Danger is real, but fear is a choice. That's the catchphrase of After Earth: the multi-million dollar epic from the minds of Will Smith and M. Night Shyamalan. You guessed it: it's as bad as those two sentences make it sound, but you should still go and see it. Here's why.
This review contains spoilers.
After Earth is set in the far-flung future where humanity has polluted the Earth to such an extent that we needed to evacuate. Humanity settled on a new planet called Nova Prime, where the presumably indigenous population of giant monsters called the Ursa start attacking and killing humans en masse. These aliens are blind, but can smell the fear pheramones excreted by humans. The Ranger Corps are the military effort charged with the survival of humanity, and their leader, Cypher Raige (Will Smith), can perform an act known as "ghosting": he feels no fear so the aliens think he's invisible.
Cypher Raige has some family issues, and decides to take his son, Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) on a mission to bond with him. Cue convenient crash landing on Earth — a planet the creatures of which have evolved to kill humans. Cypher is injured, so Kitai is charged with crossing the deadly landscape to find the tail section and the rescue beacon it contains.
The first problem with this movie's story-telling comes when Jaden Smith first opens his mouth. So literally in the first few frames. It seems everyone in the future has a weird, pseudo-British/pseudo-South African accent. Stack that on top of the fact that Jaden can't annunciate and you're left guessing what was said in pretty much every scene of the film.
Important plot points are obnoxiously foreshadowed like its a bad video game. Earth gets cold so Kitai has to reach a "hotspot" before nightfall; take this medication you only have so many of because the air is different here; this thing on your wrist is our communicator and it's the only way we can communicate; you're about to take a big painkiller with bad side effects. As each one is called out, you feel like the film is shoving it so far down your shirt to remember later that it's almost invasive. Of course the communicator will be broken; of course he won't make it to a "hotspot"; of course he won't have enough breathing medication. Subtlety is an art-form lost on After Earth.
Further to the obnoxious foreshadowing, you start to notice that the main character, Jaden Smith, is actually stupid on purpose. He's been told that he's crashed on a planet where everything here can kill you and every decision is life and death. so why not go throw goddamn rocks at giant killer monkeys, shout at giant predators to simply "go away" and generally disobey the orders of your superior, experienced commanding officer and father. Aren't you meant to be a soldier, kid? Boy oh boy.
The real issue with this movie is in the interaction between characters. Basically it's Jaden Smith wandering through a jungle, talking to stuff that isn't there and responding to his on-screen and off-screen father, Will, who is in another location. There's no believable emotion from either of them in a movie that feels about as wooden as your dining table.
It's not completely unwatchable, but it's close.
The saving grace of this film comes from the technology used to make it happen.
M. Night Shyamalan shot this film natively in 4K with one of Sony's first flagship cameras. We're told that it was literally shot with a camera bearing the serial number 000001. It costs $85,000 for the camera and an additional $20,000 for each lens on top of that. No loose change here.
The camera can actually shoot native 8k, but because nothing really supports it yet, it was mastered in 4k instead. There are over 200 4K-capable cinemas in Australia, but Sony can't guarantee that they'll all show the film as such. They all have the 4K print, but session times may vary. Check with your local ticket office before booking.
Technology is also woven nicely into the story to show off cool futuristic gadgets. There are holographic x-ray machines that project what's going on in your limbs onto the limb itself, making it appear translucent. There are tablet computers that roll up like mouse mats. There's an awesome ship shaped like a stingray. Jaden Smith wears a suit with adaptive camoflage: it's normally brown but turns black when it sees motion around him and turns pale when his health is in jeopardy. Stuff like that is really cool and on top of the awesome way it was shot in the jungles of Costa Rica and the deserts of North America, it's a reason to go and see this film. Make sure you're not expecting anything story-wise, however.
If you want an end of the world/Earth revisited movie, shot natively in 4K that sounds freaking spectacular and doesn't waste 90 minutes of your time, go see Oblivion with Tom Cruise.
After Earth hits cinemas nation-wide today.
Images: Sony Pictures