The film “After Earth” can be classified as a dystopian film because it takes place in a forgotten world that has fallen apart, but falls short on its potential to elaborate on its futuristic scenario. M. Night Shyamalan wrote and directed the film which starred Will Smith and his son Jaden Smith. Will Smith plays General Cypher Raige and Jaden Smith plays his cadet son, Kitai Raige. We arrive in a distant future where humanity has been through an environmental disaster and are forced to leave Earth in search for “greener pastures.” An accident in an asteroid field forces General Raige to crash land on Earth.
So far the audiences are set up for a great dystopian movie where we see father and son pushed to adapt and survive in order to somehow find their way back to their home planet. However, the acting and the writing drive this movie into the ground before it’s allowed to take off.
Let’s begin with the screenplay, which M. Night Shyamalan co-wrote with Gary Whitta. The dialogue is ghastly and terrible science fiction clichés crawl all over the script like a malevolent infestation. The characters are flat and the delivery of the dialogue is dull, almost as if it was their first time reading their lines. The dystopia is never explored and the story turns into one big chase scene.
Don’t take my word for it though. Other critics have said spotted major problems with ‘After Earth’ as well. Owen Gleiberman wrote for Entertainment Weekly saying, “The movie takes off from a concept as basic as a videogame, and it sticks to that concept, without surprise.” (http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20483133_20687773,00.html). Manohla Dargis of The New York Times writes, “The story kicks in slowly, beat by predictable beat.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/31/movies/after-earth-starring-will-smith-and-jaden-smith.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&utm_source=feedly&_r=0). Claudia Puig of USA Today writes about the dialogue being “mostly repetitive psycho-babble, broken up by tedious silences.” (http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2013/05/30/after-earth-review/2158409/?utm_source=feedly&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+UsatodaycomMovies-TopStories+%28USATODAY+-+Movies+Top+Stories%29) The script is full of plot holes and bad dialogue, which deviate from the dystopia that the audience came to see. In the end, people who watch the movie end up unhappy and afraid that movies like this are still being made.
But what about the acting? Well let’s just say that father and son have no chemistry playing father and son. Will Smith acts as the strict father while Jaden Smith plays the rebellious teenage son. Yet, they seem to just be going through the motions rather than embodying this father and son conflict. Will Smiths’s monotonous lines and Jaden Smith’s over acting are just some examples of how this duo failed to be compatible on screen. Betsy Sharkey of the Los Angeles Times asks, “Has Smith forgotten that his strength is his warmth, his humanity?” (http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/moviesnow/la-et-mn-after-earth-review-20130531,0,5520934.story) Peter Travers of Rolling Stone comments on Jaden’s acting saying, “The young Smith had energy, but not the acting chops.” (http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/reviews/after-earth-20130530)
Even though ‘After Earth’ takes place in a world that has descended back to prehistoric times, the movie does not use the setting to its fullest potential. I believe this is where the film had most of its imaginative possibilities yet it is left uncharted. What this film does is create a world full of mysticism and chaos and only uses it as a background. An Earth that has living species that have evolved to kill humans sounds like an interesting world worth exploring. However, all we see of these creatures are quick glances. We are simply told they are dangerous, now run! In the end, the movie turns into a recover and escape story where some exploration and discovery would have been more intriguing. The characters are dropped in, pursue their goal, and return home without exploring this dystopia which was growling and shrieking to be discovered.