wogma rating: Watch, but no rush (?)
M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth may not be the epic that the makers of the film had promised, but perhaps it also isn’t the outright disaster that most critics proclaimed it to be.Read more
No recent film highlights the importance of context and baggage in how a film is received than M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth. If it wasn’t enough that the director himself was under fire for previous debacles like The Last Airbender, After Earth is produced and its story was written by Will Smith, with the Hollywood superstar himself playing one of the two lead characters, and his son Jaden Smith essaying the other – a larger-than-life sci-fi father-son story.
Then there were reports of how much had been put into making the film a large franchise, and not just one restricted to cinema. Needless to say, the film was perceived as a gloated, indulgent vanity affair, and was near-universally panned on its release earlier this year. There’s no doubt that those involved in the making of the film were largely to blame for the negative vibes that the film had all around. But, I also firmly believe that every film deserves at least one more chance – and more so with After Earth, because it barely received even a first chance.
Stripped away from all of the pre-release buzz, After Earth still has plenty of flaws, but I couldn’t help feeling that perhaps the world had been a tad too harsh on it. Most of the issues with After Earth lie in its suspect screenplay, a cast that loses out a bit in actual performance what it gains in screen presence, and some inconsistent VFX – good in some places, but amateurish in others.
Despite the flaws, though, the film isn’t entirely unwatchable. It is, after all, a father-son reconciliation story as well as the coming of age tale of a young boy, set in a hostile future world. These themes always find some measure of resonance even when made by inexperienced filmmakers – and one can hardly call Shyamalan that. Couple those with the adventure and action elements and a run-time of just 100 minutes, and After Earth isn’t entirely a waste of time.
Will Smith plays Cyper Raige – a legendary soldier who is about to retire. His son Kitai Raige has been trying hard to live up to his father’s name, but seems to end up short. Their relationship is then tested to the full as they face a danger that they had scarcely imagined.
How one wishes that Jaden Smith had inherited some more of the acting skills of his father. With the innocent charm that he had in The Pursuit of Happyness all but gone, he has to rely on genuine performance to make an impact in After Earth, and he doesn’t always succeed in his endeavour. It doesn’t help that he and his father spend most of the screen time away from each other, communicating wirelessly. He doesn’t have the advantage of some of Will Smith’s persona rubbing off on him on screen – something that always happens with stars like Smith.
The most interesting aspect of the film is how it deals with the concepts of danger and fear – how the former is real, but the latter is merely a state of mind, and can hence be completely avoided. The practical manner in which this forms the crux of the story is actually some ingenious bit of writing. Also, the concept of a planet Earth that has now become not just uninhabitable but hostile towards human beings is another original idea that holds merit. The film suffers because of the visualization of this Earth, and because of one of the usual pitfalls of a futuristic film – showcasing technology that hardly seems to make any logical sense.
The problem with After Earth was that it was packaged as an epic. Instead it should have been packaged as an intimate father-son story, with the epic feel coming off naturally, rather than being forced down the audience’s throat. The same applies for the DVD as well – the DVD case is just different enough from the usual cases that DVDs come packed in, for the unsuspecting to believe that the film they’re holding in their hands is some sort of an epic. The pack is nice, if only the film was better.
The contents of the DVD, though, are not disappointing, because of the bonus features. The DVD has three featurettes in it, and each of them give an insight into the making of the film. ‘A Father’s Legacy’ takes a look at Will and Jaden on and off screen, and thankfully it doesn’t get too mushy. ‘1000 years in 300 Seconds’ is a rapid behind the scenes look at the film that is brief, but still quite interesting. And lastly, the gorgeous locales where the film was shot are showcased in a featurette titled ‘The Nature of the Future’. Mostly for cinephiles, the bonus features of the After Earth DVD are certainly no let down.
Another good touch, which I believe should be a must for all DVDs releasing in India, is the regional languages option. This one comes with Hindi, Telugu & Tamil, and also has the option of English or Hindi subtitles. Because the film itself is by no means a ‘must watch’, the After Earth DVD is hard to recommend strongly. However, for pure academic interest, to discover just how much of the way a film is received by a viewer depends on what the viewer takes in to the film with him, After Earth is a film that one wouldn’t particularly mind catching on home video.
This article is by guest author Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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