Did you know that After Earth is directed, written, and produced by M. Night Shyamalan? How telling is his fall from grace that his name was deliberately left out of the marketing campaign when just ten years ago his name alone guaranteed packed theaters? As I write this, Rotten Tomatoes currently rates After Earth at 12%. TWELVE PERCENT! To put that in perspective, Lady in the Water (24%) and The Happening (17%) fared better and they are two of the most derided and crappy movies of the century. Only The Last Airbender (6%) rated worse and that was a movie based on Manga, aimed at an audience of illiterate children. Frankly, 12% is more than After Earth deserves and is arguably worse than The Last Airbender if only because it seems to exist solely as a narcissistic attempt by Will Smith to prove his son Jaden is not a worse actor than Paris Hilton. My response to that is that at least she dies in House of Wax.
Three times this year, I’ve walked out of a movie thinking I’ve seen the worst film of the year only to repeat that thought just weeks later. It started when Bruce Willis embarrassed himself in A Good Day to Die Hard, followed by the disgraceful Olympus Has Fallen, and finally, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, a movie so incredibly awful I thought that Battlefield Earth might lose its title as worse movie of the century. But, all of those movies were made with the sole intention of making money and aren’t apologizing for it. After Earth marks the fourth time I’ve walked out of a movie with “worst film” on my mind and it’s not even June. With that, let’s dust off the old Q&A and discuss this mess of a film.
Q: Is it true that Will Smith came up with the story for After Earth?
A: Supposedly, he was watching a TV show called I Shouldn’t Be Alive and the episode was about a father and son crashing their car in some remote place and the son having to go out and find rescue for them both. I guess altering that to “crashes on Earth 1,000 years after leaving Earth” qualifies as “coming up with.”
Q: That doesn’t sound too bad, though not exactly original. Why did they leave Earth?
A: The movie begins with a montage of video of human and natural disasters with a voice-over by Jaden explaining that humans have destroyed the habitability of Earth and are forced to relocate to a new planet dubbed Nova Prime.
Q: Didn’t Shyamalan already beat us over the head with this message in The Happening, when he tried to convince us that the trees would kill us all if we didn’t change our ways?
A: Yeah, only this time it feels like he is pointing the finger directly at the audience for things like nuclear weapons and Hurricane Katrina. It’s the kind of heavy-handed nonsense that causes the right-wing to completely deny global warming even exists and the left-wing to insist that humans are solely responsible for every bad thing that happens in nature, despite how crazy it makes them all sound. For God’s sake, if they would just…
Q: Whoa! Sorry I asked. So, set this movie up for us.
A: Roughly 1,000 years after leaving Earth, an alien race attacks Nova Prime by dropping predatory monsters (Ursas) on the planet that detect humans by smelling humans’ fear. Human soldiers (now called Rangers) are led by Cypher Raige (Will Smith), who discovers that the monsters cannot see them if the humans choose not to be afraid. They refer to this choice as “ghosting.”
Q: Hahaha! Good one. Seriously, what’s the set up?
A: I know, I was laughing too, but that’s really the set up. The monsters can smell fear in the pheromones secreted by scared humans.
Q: Wait, you’re telling me that humans have solved the riddles of faster-than-light travel, but aren’t smart enough to invent a suit that contains their pheromones?
A: That’s what I’m telling you. At one point, Cypher will tell Kitai “Danger is real. Fear is a choice.” It’s even on one of the movie posters.
Q: Yikes. So, what do the aliens want?
A: Who knows? The two screenwriters, Shyamalan and Gary Whitta decided not to bother explaining that or pretty much everything else that happens in the movie.
Q: I’m sorry I asked. How do the two of them end up back on Earth?
A: In an effort to bond with his son Kitai, Cypher takes him on a training mission, which includes ferrying a trapped Ursa. While en route, the ship hits a magical asteroid field that can jump through space and ends up crashing on Earth, killing everyone except the Smiths (please don’t ask me why nobody except Kitai was strapped into their seats or how Cypher survives after being thrown around the ship as it crashes).
Q: Why do they have to bond?
