Snapshot Review: ‘After Earth’

Will Smith, left, and his son, Jaden, star in Columbia Pictures' "After Earth."

Will Smith, left, and his son, Jaden, star in Columbia Pictures’ “After Earth.”

AFTER EARTH

3½ stars (out of four)
Story: The events in “After Earth” take place in a distant future where human beings – having seriously damaged Earth – have been living on a different planet for centuries. During a routine military mission, a famous human general (Will Smith) and his 13-year-old son (Jaden Smith) crash land on the planet and must figure out how to survive amid dangerous creatures and a hostile physical landscape.
Starring: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo and Zoë Kravitz
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Bottom line: Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan, who hadn’t made a truly great film since 2002, returns to form with this exciting and well-paced adventure. As with many science fiction efforts, there are flaws. For instance, the characters seem to possess only close-range weapons designed for hand-to-hand combat despite having the technology for intergalactic travel. Look beyond the flaws, however, and one uncovers a thrilling action movie that also has a lot to say about father-son relationships.

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25 Comments

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25 responses to “Snapshot Review: ‘After Earth’

  1. Wayne Kerr

    You cannot be serious! Do you really think this is a thrilling action movie?

  2. Yes. I wouldn’t have written it otherwise. I realize most critics have given the film negative reviews and, frankly, I am surprised.

    I’ve been doing this for well over a decade and I never have any concern about being part of the “critical consensus.” If one falls into that trap, he can never provide a unique and independent voice.

  3. Darren

    So your just writing a positive review to be different

  4. No. Of course not. I’m writing a positive review because that’s how I see the film. It’s not perfect, but it is very good if you can look past a few small flaws.

    I’m just noting that I don’t worry about being in lockstep with every other critic on the planet. I read one comment board where people were questioning a critic’s credibility simply because he liked the film. The bottom line is there will always be times when a critic champions a film that the masses don’t like or vice versa.

    I believe much of the lash back toward this movie is due to the director’s declining reputation, and I agree that his last few films have been bad. By my assessment, this one is not. Perhaps I’m seeing things others do not or I am able to overlook some flaws that other people find fatal. That’ just the way it goes sometimes, and I find an occasional divergence in opinion is a good thing.

  5. Bosco

    I don’t read reviews unless people don’t like the movie….I did watch it and it was awesome,didn’t even notice d flaws….I feel it boils down to plain old jealousy or ignorance.Some of my fav movies last year wer d ones people claim wer bad..After watching John carter I found that more 90% of d people who called d movie crap had not even seen d first 10 mins…

  6. Matthew

    Just as a point of reference (for me at least), what did you think of The Happening?

  7. Hi Matthew. I wasn’t a fan. Here’s a link to the column that has my review of the DVD.

    http://foresthartman.com/2008/10/06/video-verdict-new-dvds-for-oct-7/

  8. @Bosco. I think “John Carter” is extremely underrated. I believe many of its critics wanted it to be something other than a space opera. But it was a space opera by design. After all, the source material was among the inspirations for “Star Wars.”

  9. Wow. Just goes to show, some people really do make their own reality. It’s probably quite nice to be so oblivious. I’m a little jealous, really – you get to ‘enjoy’ things the rest of us just can’t. Pesky intelligence!

  10. Thomas. I question whether intelligence means always agreeing with the masses, which is what your post seems to indicate. Do you honestly believe that anyone who dares to like something you don’t or dislike something that you do is stupid? In my mind, it’s that type of vanity that is truly troubling.

  11. Christian Powell

    Thanks for the honest review Forrest. You’ve convinced me to give the movie a chance. I also had a theory that M. Night receives flack because of his perceived ego. His career has been boiled down to a punch line, and everyone now expects a twist. M. Night is influenced by a older era of film (and television) and sometimes it’s to his benefit, but other times it hurts him.

    “The Happening” shouldn’t have been longer than a 48 minute episode of “Twilight Zone”. It started strong, but that plot couldn’t support an entire feature, and literally felt like a t.v. episode running on too long. Plus the horrible script and subdued performances left everything emotionally flat. A poor choice of script and lackluster directing of talent, and you’ve got a nail for the career coffin.

