Movie Review: After Earth (2013)

M.Night.Shyamalan’s new space drama, After Earth, has been given negative reviews by quite a number of popular film critics. Even at the end of the preview with a near full house audience, I could hear some complain of dullness and boredom.

Some reviews has mentioned the poor quality of direction and screenplay from Shyamalan and the writer, Gary Whitta, on a a story by Will Smith. Others have picked on the conventional storyline of father-son expectations and conflicts, made worse by the poor performances by Smith and his son, Jaden Smith. Then there was the complaints on the poor quality of computer generated imagery (CGI) and effects. So is After Earth really that bad?


I would agree that Shymalan’s direction work seems to be on a steady decline since his Signs (2002). His last direction, The Last Airbender (2010), was pretty awful to watch. His unconventional approach in requiring audiences to think differently when viewing his films is what attracts many eclectic cinema goers including myself. He is somewhat of a film auteur – a director with a unique approach which may not appeal to many. There are many metaphors hidden in the characters and scenes which audiences, if they put some thought into it, often can be translated into relevances in their own lives – some which are universal and some just personal, based on experiences. It is still apparent in After Earth but not as impactful as his past better works.


I felt the CGI was sufficient for Shyamalan’s movie production which is usually stripped down to basics. The wild animals, futuristic landscapes, alien creatures and spacegear were pretty well designed, I felt. Other than The Last Airbender, all of his movies did not incorporate heavy computer graphics. No big explosions. No big soundtrack with pop music promotions. No obvious product placements. No unnecessary nude or sexual scenes.

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All in all, while Shyamalan’s touch is in After Earth, it is just not his best. Certainly many scenes could have been better thought out to evoke character development and story progression. Neither was it Will Smith’s best acting performance. He basically just sat and moped. However, it had been an opportunity for his son, Jaden, to apply himself to a more challenging role which could have also been handled better by a more experience young actor.

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The start was a little slow, there wasn’t much of a middle and the end was too rushed. If critics and movie goers complain about dullness, lack of suspense and special effects, why the accolades for 2009’s The Road, the post-apocalyptic tale of a man and his son trying to survive the desolated land? That 111 minute movie had barely any special effects or brilliant dialogue. Just a painfully slow, depressing spiral of a story. I’m not saying its a terrible movie. I like Viggo Mortensen but what a snooze fest. After Earth has some nice location shots in Costa Rica, some entertainment value and some messages to take home, just don’t compare it to a Michael Bay or Spielberg production.

After Earth has been screening in Malaysia since 6 June 2013

Original Synopsis:

One thousand years after cataclysmic events forced humanity’s escape from Earth, Nova Prime has become mankind’s new home. Legendary General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) returns from an extended tour of duty to his estranged family, ready to be a father to his 13-year-old son, Kitai (Jaden Smith). When an asteroid storm damages Cypher and Kitai’s craft, they crash-land on a now unfamiliar and dangerous Earth. As his father lies dying in cockpit, Kitai must trek across the hostile terrain to recover their rescue beacon. His whole life, Kitai wanted nothing more than to be a soldier like his father. Today, he gets his chance.


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