Direction: M Night Shyamalan
Actors: Will Smith, Jaden Smith
You’ve got to hand it to M Night Shyamalan — he doesn’t give up easily. The failure of his last film (The Last Airbender, 2010) hasn’t deterred the once-promising director from having a bash at a sci-fi spectacle. Not quite the embarrassment one was led to expect, After Earth makes for a fleeting diversion. However, audiences craving for a little more substance and emotional depth are likely to be disappointed.
If the film isn’t entirely dismissible, it’s largely because of Shyamalan’s dynamic visual style. Collaborating with David Cronenberg’s long-time cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, they create a richly-textured vision of a post-apocalyptic world. The inventive production design (the futuristic interiors are decorated with bamboo and lightly coloured fabrics) and the foreboding background music score are added attractions. Set a millennium after our planet was evacuated by the human race, the plot buzzes up when a spacecraft crash-lands on earth. An interplanetary commander and his son (Will and his own 14-year-old offspring Jaden Smith) are the only survivors. Since his dad has broken both legs in the crash, it’s up to the teenager to retrieve a beacon that can be used to summon help. Cue the plucky lad trekking the hostile environment. Besides the fearsome elements, he must also brave baboons, poisonous leeches and an alien creature in search of warm-blooded snacks.
Moments of beauty (the youngster atop a waterfall) alternate with scenes of banality (every time his papa mouths platitudes or techno-jargon). The screenplay should be a frontrunner for this year’s Razzie award. After Earth isn’t the triumphant comeback that Shyamalan was obviously striving for. Still, even in its compromised form (A vanity project for the Smith family with Will also writing the story and co-producing) it’s well worth seeing.