    “The Last Airbender” was one of the most poorly executed movies I have ever seen, from the writing to the marketing. The script was laughable, the cgi was substandard, the casting was poor, and politically contrived, and the built-in fan base was actively alienated during the marketing of the film. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. And that was a huge expensive flop, something that can kill a career in Hollywood. (see John Carter)

    But I loved “Lady in the Water”, and that was one that I felt, much like you, that I must be seeing something in the movie that most others weren’t, considering the poor reviews. I thought he was right on in thinking it was a “Disney” movie. The ensemble cast of quirky characters, beautiful location, great writing, and a standout performance by Paul Giamatti all left me feeling like the critics had a personal agenda against the man, because even if it wasn’t your cup of tea, it still didn’t rise to the level of criticism that was being leveled against it. It seemed that critics were more concerned that M. Night cast himself as the “writer who saved the world”, rather than the execution of the story. Personally I liked Shyamalan as the writer, and thought he brought a genuine humility to the role. This was a story that he wrote for his daughters, so I makes sense as a dad to cast yourself as the good guy in a heroic role as the writer that they know.

    I also liked “Devil” even though M. Night didn’t direct, it was still very much his story. It had the classic Shyamalan twist at the end, with a philosophical moral to the story, and it was great. Had he directed, he probably would have cast himself as the guard with the Grandma that told the story about the Devil. I imagine that he sees himself as a character in most of the stories that he writes. Does that make him an egoist?

    Despite people criticizing Shyamalan for being pretentious, I think he’s also absorbed this criticism, and now seems like a desperate man. He didn’t understand why Disney didn’t understand “Lady in the Water”, and I think he has an increasing difficulty in recognizing a good script. He is a decent plotter, but not generally someone who excels at writing dialogue that makes the characters live and breathe, so his muted direction doesn’t work well, unless he’s working with an experienced actor that can give him what he doesn’t know to ask for (i.e. Mel Gibson in ‘Signs’, Bruce Willis and Samuel Jackson in “Unbreakable”) That’s the gift that Quentin Tarantino has, that most screenwriters would give their left arm for. The ability to write dialogue that make characters alive.

    Though there may not be many more chances for him, I think he should focus on doing something small again, but something fearless. He needs to get back to what he did well. Write that story with the “twist” at the end, but just make sure it’s a great story, with a perfect script, and easy (cheap) to execute. If he can get past the battering his name has gotten, he just might be able to reinvent himself.

    Everyone loves a comeback story.

  12. Thanks for the thoughtful post Christian. You make some really interesting points. I’m not a “Lady in the Water” fan, but I have a friend that I really respect who is. And you make a good case for it.

    The fact is, not every movie works for every person, as we’re all individuals. This discussion got me thinking about just how populist (or otherwise) my taste is, so I checked out RottenTomatoes to see how often I agree withe the Tomato Meter. I didn’t actively contribute for several years, but I still have tons of reviews up there and that sampling shows me agreeing with the critical consensus about 70 percent of the time. Interestingly, this seems to be the norm for many of the critics out there.

    My “After Earth” review seems to have drawn a lot of attention not just because I wrote a positive review but because it is shaping up to be one of the worst reviewed films of the year. Personally, I don’t think it’s deserving of the venom, and I know others who feel the same.

    Interestingly, many of the things it’s being attacked for aren’t the things that I perceive as it’s biggest flaws. For instance, people seem disappointed that Will Smith isn’t charismatic enough. But the role wasn’t that of a charismatic figure, and Smith is an actor. People seem upset that his son was cast, which has nothing to do with anything. Jaden Smith isn’t the finest actor on the planet, and he makes an odd choice with the accent he uses for the character, but this hardly ruins the film. He is fine overall. I’ve even heard of critics bashing the movie because it’s “man vs. nature” theme is a nod to Scientology. I hate to break this to them but “man vs. nature” is a primary theme not only in Scientology but in all fiction.

