Movie Review: ‘After Earth’
It is hard to ignore the very on the surface subtext with After Earth, it is a film about Scientology and that is not something you’ll see advertised. This is something that might not get noticed by those who are unfamiliar with Scientology, but if you know even a little those things will stick out. Is this a bad thing? For those who follow it, I am sure it is not but that element does not exactly help the film a lot. This is the Smith family passion project, something for Will and Jaden Smith to do together, however that is it’s ultimate issue. There is too much subtext, too much of an agenda and not enough outside input to give it balance.
The film is about Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) and his father Cypher Raige (Will Smith), and their family issues and bonding. Set 1000 years in the future, humans have abandoned Earth and live on another planet. They face danger in the form of S’krell, an alien species that attack humans. The way they can combat that is to ‘ghost’, meaning to not feel fear as fear is what they sense. On a mission to practise ‘ghosting’ our father and son team crash land on a planet that turns out to be Earth. Kitai must travel the dangerous terrain, with a S’krell possibly on the loose, to set off the distress beacon. He has to do this alone as Cypher has two broken legs, the journey will ultimately test them both.
This isn’t an easy film to describe, from the beginning I was a little lost. Jaden’s narration is not the easiest to understand, he speaks too fast and the neutral accent the film gave our main characters did not match his speed. Once it gets going, it is a little easier to follow. Cypher is the absent father, always out on missions, and the family dynamic is what drives both our characters. This is something that is fine, and that itself gets developed through the film with ease. These two characters however are not interesting, apparently to live without fear you show no emotion. I never felt anything that connected me to them, which harmed my own investment. We learn their motivations, Kitai wanting to please his father and make up for a past mistake and Cypher pushing his son to overcome his fears.
The enlightenment journey we have here feels like it is preaching, over coming fear is a strong element however the lead up just does not work. Kitai has so much fear and he struggles with it, it makes sense but his sudden change just seems extremely forced. To let go of fear is to become free and to not have limitations, Scientology plays a huge part in this aspect. It is thrown in our face, and it harms the film. The message it wants to send is clear, and as the film is just not all that exciting or interesting it really hammers in. This is far superior to Battlefield Earth, and it might be the closest thing we get to a film about Scientology without coming off as propaganda and not overly offensive to those who don’t believe in it.
M. Night Shyamalan is fine, his direction is what it is, it isn’t bad and he certainly pushes to get the best he could from Jaden. The man understands how to make a film visually appealing, and this really is a good looking film. He sets up good shots, and it flows as best as it can. I think the man needed more freedom, this was Will Smith’s passion project and I get the idea he was in charge here. The script is not at all good and it really needed some outside input to work Will Smith’s story idea into something a lot more interesting and less about the subtext (which he hasn’t actually admitted to being a member of). Potential was there, it just was not achieved. There is no character investment or any real action, the journey of Kitai and Cypher leaves a lot to be desired.
The focus is on Jaden Smith and Will Smith, so are they any good here? Well Will plays this monotone character, there is no charisma (something he usually has in spades), he is quite frankly bland. His character is known for being this big hero, he lives without fear, that should not equal boring and emotionless. Take for example Spock from Star Trek, he is a character without emotion and follows logic, yet he remains one of the most interesting and engaging characters in sci-fi. Cypher needed a lot more meat, a thin character that Will brought nothing much to. Jaden was not as annoying as I have found him to be, the kid is really trying. It shows that he has grown as an actor, but there is still a long way to go. Physically he handled all of that well, I didn’t fully understand him when he spoke however he did do well with the emotional side. He isn’t bad, he just isn’t very good either. Jaden seems like a nice enough kid, I am not sure acting is his strong suit.
After Earth was not a very good film, it has some positive elements but its agenda really brought it down. While you could do a lot worse than this, you could really do a lot better. Even for fans of either Smith, I don’t think there is much to enjoy.