after-earth-final-poster

Heading into AFTER EARTH, I knew the next couple hours were going to be one of the most severe tests of patience I’ve ever gone through. On one hand, you’ve got the trio of Will and Jaden Smith (two actors who have left plenty to be desired for me in their films) and filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan (who I’ve found has only made one quality film – 2000’s UNBREAKABLE). But at the opposite end of the spectrum, there exists the framework for a story about a guy in dire straights teaching his son how to become a man when the situation forces such responsibility upon them swiftly, and, as a father with a young son of my own, films like that have affected me in an entirely new way in recent years. I can identify with this idea of wanting to be able to raise your boy to be able to take care of himself once you’re not around anymore, and, on an emotional level, I’ve found myself connecting with this sudden struggle with mortality that has you wanting to leave your mark on this world in the only way you can in such a moment, imparting all the wisdom you can in your children for them to carry it forward into time. Therefore, I was quite curious myself to see which feelings would triumph in this new piece of sci-fi.

AFTER EARTH isn’t a terrible film, not by any stretch… but that doesn’t mean it’s a very good one either. If anything, it showcases both the good and the bad sides of Shyamalan at this point in his career as a filmmaker. It’s probably the better of the films he’s made in recent years (although I’d settle for just his writing on DEVIL instead of what he’s done behind the camera), but that’s not really saying much now, is it? When you’re comparing AFTER EARTH to the dog shit of THE HAPPENING and THE LAST AIRBENDER, of course it’s going to give off the faint scents of a rose. But there are signs of the director that made THE SIXTH SENSE such an immense hit and at least the first half of SIGNS really good, and it’s when Shyamalan allows himself some room to build tension slowly that AFTER EARTH shows signs of brilliance. Unfortunately, those moments are few and far between as the rest of the film is torpedoed by the horrendous acting “talents” of Jaden Smith. Seriously… I wouldn’t doubt that Lil’ Smith went to Mom and Dad and told them that he wanted to be a movie star, and, as a result, they’re doing their best to be supportive by throwing their weight and money around in order to try making it happen for him. But this kid has no acting chops whatsoever. In fact, it can be quite painful to watch, as it’s clear that either his parents’ resources should be going into either getting him more acting classes or finding something else for him to do with his life. I realize he’s young, but after atrocious performances in THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, THE KARATE KID and now this, I’m not sure it’s going to get better anytime soon.

Jaden Smith;Will Smith

Shyamalan sets off with a promising canvas. Earth was decimated 1000 years ago due to our own selfish behaviors, and the human race has been forced to evacuate and find a new home out there in the galaxy. Settling on Nova Prime, they’ve found a place already inhabited by alien lifeforms who love nothing more than to slaughter these new intruders. The United Ranger Corps. was established in order to protect, yet even they are in danger, since these particular predators – the Ursa – smell our fear, and that’s how they hunt us. However, there is one man who has managed to single-handedly save humans from extinction, and that’s Master Commander Cypher Raige. He has developed the ability to “ghost,” which means he moves about free of fear, undetected by this enemy life form, allowing him to fight back with maximum effectiveness. He has sacrificed a great deal in order to help the human race, and is ready to finally head off into retirement to spend more time with his family after one final mission. It’s on this flight that he’ll be taking his incredibly immature and whiny son Kitai (played by Jaden). To say that there is a rough relationship between father and son would be an understatement, and it’s hard to say exactly who is to blame for this familial deterioration. The stress of a major loss in the family probably factors in, but it could also be due to the fact that the elder Raige functions in the home as a commanding officer and not so much a dad. Not being home a lot of the time, coming home and operating your family with a military mindset is hardly the way to endear yourself to your kids… but what other choice might Cypher have when his son is full of entitlement and attitude, believing he should be accepted into the Ranger program himself simply so his dad can be proud of him, and not because he’s in any way, shape or form ready for the job? Not more than 15 minutes into AFTER EARTH, we already have Kitai throwing his first tantrum in order to establish himself so favorably with us, and don’t worry… there will be plenty more where that came from.