    Furthermore, I would ask whether a film is bad just because it has a point of view. Is a film that espouses Christian or atheist ideas necessarily bad. I would argue no, so saying that a film’s themes seem similar to the teachings of Scientology isn’t even criticism.

    Finally, there is an obvious lashback against Shyamalan, which is too bad because he is an interesting filmmaker even when he fails. Like you, I thought “Devil” was really intriguing. I am becoming increasingly convinced that a lot of folks had their reviews written before they saw the film, and they went something like this: Will Smith vanity project directed by a has-been.

    None of this means the film is beyond criticism, and I know good critics who legitimately don’t like it. That’s fine and disagreements are one of the things that make discussions about art interesting.

  13. Christian Powell

    Thanks for the quick response, Forrest. I have to agree with you that many of the reviews that I read felt like the reviewers had their minds made up before they stepped into the theater, probably for many of the reasons that you state. Nepotism, Scientology, and perceived pretentiousness are all red flags that will have people hating your movie before they see it.

    When the studio is telling you to keep your name off of the film, there might be something wrong with your brand. M. Night is having that kind of problem. With this film, that dynamic is added to the perception of nepotism regarding Will and Jaden, and Will’s recent comments about not taking the role in “Django Unchained” because he wasn’t the “lead”, and feeds the perception that he’s an entitled diva with a pet project for his son. Sometimes that’s the problem with casting known actors is roles, because the public has expectations of that actor based on their previous work, and when they take a prject that has them acting against type, there is backlash (i.e. Jim Carrey’s “The Majestic”). Will has pretty much cast himself as the blockbuster hit maker, so I imagine it’s a headache having to live up to that standard for every film you release. It’s been a long time since “Six Degrees of Separation”, but maybe that’s the direction that Will needs to go to regain artistic credibility. If he was extra smart, he’d advise to Jaden to do the same, and follow a more conservative path to success, much like Johnny Depp, Joseph Gordon-Levitt or Shia LaBeouf, and have Jaden learn to act in story driven indies playing complex characters. Otherwise I can see Jaden burning out, withered under the expectations of his parents super-stardom. Willow, showing more of her mother’s wisdom than her father’s ambition, recently backed out of “Annie” telling her dad, “…Can I just be twelve?” If that isn’t a sure sign you’re pushing too hard, I don’t know what is. Neither Will nor Jada had the kind of upbringing that Jaden and Willow do though, so where the reality they pull their art from with be completely different. These kids need some life experience outside of the celebrity bubble, and that just might not happen, so how they’ll develop as artists is anyone’s guess.

    Will has been an unstoppable force at the box office, but just like Tom Cruise, he isn’t invincible, and he needs to both manage his image and brand, but also be humble (or at lease perceived as humble), and acknowledge that his fame and likeability aren’t a guarantee, but something that needs to be constantly cultivated. It’s the same with Jaden. He really doesn’t want Jaden compared with Justin Bieber, when he’s hoping for Haley Joel-Osmet.

    The public seems to have recently become more sensitive to stars acting “entitled”, from Justin Beiber’s reported bratty behavior, to Reese Witherspoon’s drunken rant, the public wants to have their heroes, but they want to believe that they’re not too much different that them, and that they’re cool enough to sit and have a beer with. No one wants to hang out with a spoiled brat or a diva. And with the internet, everything you do in public affects your box office bottomline.

    That being said, I’m still rooting for M. Night every time he makes a movie, but I don’t give him a pass. It’s clear that he needs a movie to succeed, but to do that he’ll need to make peace with whomever he’s pissed off in Hollywood (because I have a small theory that some of this negative press is personal and internal), and he needs to write a flawless script that gets vetted by someone outside of his circle that isn’t afraid to be critical and unbiased. He is a great director, that just seems to have lost his self-confidence, and now struggles to deliver what the execs want, rather than devoting himself to the story, storytelling, and his pure inspiration.

