After Earth joins Oblivion — with This is the End and World War Z soon to join — in this summer’s apocalyptic film club. It’s directed by the iconic M. Night Shyamalan and stars Will Smith and his son Jaden. M. Night Shyamalan is known for creating suspenseful plots in mysterious worlds, so he seems like a perfect fit for After Earth, but does his first film in three years live up to its promise?
After Earth follows a father and son, played by Will and Jaden Smith, after they have crashed on an Earth that was evacuated by the human race over 1000 years ago. The young and inexperienced son must leave his injured father behind as he searches for help and a way off of the planet, trying to avoid being eaten by animals that have evolved to kill humans.
After Earth has the makings of a great science fiction film, but it never fully realizes them. One of the keys to a successful science fiction movie is a beautiful world that the viewer can believe may exist, and that is one thing that M. Night Shyamalan and the rest of the filmmakers are able to pull off here. But they are let down by poor special effects and terrible acting from Jaden Smith.
Summer blockbuster science fiction films are supposed to be filed with amazing special effects, but something went wrong on After Earth. Some of the most important scenes in the film are based around special effects, but the audience cannot be anything but disappointed by poor CGI work. Bad special effects are first seen when Will and Jaden’s characters crash land on Earth. The deadly aliens and animals that inhabit Earth are some of the worst-looking creatures ever created by CGI in a film.
It would have been easy to overlook the lackluster special effects if the acting was great, but the stilted acting is the other major problem with After Earth. Will Smith is still one of the best and most charismatic actors in Hollywood, but he is not given a chance to show off his skills. Since Will’s character is injured during the crash at the beginning of the film, he spends most of the time laying on the ground and giving pep talks to his son.
Jaden Smith may still be very young, but he certainly does not have the acting skill of his father. The prominence of Jaden’s character in After Earth is probably the biggest reason the film fails. After Earth would have worked much better if Jaden could have spent most of his scenes feeding off of his father.
Many people have been very critical of M. Night Shyamalan’s last few films, but he does his best to prove he belongs in the director’s chair. He does everything possible to enhance the quality of the film through great camera work and editing. While his direction is top notch, he did not write a great script with Greg Whitta (based on a story by Will Smith). Shyamalan proves that he is a very talented director, but he should probably allow someone else to write the script for his next movie.
The impressive cast and premise made me hope After Earth would be one of the best films released in the summer of 2013, but in the final analysis, it is nothing more than another poorly-constructed science fiction film. This is a hard film to recommend, but die-hard science fiction fans may find something to like. Battlefield Earth is probably the closest comparison I can make. If someone is dead-set on seeing a new science fiction film at the theaters, then they should probably see either Star Trek: Into Darkness or Oblivion, both of which I liked much better.
Eddie D. Shackleford is a writer and blogger for Cable.tv and loves to write about movies and entertainment. You can follow Eddie @Eddie20Ford on Twitter.