Taking his kid along for this last mission so they can try to bond and get to know each other a bit better, you know things aren’t going to go according to plan. The ship they’re traveling on is forced into a crash landing back on this uninhabitable Earth from the past, and with Cypher suffering two badly broken legs and their equipment, including a very important emergency distress beacon being damaged in the wreckage, it’s up to Kitai to head out into the wilderness to find the tail end of the fuselage, recover the other beacon, which hopefully is in working condition and fire it off in order to be rescued. While he’s doing that, he’ll still have to contend with an endless amount of animal species on the planet who have now apparently evolved to kill humans and air that is hardly breathable without some liquid capsules that need to be ingested every few hours. He may not have been advanced in his Ranger training, but he’s going to be thrown into the fire now when it’s a matter of life or death. Recover the beacon, and they have a chance to survive. Don’t, and they die. Oh… and let me not forget to mention the very dangerous Ursa that the ship was carrying as cargo for some ridiculous reason which has now escaped… so yeah, it’s officially the worst case scenario for Kitai to deal with, but he’ll have the benefit of having his well decorated father as his eyes and ears every step of his trek, offering up his expertise to help guide a successful mission. I’m sure there are far worse people to be imparting wisdom and knowledge on you in these circumstances.

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After a horrendous voiceover opening delivered by Jaden which sounded more read than performed that had me dreading the rest of the film, I managed to settle into AFTER EARTH based entirely on the performance of Will Smith. This is hardly the charming and entertaining Will Smith that usually pops up. Instead we get a very stern character who seems to be incapable of exhibiting any type of emotion. It’s a rather drab role for Smith to take, but in being this man who essentially put being a soldier first in front of being a husband and a father, I could understand the position Cypher Raige found himself in. It’s Will Smith who grounds the film, showing a hero who surviving amputees feel compelled to stand before in order to properly salute yet one who has never managed to connect with his own son. He’s been so concerned with staying alive and protecting not only his family but every other human who practically relies on him for safety that he never took the time to appreciate or understand who it is that he’s fighting for.

Shyamalan incorporates some really interesting ideas about fear into the script co-written with Gary Whitta, where the abstract idea is described as a product of our imagination. It’s a choice we make and choose to accept, yet it’s not real. With some intelligent concepts like that and what looked to be a fairly predictable coming-of-age story about a boy fighting to receive the love and respect of his father, getting the torch passed on, AFTER EARTH showed signs of promise. There’s one scene in particular of Kitai being chided by some crew members on the ship to move closer to this caged Ursa and test if he has the “ghosting” abilities that is masterful direction by Shyamalan. He’s able to ratchet up the tension in this one particular scene, intercutting the tiny steps of Kitai inching closer to this captive beast with the words of the crew with the silent and motionless cage… and you become locked into what’s happening on the screen, drawn into the uncertainty of whether or not there will be any reaction from the Ursa, even though you know it’s bound to happen. But that’s where a talented director excels – by having you get lost in the moment even though you know things are going to turn out a certain way. It was in a small sample like this that I was convinced there still are more good films lurking within M. Night Shyamalan… this just isn’t one of them.

Jaden Smith

I had recovered from a shaky beginning to get on-board with where AFTER EARTH was heading, and then the next tantrum happened, right at what feels like a pivotal point of Kitai’s mission… a point where one needs to nut up or shut up, regardless of age, because every second is critical… and here is young Jaden Smith in an absolutely laughable sequence out of left field, airing all his grievances about what a horrible father Cypher is and how awesome a kid he is. I’m sorry… but this is hardly the time nor the place, and a weak actor isn’t going to be able to make me believe that this is the point when this conversation needs to happen. This is a spoiled brat on full display, and it’s hard not to equate this character with his real-life counterpart, throwing down in front of Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith, because he didn’t get his way. “But Dad, I want to do this movie, not that one!!” Cypher Raige isn’t going to be Father of the Year anytime soon, but to have this moment deteriorate into a conniption fit, because one didn’t get his way, is ridiculous and enough to set AFTER EARTH off the rails. How am I supposed to become emotionally involved with this family when all I want is the Ursa to roll onto the scene and eat the kid, so I don’t have to listen to his complaining anymore.

