For Your Consideration: After Earth
Cast: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Sophie Okonedo
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: Gary Whitta, M. Night Shyamalan, Will Smith
Estimated Budget: $130 million
U.S. Gross: $61 million
Immediately I’m flabbergasted by the numbers. A budget of $130 million and a return of less than half that amount is frankly heinous. You’d hope that such generous funding would guarantee a certain level of quality, but it seems unlikely. After all, this commentary is part of my look at 2014’s Razzie Worst Picture nominees, following previous acts of mental self-flagellation involving Grown Ups 2 and Movie 43.
After Earth has an impressive, or embarrassing, number of nominations this year, depending on if you’re part of its production team. As well as Worst Picture, it has received nominations for Worst Actor, Worst Supporting Actor, Worst Screen Combo, Worst Director and Worst Screenplay.
For the full Citizen Kane of Awful experience, get some friends involved, have a viewing party, whatever takes your fancy. Remember, this feature isn’t about laughing at terrible films, it’s about laughing at them together.
00:01:18 – “I heard stories about Earth. A paradise. Until we destroyed it.” Montage of skyscrapers, flooding, pollution, studio lots where hundreds of millions of dollars are wasted on self-indulgent pet projects for the children of established stars. Maybe I imagined that last one.
00:02:15 – HAHAHA, look at Will Smith. So indestructibly badass he can just wander past sinewy, slathering alien monsters without a care in the world. See, the monsters are blind but they can smell the human pheromones secreted when we’re afraid. A nice concept, but jeez, that shot of Will…
00:04:03 – Wow, Jaden Smith is really mangling this awful script. He’s literally just mumbling out loud without a thought for tone or emotion. Poor guy. I blame the parents.
00:05:15 – It’s fascinating imagining that this is really dinnertime at the Smiths’. Such bitterness and anger from a child struggling to live up to his father’s heroic status. And Jaden’s really moody in the film as well.
00:07:35 – Now a solid Sophie Okonedo steps up as Will’s wife to offer more dialogue that maybe I’m reading too much into: “Don’t get me wrong. I respect everything you’ve done, but you have a son in the other room that you do not know. He blames himself for what happened to Senshi [The Karate Kid]. He thinks it’s his fault.”
00:08:55 – Will decides to take Jaden on his expedition so he can be a father, not a commanding officer. Sophie weighs in, saying: “This was a really good decision. Now go make some good memories together [filming After Earth].” Adding in the subtext is way too easy at the moment.
00:10:35 – Their home planet is pretty cool, though why anyone would choose to live inside a canyon is beyond me. Child-proofing their homes must be a nightmare.
00:14:10 – That sequence was quite good. Jaden wanders the ship while everyone sleeps and finds some kind of giant ball containing one of the aliens. He approaches it to see if he can ‘ghost’, i.e. confront it without fear like his father and therefore appear invisible. Spoilers: he can’t.
00:16:20 – Will is talking some bollocks about gravitine weight now. I don’t know why they bother with future science attempts. Basically, the ship’s in danger.
00:21:20 – The spaceship crashes and Will is sucked out of a hole in its side. That could have been a dramatic moment, but it was shown during the titles when it held no emotional weight, so this time round there’s no sense of surprise. As the ship falls, Jaden blacks out, haunted by fear and terror, in a nightmare that probably goes nothing like this:
Now this is a story all about how
My life got flipped turned upside down
And I’d like to take a minute just sit right there
I’ll tell you how always acting with my dad’s become a nightmare.
They said it was healthier if I stayed
In the movies, with daddy for the rest of my days.
Chillin out, acting, relaxing all cool,
All shooting some green screen ‘stead of going to school
When some studio guys who were up to no good
Convinced me makin’ films with Shyamalan would be good
I got in one little film and my papa got scared
He said “I’m starring in this movie as your dad, ‘cos I care.”
I bristled at his words and when it came near
I begged him to recast and take a look in the mirror
“Maybe working with you means that I will never compare!”
But he said “Nah forget it, you’re going nowhere!”
We pulled up to the set about 7 or 8
And I waved to my personal life “Yo homes smell ya later”
Looked at Dad’s kingdom with helpless despair
To sit on my throne beside the King of Bel-Air.
Yeah. Probably nothing like that.
00:22:20 – I’m quite enjoying some of the direction. A nice idea here with a malfunctioning doorflap interrupting the static shot of Jaden’s recovery.
00:25:30 – This has been another good stretch. Shyamalan’s direction is creating an effective sense of tension and fear, aided by James Newton Howard’s subtle but powerful score. Will is alive but injured and Jaden takes the lead in repairing their dire situation. He’s actually quite good at conveying emotions physically, but so far the effect is ruined every time he opens his mouth.