A: Kitai is desperate to prove himself to his father and comes off as a whiny, insubordinate little prick who believes he is entitled to be a ranger simply because he runs fast and because of his father. Cypher is a missing-in-action father who not only shows no fear, but no emotion whatsoever. The two of them are arguably the worst possible heroes we could ask for in a movie. They might as well be drowning puppies for all of the sympathy they are garnering.
Q: They get better as the movie goes on, right? Grow closer, work together as a team in order to survive?
A: That would have been nice. During its crash, the ship breaks apart Lost-style with the tail section landing 100 kilometers away from the rest of the ship. Cypher can’t leave the ship, or even move, because he’s broken both of his legs. Their emergency beacon is broken so Kitai has to get to the tail section to retrieve the back-up emergency beacon (apparently, that one is the indestructible one). During the journey, Cypher is constantly berating and snapping orders at his son while Kitai continues to whine, ignore orders, and, at one point, screams “you’re not the boss of me!” in not so many words.
Q: You’re right – they both suck. Enough of them, what’s Earth like 1,000 years later without humans?
A: It’s covered in vegetation and animals. When they awake from the crash, Cypher explains that everything on Earth has evolved to kill humans, there’s less oxygen in the air, and that everything freezes at night with the exception of a few hot spots.
Q: Are you sure this is a real movie? If humans haven’t been on the planet for 1,000 years, how would anything have evolved to kill them? And, how is there less oxygen when there are multitudes of plants and animals? And, if everything freezes at night, how do the plants and animals live? We’re talking 1,000 years of evolution – in other words, nothing.
A: I know and that’s not even the ludicrous part.
A: In order to survive the journey, Kitai must inhale a daily dose of goo that allows him to intake extra oxygen and he must make it to a hot spot every night. His only weapon is a spear-y thing that can change its shape. His clothing consists of a suit that offers no protection or advanced technology other than to change white when he gets sick and change black when something is moving nearby. At one point, Cypher wills him (of course they lose communications at some point) to climb a mountain in order to get better reception and that mountain is an actively erupting volcano. This after Kitai survives being attacked by monkeys, vultures, tigers, and leaches.
Q: Wow. I already hate this movie. Didn’t you say they had one of those fear-sniffing monsters on board the ship?
A: You mean an Ursa? Yep. Can you guess how this movie ends?
Q: I hate you. So, from a story, plot, and character perspective, this movie is shit. What about some of the technical aspects? Dialogue, acting, costuming, special effects. Is there any redeeming quality to this movie?
A: Well, for starters, the costuming is laughable. Not only is Kitai’s suit devoid of anything that could help him survive, it doesn’t even cover his hands or feet. What kind of idiot goes into space without a full-body space suit? The Rangers wear orangey-brown suits with dopey helmets and suit designs that look like draft versions of rejected Spaceballs suits. The special effects are middling and very underwhelming for a film with a $130 million budget. The dialogue is choppy, horribly paced, and the people speak in some sort of accent that is too lazy to identify and more distracting than the future-speak in Cloud Atlas. But the worst of it is the acting. It didn’t surprise me at all that Jaden delivers his lines and performance exactly as you would expect from a talentless 13-year old with no training (and if you say he was good in The Karate Kid remake, I will cut you). What was surprising was having to endure Will Smith confined to a chair for most of the movie and watch him mail in a character that he even he didn’t care about. It’s almost as if he knew that if he put any effort into his character it would make his son look that much worse. Imagine Michael Jordan has a son that tries to play basketball and every time he tries to dunk he misses the rim by a foot. Except, even though everyone is watching, Michael and his son continue to insist that his son is just as good as Mike.
Q: Wow. Sounds like this is Shyamalan’s worst movie to date.
A: I can’t say for sure since I haven’t hated myself enough at any point to watch Lady in the Water, but it definitely ranks down there with The Happening and The Last Airbender. The only thing I do know for sure is that it’s Will Smith’s worst movie to date.
Q: Fair enough. Is there anything left you haven’t said?
A: Yep, but I don’t think Will Smith will give me my own starring role in a movie, no matter what I say.
Rating: Ask for all of your money back plus five dollars for them trying to hide Shyamalan from you. That’s just mean.