Shyamalan does a decent job of creating the universe for AFTER EARTH to live in, but he can’t overcome the weak link of a young lead very much not ready for the responsibility of carrying a film of this nature. I get that the kid wants to get into the family business, but perhaps he’s better suited for something else in the movies than being in front of the camera. Maybe producing is more his cup of tea, or being the key grip… but, from what I’ve seen from Jaden Smith already, it’s certainly not acting, and this belief that he can do it is ultimately what cripples and ruins AFTER EARTH. It could have been a serviceable sci-fi flick. Thanks to Jaden Smith, it’s never allowed to get anywhere close.

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  1. Dr_Crusty

    I recognize how shallow I am for thinking this way, but I just can’t get past the name “Cypher Raige.”

    Reply
  2. charlie_boy-clown

    If I was rich and powerful, I’d probably do what Will Smith is doing for my kids. I’d create opportunities for my offspring, in the hope they can forge a solid career for themselves. Now, I’ve seen Jaden on talk shows, and he seems a nice, well-balanced kid, but I’ve yet to see him in a film where he doesn’t seem like he’s acting. Being a thespian is an invisible art, and when the audience can’t see the character only the actor, then it’s simply not working. Come on Jaden, it’s not as easy as it looks, so how about getting your pop to open a few other doors for you. How about becoming a breakthrough pop star instead? That looks a fun job.

    Reply
    • Geoff Kl

      the kids who have done well for themselves, have gotten support, but not not full blown opportunities from parents

      joe hill, duncan jones, stings kids, mccartney’s brood, etc

      people resent those that get everything handed to them on a silver platter

      Reply
    • Mike MacLeod

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with opening doors for your kids either. If I was in Will Smith’s position, I’d definitely help get my kid’s foot in the door to be in movies. However, I would not shove my kid through the door and demand he take leading performances. I would have my kid take acting classes, perfect the skill the best he can, I would book him auditions for movies and make him go in on his own. If he doesn’t get the part, then give him pointers on how he can improve next time. That’s how the great actors became great, they improved on receiving no castings to taking small roles to improving on small roles and taking bigger roles to being bankable enough to take leading roles. None of the great actresses and actors had a career handed to them by their father.

      Reply
  3. DirkBelig

    I wonder if the reviews would be so harsh if the kid’s name was Jaden Jones and he was unrelated to Big Willie? There are plenty of terrible child actors, but how many of them (other than Jake Lloyd) get thrashed on harshly if they don’t have famous parents?

    Reply
    • AlienFanatic

      I’m hearing this a lot, and perhaps you’re right, but I think the problem is just how obvious it all is. It’s one thing for a father to do this behind the scenes, but another altogether when he’s a) On screen with his kid b) The one who wrote the story c) One of the producers d) His wife and her BROTHER are also producers and e) Dad’s with Jr. on virtually every interview. There’s supporting your kid, and then there’s parading him around on a dais.

      I really can’t think of any other hollywood parents that’s so blatantly forced his kids upon the audience as the Smiths have done. I’m sure there are some examples, but none that come to mind in my moviegoing lifetime.

      Reply
      • Eddie Thisisinfamous

        Even more terrifying is the rumors that Jaden might be taking over in Men in Black 4. That would be a disaster. I can’t imagine how horrible he would be at comedy….If they’re going to replace Will Smith…Donald Glover anyone?

    • AlienFanatic

      See: Jake Lloyd. When a child actor is handed a major franchise and they cannot act, they are often roundly–and savagely–criticized. The best way for Jaden to have defanged the critics would have been for him to act capably.

      I would have to say that some blame also has to go to Shyamalan. Some directors can wring decent performances out of poor actors through their sheer strength of will.

      As it so happens, I was watching a “making of” documentary about Total Recall this very weekend, and Paul Verhoeven was quite candid about how limited Schwarzenegger is as an actor. It took sometimes ten, twenty, or even more takes to get an adequate performance out of Arnie, which is something that many directors don’t have the patience for. If reports of his egocentrism are true, M. Knight is not likely to have had the patience or skill to help Jaden, and couldn’t hide Jaden’s current lack of talent.

      I look at another child actor, Daniel Radcliffe, who was pretty awful in the first few Harry Potter films. Even by the end, he wasn’t terribly great, but he clearly wanted to improve himself as an actor and has tried very hard to meet that goal. He even took on theater work (see Equus) to learn stagecraft and practice his talents. His is a case of the child actor who was handed fame early in his career, decided he wanted to take it farther, and was willing to make the effort to improve himself. Others, such as Jodi Foster, have gone this same rout. However, I’m not so sure that work ethic exists for Jaden.

