June 12th 2013 05:33
For M. Night Shyamalan, the once vaunted auteur famed for the twist in his tales, the descent into mediocrity has been a speedy, somewhat ignominious one. After the execrable The Happening (2008) and juvenile follow-up The Last Airbender (2010), the director has been consigned to lowly hired gun, handpicked by Will Smith for an empty vanity project that seeks to introduce the world to a more grown-up version of his son. Given lead duties, Jaden gets to battle CGI monsters and trek across eternal fields of green screen. With his latest Shyamalan has perhaps reached a personal nadir.
Will Smith’s original story, in whatever paltry form it existed, has been handed over to Shyamalan and Gary Whitta to expound upon. And yet neither can produce an even half-hearted attempt at something original or even modestly challenging for an adult audience. This is all you need to know: a fearless, heroic officer, Cypher (Smith) and his wannabe ranger son Kitai (Jaden Smith) are naturally the only two survivors of a crash landing. Disabled by injuries, Cypher must rely on his offspring to do the legwork to save them both. Guess what happens over the course of 100 humdrum minutes? The father/son bond is explored in the most predictable, simplistic manner through dialogue that resounds with the numbing weight of cliché.
After Earth (2013) is most certainly dead on arrival, though some facets of the film are so tellingly infected with the recurring shortcomings of Shyamalan’s previous films that nobody should be too surprised. Though his visuals are often provocative and creatively conceived, clunky dialogue and non-naturalistic performances are a hallmark of Shyamalan’s films. I don’t think it’d be much of a stretch to declare him one of the worst directors of actors in recent mainstream film history. Here, the tradition continues, with Smith snr. relegated to a limp, zombified overseer as his son heads across the expanses of a very different Earth to find a means of signalling their presence back to their homeland. Smith jnr. fares no better, proving that beyond the attractive cuteness of his earlier roles is a decidedly wooden performer severely lacking in charisma and screen presence.
Devoid of spark, inspiration or originality, After Earth can at least be remembered as one of the dullest, most lifeless science fiction films of all time. The one saving grace, as has often been the case with this director’s output, is the score by James Newton Howard. But even he too, without the limitless range afforded by the creative control of previous Shyamalan films, seems to have been slightly hamstrung. Though punctuated by brief moments of musical brilliance, too much fits neatly and anonymously into the general template of the film’s woefully underwritten, underdeveloped narrative.