  14. Well said Christian. I think you’re dead on with your assessment.

    I also think a great, small film might be the best bet for M. Night. The majority of critics may be more willing to champion him if they think he’s being humble and taking a step back in the interest of “artistic integrity.” Of course, I think “After Earth” is really good. But, obviously, it’s not perceived that way by most, so it’s only going to further cheapen his brand.

  15. Wow. At a loss for words to describe the ignorance and irony of Thomas Barton’s comment. “It’s probably quite nice to be so oblivious,” says the guy because Forrest has an opinion of a movie that contradicts the masses? Pot, meet kettle. So Thomas is unable to have an open mind about a perspective of a movie review different than his, but qualified to judge Forrest as out of touch with reality based on it alone? I don’t know if it’s nice to be so oblivious … Thomas, why don’t you tell us?
    — Another media type who loved “After Earth”

  16. Also, a shout out to Christian, who is spot-on. That was my assessment precisely — after seeing the film and reading numerous negative reviews on rottentomatoes, it was clear these naysayers never even gave the film a chance. Many sounded as though they were written before the critic even saw the film — what a shame.

  17. Thanks for the support Josh. I honestly don’t expect everyone to agree me, but it’s nice to be able to have an alternative opinion without someone questioning your intelligence. :-)

  18. I saw the movie before I had read any reviews and enjoyed it immensely. It was tense enough to make me jump a few times and pretty scary for a 12A. When I read the reviews I was shocked at their venom. Thanks for taking a more considered line.

  19. That’s fine, and I’m not offended, either, at the idea of someone disagreeing with you. I know you’re a big boy and can handle it. I’m offended at Thomas Barton’s suggestion that you are oblivious and out of touch with reality for an opinion on a movie that I bet he hasn’t even seen. So you think “After Earth” sucks? Let’s hear it. Let’s hear an intelligent, well-constructed counter-point to the viewpoint of Forrest and myself. Lay out your argument and few good reasons why, and give the semblance of respectful dialogue. No issue there. Thomas Barton doesn’t want nor is he capable of this. He is just a worthless internet troll who thinks terms like “pesky intelligence” make him sound clever, when he’s just a moron in troll’s clothing.

  20. It would definitely further this discussion to have someone who really dislikes “After Earth” explain why. And I’m sure somebody can make an intelligent case against it. As I have mentioned, I saw a few things that bothered me, and if I chose to focus on them, I could argue against it. Thing is, the flaws didn’t really bother me that much… and that has as much to do with who I am as anything else.

    But, yeah, the name calling doesn’t do anything for anyone. What’s funny is I’ve heard from a number of folks — like you — who said they saw the film and really liked it, but many people expressing surprise at my review don’t mention anything about the movie. That doesn’t mean they haven’t seen it, but I do wonder at what point a critical lambasting becomes so thorough that the general public simply accepts the movie as bad whether they’ve seen it or not. This is an interesting phenomenon, but it is to be expected since one function of a critic is to help people decide how to wisely spend their time and money. That’s why I often tell people I’m the odd man out if I praise or disparage a film that the majority seems to feel differently about. Of course, I wrote this little mini review before I’d seen comments from anyone else.

  21. Jeffrey

    I believe that the early negative reviews might have tainted people’s perception of the film before even seeing it. I admit that there were moments that the CGI could have been better served but frankly I do not understand where the lack of emotional connection was that some are claiming. I was in a theater full of misty eyed viewers. I believe that this movie suffered the same fate [critically] as Prometheus. There was a message to humanity embedded in the story that was probably intended to take a larger role in the discussion than the one or two dodgy masks in the visual effects. It’s not a story about spaceships and aliens, it’s a story about family, duty, and accountability. From that perspective I was deeply satisfied. Jingle, jingle (my two cents).

  22. Thanks Jeffrey. Obviously, I agree with you.

  23. Kamallakannan Sekar

    i agree with your review Forrest , went to movie with Nil expectations because of all bad reviews in net , but to the surprise i enjoyed it a lot

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