OK, the reviews are already in and the critics (except for me) seem to really and truly hate After Earth. In fact, one such individual was leaving the theater yelling that he hates M. Night Shyamalan and thinks he “hasn’t made a good movie since Signs.”
Signs was OK, and The Sixth Sense was absolutely brilliant, but what confounds me is the onslaught of negative reviews on what I found to be a wonderfully exotic, big science fiction film that breaks new ground. We’re all entitled to our opinions, and my feeling is that Will Smith is a pivotal movie star in the sci-fi genre and that this could be his best performance in a science fiction film.
Shyamalan gives us big, big sets at the films onset. Big apartment buildings, a big spaceship, big caverns, taking what George Lucas took from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and making it larger, more in-depth, more like something to watch in awe. The spaceship is amazing and – voila – it actually gets stuck in an asteroid storm, something that devout Star Trek fans like myself always wondered how and why Warp Speed was never bogged down by little minute details like a planet the size of Jupiter in your way.
Will Smith is intentionally sterile, all business, much more satisfying than the buffoonery of his character that joked his way through Independence Day. If Independence Day had this kind of aura and pacing it would be a film classic rather than just a blockbuster that generated 817M at the box office on a budget of around 75M in 1996. So while Will Smith is taking this film seriously to launch his young son into a movie career – and we get it – the privilege of being daddy’s young man is going to overshadow casting someone else (which, perhaps, Smith should have done), doesn’t take away from the fact that Jaden Smith – though no Haley Joel Osment (his sheer terror in the Sixth Sense, and awakening to his powers no easy feat to achieve) – Smith is light years ahead of annoying brats like Austin O’Brien who single-handedly destroyed anything redeemable in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1993 semi-bomb, Last Action Hero (85m budget, 50M in America, additional 87M worldwide – it probably profited about 30M, but it was so bad…)
So as far as child actors go, Jaden Smith gets a pass with a demerit for nepotism but, heck, when you’re Will Smith you get to do things your way; you’ve earned it.
After Earth Review – Official Trailer
Some critics say portions of the plot are predictable and they aren’t wrong, but there are enough moments of drama and clever plot twists to forgive nods to the aforementioned Schwarzenegger’s Predator, the most recent James Franco Rise of the Planet of the Apes epic, and even Star Trek IV’s Ode to the Whales of the Future.
For me, I would have appreciated more starship-in-space footage and some kind of link to refugee man-now-in-space but, alas, we instead have a science fiction film that goes from Star Wars to the Bruce Willis surrogate dad to Haley Joel Osment prodigal son one-on-one story/theme.
It is Will Smith’s seriousness in After Earth that parallels Tom Cruise’s no-nosense approach to Oblivion. Both actors rise above the restraints of each film’s flaws and both tales deliver good science fiction that fans of the genre should appreciate. The verdict on Jaden Smith? Commendable performance if he was just some kid off the street; being Will Smith’s son? Well, next time, leave the kid at home.
There is a good moral to the story, though, that the planet Earth works best the further it gets away from man.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.