Posted June 1, 2013 by Mona Bowen
Battlefield Earth, but that’s not saying much. M. Night must have had a metronome by him as he was sitting in the director’s chair, because he sure hit all the beats you would expect in a sci-fi-estranged-father-son-catharthis-aspiring-to-be-epic movie. Yawn. Perhaps it’s because Will Smith seems to have checked his personality at the sound-stage door, he’s dialed it down to about a 3 here, or maybe it’s that Jaden Smith lacks his father’s charisma, talent, and seeming delight in the sheer act of living, but this thing is lifeless. Maybe it’s life was crushed out of it by the weight of all the meaning. Because there is a f*ck-ton of meaning here. And make no mistake, all the meaning is rooted in Scientology. Is there an agenda here; make the Scientology go down with a spoonful of Will Smith sugar? It’s a message movie wolf in sci-fi sheep’s clothing. Here’s the message, so you can skip the movie and save yourself 100 minutes: “Root yourself in this present moment. Danger is very real. But fear is a choice.” You’re welcome.
What’s the story? Must I? Yes, I must. OK, a thousand years after leaving the our home planet, which we trashed in a brief montage of fires and other disasters, humans live on Nova Prime, a planet that has lots of canyons and futuristic CGI architecture. The aliens don’t like us, and have created “ursa”, which, for reasons of plot point, don’t have eyes, and use only their ability to smell stinky fear pheromones to hunt and kill humans. This is stupid. Why would aliens who have the ability to create living killing machines leave out eyes? Whatever, I’m not an alien, but it seems silly to me. Will’s Cypher Raige (for serious? That name alone works my nerves) is a man who has learned to suppress his natural emotions in order to become the perfect warrior, but here he’s more of an automaton than his costars in I, Robot. Anyway, General Cypher Raige is the numero uno, top soldier, bad ass, ursa-killer due to his ability to turn off his fear and “ghost.” Jaden’s Kitai is a roiling emotive fear ball. Setup: flashbacks, someone dies, everyone feels guilty, no one can talk about it, then for family bonding reasons, Will and Jaden leave Nova Prime on a “routine mission” (uh oh!) which goes horribly awry or we wouldn’t have this cinematic opportunity to learn. Crash landing, only two survivors. Who could they be? Where have we crash-landed? Because you just know there’s going to be a crash landing, and it can only be on a Class D planet that’s “unfit for human habitation.” Earth! Where everything has “evolved to kill humans”. Everything? Sparrows? Meercats? Koalas? A lot has changed in those thousand years, because wherever on Earth this is has endless herds of buffalo, baboons, lion-hyena creatures, big birds the size of gliders, and creepy, toxic, plastic, special-effect leeches all living in the same environment. And the whole planet freezes over at night. Only one person can save them by journeying to the broken-off tail of the stingray-ship 100 kilometres away – Jaden/Kitai, fueled only by the power of overacting and his father’s nepotism. Things happen, Kitai learns big life-lessons, they are saved. This thing is ponderous.
I mean, come on! Stingray spaceships! Baboons! Relentless human-hunting, pheromone-sniffing space creatures! Giant eagle-condor things! Mt. Doom by way of the Dianetics cover! It’s visually attractive – M. Night knows how to make a gorgeous shot. The night time ice frosting of the landscape is lovely, and I have a soft spot for that giant bird – but the After Earth lacked edge-of-the-seat suspense; nothing felt crucial or dire, or even that thrilling, a cardinal sin in a movie that aspires to this level of import. Remember when Will Smith was fun? Me, too. After Earth could have used a little more of that guy, and a lot less “depth”.