLING every animal that appears on screen. Bad, good, doesn't matter. Why, Will Smith? What's he got against animals?
11. An alien monster called Ursa. Latin for bear, Will Smith, appears to have no relation to even the idea of "bear."
12. An obsession with Moby Dick, which I'm pretty sure no one involved actually read. Forced allusion, brah. H.G. Wells could have worked a little better, but best to let him lie.
13. The Ursa monster hunts people, but just leaves them skewered dead in trees to scare one particular person instead of eating them. You know, because the Ursa is just a sociopathic serial killer and actually prefers a nice salad. Am I right, Will Smith? Am I right?
14. There's a volcano. The image below shows a picture of said volcano. You will note that it's a large mountain...which Kitai runs straight up about 65% of very quickly though he's been suffering from oxygen depletion. That's not how mountains work, Will Smith.  Not in my experience.
15. A bird. Saving Kitai from freezing. Why does that bird save your son, Will Smith? How does that bird find him? Has that bird been stalking him? Cause, I mean, you'd think he'd notice...
16. A bizarre dream sequence in which Kitai's dead sister (Zoe Kravitz) shows up on a raft and they stare googly eyed at each other like they're dating and not related. That was awkward, Will Smith. I didn't know how to feel about that.
17. Dead seriousness. Everywhere. Dear Will Smith: sense of humor. You have one. This movie? It really needed one.
18. Nothing remotely logical. Go back and ask yourself, Will Smith, why did the script have me read that line there? Does it add anything? No? Didn't think so.
19. Some scientology stuff about fear? Will Smith: save it for book club with Cruise and Travolta.

I could go on, Will Smith, but you owe us about 5 indie films, some straight comedies, and a big budget sci-fi film with a competent director. Also, it's great that you love your kids and stuff, but maybe let them go on their own auditions, yeah? No producing. No meddling. No M. Night Shyamalan.



PS: The best part of the movie? "Dad, I want to go work with mom..."


  1. Great review! I haven't seen the trailer (just lots of posters and stills) and based on reviews, definitely not seeing this one. I like Will Smith, but I heard this was practically all Jaden, so definitely skipping this one.

    1. It's pretty much the worst, and I honestly had no interest. I'm always up to see anything though, occasionally just to be able to write a bad review.

  2. The movie is not that great but not that bad has you tell here. I agree with the bird, made no sense at all.

    Anyways, its a sci-fi , and they didnt tell you that the material was indeed paper. Can look like it and be another thing, I dont remember canvas doing what it did on the film. The dream part made sense. The final part didnt, why did he lost fear? had an epiphany from nothing? any human would be scared... I actually loved the bit where will smith tells the rangers or wtv to lift him up, that was the only great part of this movie. And cgi was not bad, not great either.

  3. The bird scene makes perfect sense. It's a raptor that originally caught Kitai for its babies to eat. However, the cats attacked. During the fight, the bird looked in several times and recognized Kitai defending her babies. Unfortunately, all the babies died and you can see she is strongly mourning her babies.
    Kitai is the only one she has left so she starts following him. It's obvious she is stalking him as Kitai screams at her to stop following him.
    The actions of the bird is very real to what the current birds of the world may do. They have an extraordinary brain to body ratio, of course much more than cats or dogs and so if the bird were that size the reasoning capability is perfectly logical. Contrary to popular belief, studies are proving the intelligence of birds. Even baby chickens were announced more intelligent than 3 year old humans.

    1. maybe baby chickens known as chicks are smarter than your dumbass.


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