PlotAfter Earth starts with you the audience trying to figure out if Will Smith’s son is retarded: “Wow! Is that really how he talks?” I’m sure other things are happening, but that’s all you’ll notice. Within a few minutes, however, you realize that his dialect was intentional because Will Smith and some of the others speak the same way. Their speech pattern is best described as Foghorn Leghorn without the charm and minus about 40 IQ points. Apparently, the folks from Deliverance are the only ones who survive the robot holocaust.
As our story opens, poor Will Jr. is failing out of Ranger school. He’s good in the books, but really weak in the field. His father does not understand this because old Will Sr. is emotionally dead and probably blames (in a non-emotional way) Will Jr. for not saving Mrs. Will Sr. when a monster attacked the home. “Sigh My son is a dud.”
After Will Jr. is told he sucks, he and his father hop on a space flight to somewhere. No, it doesn’t matter where, because that’s not the point. In the cargo hold of the spaceship is one of these monsters. They are transporting it for the sake of the movie. Of course, the Indian
Surprise, you’re back on Earth, sucka!
Now, as an interesting aside, Earth seems to have been turned back into a paradise, though this goes unremarked in the film. It’s lush and beautiful and visually stunning. Real estate is dirt cheap too. The only catch is that there are some bugs and animals who are dangerous to humans (unlike now) and Will Jr. can’t breathe the air without sucking on a pacifier.
Ok, everything you’ve read up to now is the essentially backstory and set up. This has taken about 10 minutes of the film. The next ninety minutes or so involve Will Jr. running 100 km before his air runs out and before the monster eats him. Will he light the beacon? Will he save Will Sr.? Will he overcome his humanity and make himself emotionally dead so he can kill the creature? That’s your movie.
HuhAs strange as this may sound, this film doth not suck. M. Night Shyamalan directed this and he’s pretty good with things like pacing and images. The story itself is uber-simple, but not offensive or stupid. It’s just a boy racing through the woods as he’s hunted by a monster and runs into all kinds of obstacles. At that level, I can’t really complain. The film was pretty and it was just exciting enough to be watchable. It wasn’t ever truly exciting or all that interesting, but it was watchable.
Beyond this, they tried to inject a very standard “boy must reconcile with his father” story, but that part was very, very weak. Not only are Will Smith Jr. and Sr. not really up to the task of an emotionally serious task like this, but there are some flaws which made this an impossible task. The problem is this: the film posits that the highest state of being is to be emotionally dead. So to survive, Will Jr. needs to get off his lazy, incompetent butt and learn to surrender his emotions. That’s going to make it really hard to tell an emotionally strong story if the goal of his character is to become cardboard. Even worse, the guy he’s playing off of is already cardboard. So that’s a problem.
Then it gets worse. To inject the father-son drama, the film tells us that Will Sr. needs to stop being so distant and so (non-emotionally) angry at his son. This is a cliché father-son storyline, but it doesn’t make any sense here. Are we to believe that being emotionally dead is a good thing or a bad thing? It seems to be a good thing for Jr. but a bad thing for Sr. We’re told this is the ultimate goal of humanity, but it obviously has ruined two lives. So what is it? Even worse, why doesn’t the film recognize this problem and resolve the conflict? Worse yet, neither Will Sr. nor Will Jr. is up to handling this paradox. Consequently, their relationship sputters and stalls and jumps in multiple directions at once. Moreover, a low-dialog film like this requires the actors to project their emotions and thoughts more so the audience can understand them, yet neither actor is very good at that, especially with both trying to play emotionless drones, and with neither actor even in the same location. Each of these choices really undercuts the storyline and makes it uninteresting.