      The best thing Will Smith can do right now is to pull back and let Jr. learn some lessons. I doubt that will happen, especially with Tiger Mom Jada behind it all, but we’ll have to see. Jaden can go one of two ways: continue to believe his parents’ hyperbole, or buckle down and get serious about learning the art of acting.

      Reply
      • Memphis Reigns

        get him in some smaller, maybe independent films to stretch it out a bit. play a crackhead or something, anything that requires a little homework and research. don’t go for the slamdunk right away, learn to dribble first fer fack sakes.

  4. James Simms

    Was mildly curious about this film. Sounds like a Netflix rental.

    Reply
  5. Ramon Al-Amin

    Even though I was afraid to admit it, I had high hopes that M. Night would get his swag back with this film. Even though he might be finished as a director, Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs are still 3 of my favorite films of all time.

    Reply
    • Memphis Reigns

      I just, no offense, never thought i’d have to ask this cause all in all i don’t really care, your opinion is your opinion, but, really? of all time?

      Reply
      • Ramon Al-Amin

        I might have been a little overzealous with statement. I determine a favorite movie as one that I enjoy watching repeatedly. Unbreakable definitely is one of my favorites, of course I have over a thousand favorite movies. But I still found Sixth Sense and Signs enjoyable but SS hasn’t held up very well in terms of scares. And with Signs the water thing still bugs me. That was the beginning of the end for M. Night

  6. Ramon Al-Amin

    From my understanding the role called for an actor who could do with Tom Hanks did in Castaway. That calls for a great actor who can pull that off. I don’t think Jaden is a terrible actor but he was clearly miscast in this role.

    Reply
  7. David Eagles Jr.

    I can’t stand “Mini” Will, ever since the remake of, “The Karate Kid”. I like Will Smith quite a bit, but dread his offspring.

    Reply
    • Mike MacLeod

      Agreed. Ever since I saw this kid and the other one, Willow I think, in an interview on Ellen, I can’t get past how arrogant, snobby, and self-entitled these kids are. It’s disgusting to the point that I can’t stand seeing them on a screen.

      Reply
  8. Mike Caracappa

    I kinda liked it. It’s not great, but it’s hardly terrible. Billy is correct that the First Act is pretty difficult to sit through, with the exception of the scene where Kitai is challenged to face the Ursa on the ship. There’s some bad dialogue, particularly Jaden’s opening monologue, which is not only poorly delivered but there are parts where you can’t understand what he’s saying. But I found that once Kitai was off on his adventure, I got more into it, and I liked that for the most part it takes the danger elements seriously. My biggest problem was that I didn’t quite believe he earned the knowledge for how to “ghost” the Ursa at the end, where most of the film he was complaining to much and being upset. I didn’t think he faced stakes that were high enough to enable him to have conquered his fears. But I thought it was an enjoyable adventure story, and there’s some good lessons in there about not allowing yourself to believe in fear, and being able to ground yourself in the present moment. It’s also a decent movie to bring your kids to. I’d say give it a chance, there are certainly worse things you could see in the theater right now.

    Reply
    • Mike MacLeod

      But I think that’s what Billy’s criticism of the movie is. They had great themes and concepts in the film, but they weren’t executed well at all due to the lackluster acting abilities of Jaden Smith. If the script had been tweaked enough to get rid of the “tantrums” from Jaden and they had a more experienced/capable actor in the lead, the movie could have been a success.

      Reply
  9. Dacanesta

    If you wanna know if the character is similar to the person, check out any of his interviews…..his dad sits forcibly laughing at each of his ‘laugh at me or else’ delivered jokes with a glint of ‘my son is great! Just ignore the fact he isn’t…..my son is great!’ in his eye. Cringeworthy and awkward……..Will, in the words of Bill Hicks…..’I’m sorry to tell you this…..but your child is not special’.

    Reply
  10. Geoff Kl

    you are blaming jaden for doing what his dad wanted him to do?

    you think the concepts regarding fear are interesting?

    this is a scientology recruitment vid, disguised as a scifi flick

    right down to the final scene with the volcano

    bad news…even xenu hated this movie

    Reply

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