00:32:35 – Jaden must travel 100km to the tail-end of the ship to find the last working distress beacon. Will’s legs are broken so he is guiding his son via a video link. The planet they are on, is of course, Earth. Come on, you’ve all seen the trailers. This sequence is simple, but compelling, as Jaden heads out and begins to explore the planet. Some beautiful images as well, as flocks of starlings and herds of buffalo fill the horizon.
00:36:26 – Ah, Senshi is Jaden’s sister that we’ve been seeing in flashbacks. She got killed by one of the alien monsters. She’s smiled more in 30 seconds than the rest of the cast put together so she’s instantly my favourite character. And she’s dead. Typical.
00:39:05 – Jaden has enraged a horde of monkeys because he was too scared to stand his ground and intimidate them into submission. A lesson we all have to learn some day.
00:43:10 – I’m going to pause and salute After Earth because I think that was the single best sequence of any film I’ve watched in Citizen Kane of Awful so far. Jaden escapes from the monkeys but finds a poisonous leech on the back of his hand. As his face swells and his body becomes numb, panic takes over despite Will’s guidance. Eventually Jaden manages to administer two shots to his heart, delivering the life-saving antitoxin. Great acting from Jaden and strong effects work as well.
00:46:20 – This is becoming quite poignant now. Will performs gruesome surgery on himself to ease the pain from his broken leg as flashbacks to his daughter Senshi take over. Yet again, he is talking to her via a videolink whilst working. If we’re still reading Smith’s personal life into this film, then this is quite a touching example of just why he wants to work with his son so much.
00:51:34 – “Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present, and may not ever, exist. That is near insanity, Kitai.” Some good, strong writing there. At least this film has ambition. At least it has something to say. And bar some early hiccups, I’m actually enjoying it.
00:57:40 – It’s hard to have a convincing argument with a voice in your ear. Jaden is understandably struggling a bit as Will orders him to abort the mission because he doesn’t have enough of the vital breathing fluid vials. Also, Jaden sounds like English is his second language during this argument. Just a weird, weird intonation. Harsh but true.
01:00:04 – Jaden skydives in defiance of his father, but gets taken down by a giant eagle. He wakes up in its nest, getting pecked by its baby. Nice touch.
01:10:29 – After a weird dream visit from his dead sister, Jaden wakes up and realises it’s nearly night time, meaning the temperature is dropping very quickly. The landscape freezes over before his eyes and he passes out…And then something starts dragging him away! To safety! Turns out it’s the giant eagle whose offspring he tried to protect earlier. Awww, that’s nice. And for once, that’s not me being sarcastic.
01:15:06 – Jaden reaches the ship’s tail and finds both a new stash of breathing vials and the empty shell of that alien monster. DUN. DUN. DUHHHHHHH.
01:20:39 – Jaden is sprinting up the side of Mount Doom, sorry, that nondescript volcano, to send the distress beacon without atmospheric interference. At the same time the alien monster has caught his scent and is in pursuit. This should be tenser than it is.
01:22:35 – The alien monster – an Ursa apparently – is one ugly mother. Bloated and arachnoid with a mottled and decaying skin. It jumps out on Jaden inside the volcano’s cave network. As this happens, Will finally begins to lose consciousness from the blood loss.
01:25:50 – The Ursa catches up with Jaden and injures him, just as he gets a signal on the distress beacon. Again, this should be tense, but it’s oddly flat. I think it’s because the conclusion of this film has been blindingly obvious since the second it began. Jaden will confront the Ursa and finally manage to ghost, defeating it and saving his father.
01:28:49 – Yup.
01:31:45 – Father saved, the two of them reunite at a hospital. After a concluding hug, Jaden says, “I wanna work with Mum”. If only he had the courage to say that in real life. Then again, his mum’s also an actress, so…
After Earth doesn’t deserve half of the scorn it’s received from everybody, including me at the start of this article. Nevertheless, part of the fun of this format is recording my real-time responses to whatever I’m watching, so my early mockery remains. Jaden’s physical acting was strong, though his line readings were poor. Dude needs to enunciate. The script was generally good and it had something to say, often a rarity in blockbusters. The score by James Newton Howard also deserves praise for its subtlety and for carrying the film during many of the extended exploration sequences.
Even so, something sticks in the throat about a 14-year old kid with a handful of screen credits starring as the lead in a blockbuster entirely because of who his dad is. Nepotism is alive and kicking folks.
Every fortnight I go into this feature with trepidation and an expectation that the next two hours of my life are going to be very unpleasant, but this time I was wrong. I am officially disqualifying After Earth from the Citizen Kane of Awful rankings, because it is simply not bad enough. I’ll announce the next film in a week, but for now…maybe actually watch After Earth. I can’t believe I’m saying that.
Ok, the film for the next Citizen Kane of Awful will be A Madea Christmas. I have zero idea what this film is about and I’m only choosing it so I can save The Lone Ranger for last because that’s meant to be half decent. And now you know what order I eat the different parts of my roast dinners. I’m just about to watch the trailer for the first time.