I’ve previously suggested that 2013 was a pretty good year for sci-fi, but it wasn’t all Romulan Ale & Triffids (okay, you come up with a better sci-fi version of wine & roses). In amongst all the good stuff, we also got this indulgent, ill-conceived monstrosity: a testament to ego and self-indulgence starring Jaden Smith, the newest poster child for undeserved privilege and arrogance.
Will Smith is a great movie star and he’s made some fantastic films, admittedly not in recent years, but his track record gives him a certain leeway. His involvement in a film always merits some interest and attention.
In “After Earth”, he has created a passably interesting fictional universe and then chosen to tell the most uninteresting, pedestrian story within it. This sin is compounded by a casting decision based entirely on nepotism which destroys any chance this slim story had to succeed.
Set a thousand years after humanity was forced to abandon Earth under the martial law of the Ranger Corps, the story concerns veteran Ranger Cypher Raige (Smith – the good one) who is accompanied on a mission by his son Kitai (Smith – the terrible one). When their ship is damaged by a meteorite storm, they crash land on Earth. With Cypher Raige badly injured in the crash, it’s up to cadet Kitai Raige to save them both by trekking across the hostile terrain to recover a rescue beacon.
There are many elements of the story which simply don’t make sense. A po-faced Will Smith intones, ‘everything on this planet has evolved to kill humans’, which is pretty unlikely if humanity left the planet 1,000 years ago. The exact opposite is more likely to be true. Furthermore, the Ranger’s special talent of ‘ghosting’ relies on their ability to control their emotions, especially fear, to the extent they can eliminate autonomic behaviour like pheromone release. However, based on the characters we see, they can control their fear but anger, bitterness and petulance? Not so much it would seem.
It’s hard to articulate just how terrible Jaden Smith is in this film, where he’s left to carry it on his own. He is whiny, petulant and unlikeable and the character he plays is similar in most respects. Looking at the production crew, it’s clear just how much of an indulgence this was for the Smith family, to give their son a whole sci-fi movie of his own.
I can imagine making this film was not a rewarding experience for M. Night Shyamalan and I can sympathise because watching it wasn’t an enjoyable experience for me either. I know it’s fashionable to dismiss him as a has-been these days but there are elements of “After Earth” which show he still knows how to frame a shot and keep the story, regardless of its cast, moving along. The visuals are impressive, and the special effects and creature designs are actually pretty good. You could argue he bears some responsibility for the poor quality of the story given he co-wrote the script but with this being a Smith family ego trip production, I suspect he had to do as he was told.
I don’t usually watch many extras on DVDs (aside from blooper reels and deleted scenes), but I was fascinated how this movie came to be made and watching the ‘Making Of’ on the DVD was revelatory in terms of understanding how surrounded by sycophancy Jaden Smith seems to be at all times. There’s one moment where Will Smith compares his son to the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman (awkward) but generally its left to the army of hangers on, minders and family members ‘producers’ to massage his ego and flat out lie to him after a take. Despite the best efforts of all involved, it’s impossible not to conclude that Smith Jr is an appallingly entitled little s**t.
Good looking and competently directed but illogical, contradictory and atrociously acted, this sci-fi adventure with its pseudo-environmentalist message and baffling approval of global military coups isn’t the worst movie ever made, but as a monument to parental hubris it’s pretty hard to beat.