M. Night Shyamalan was one seen as the future of Hollywood back in 1999 to 2001. His twisty (what were essentially fairy tales) stories got his attention in the mainstream, but boy has his career taken a turn. After the cartoon adaptation of ‘The Last Airbender’ flopping at the box office, and his 2008 film ‘The Happening’ (something I strangely enjoyed for its silliness), comes his chance of redemption with ‘AFTER-EARTH’, a new star vehicle staring father Smith (Will) and son Smith (Jaden) stranded on a fallen Earth which has out developed the capacity to hold Humans.
The thing straight away which alarmed me about this film is how uninterested, Shyamalan seems to be with his direction. There is nothing in there which makes you feel like there is any drive (or anything identifiable) which he usually has in his work. This is fairly disappointing as on paper they have something which could have come from classic sci-fi writing. You can tell that this has a effect on the central performance of Jaden Smith, who not only is underwrote, but never gives you a feel as a character to truly get behind. Everything just comes across with a sense of no real danger, and this is a shame as the premise of Earth becoming a weapon against Humans, could have been a great narrative hook. Jaden himself doesn’t really do much, and he is rather bland through the film, which is a shame as I liked him in ‘The Karate Kid’, but with Will Smith (in a chair most of the time) clearly making way for his sons central performance, for his star moment – it feels very much wasted. Since there isn’t much going in the main central performance, and the under direction, you as a viewer become uninvolved, and start to notice the chunks of plot missing. For example the ultimate killing machine Alien, has one vital flaw of having no eyes, which I find odd considering that the creature has taken years to be engineered. There is also some horrible plot exposition at the beginning, which not only narrated at 100-miles-an-hour, but is far too complex for its own good, when really it needs to say they have moved to another planet.
And this is a shame as there is an interesting hidden message about conservation to the environment, and the space craft design (ships made of wood and such), does add something original and unique. I could see some of the values acting as an accompaniment with ‘The Happening’. Plot aesthetics also follow a computer game like set up, with the use of weapons given to him at the beginning and the voice over which gives him hints to continue his mission, leading to a boss battle. There is also an interesting debate about audiences perceiving scientology themes in the film, but I couldn’t find it. Is it truly awful? No it isn’t, but it’s hardly wonderful neither as it is frustrating with what potential this film could have been. It is perfectly viewable, and it is probably Shyamalan’s best film in a long time.