Wednesday, November 6, 2013

After Oblivion

You know, After Earth (2013) really isn't that bad. It got pretty terrible reviews, and deserved a lot of them. But there was a lot to like here.

The backstory: One thousand years before the story starts, the Earth became so toxic it had to be evacuated. Mankind has settled on another planet, and seems to be doing pretty well, but some aliens have dropped some monsters to exterminate humans. These monsters are blind, but sense fear, so human Rangers learn to suppress their feelings and become invisible. That is a lot of backstory - pretty much enough for a whole movie, or possibly a spin-off series that director M. Night Shyamalan expected there to be a demand for.

So, on the story-story. Will Smith is the coolest of all Rangers, the man with no feelings (by the way, his character is called, get ready, Cypher Raige). His son, Jaden, on the other hand, washes out of cadet academy for feeling too much. His mom, Sofie Okonedo, convinces Will to take Jaden out on a space patrol. They get into a gravity storm or some such bafflegab, and crash on a forbidden planet - the most dangerous planet in the Universe: Earth!

Now, we are finally in the story! And... I'll just stop summarizing here, and talk about the good and the bad. The overstuffed, silly plot is one bad thing. Another is the acting. Papa Smith's acting decision is militarized anomie - he has no feelings and expresses everything in military lingo. Young Smith goes for permanently terrified. I hate to say it, but I mean Stepin Fetchit levels of anxiety. I know the kid has more range than this, and I think he could be pretty likable, but this is offputting.

Also, the plot is full of nonsense - like the evolution of flying snakes, giant eagles and poison slugs in the 1000 years that man has been away. I had a similar problem with Oblivion - the timescales just don't make sense. In fact, it might have worked better if this wasn't supposed to be Earth, just a hostile planet. But then you don't get the silly eco-editorial message, which they clearly wanted to stuff in as another plotpoint.

On the other hand, a lot of sfnal thought went into this movie, maybe too much. I can imagine that they figured the accelerated evolution of all these creatures was due to a mix of pollution and genetic tampering. They just forgot to mention it.

Or take the technology. The future tech available included levitating wheelchair, but not simple pegleg prosthetics. Well, it was a frontier world, with a funny mix of resources, social mores, etc. Maybe they were too macho? And the tech that they do have is based on fabric, flexible plastic and something like artificial bone made out of cardboard and electrical tape. This looks both like cheap art direction and internally consistent future tech. In fact, future architecture (Jaden's mom is an architect) features billowing cloth that Ms. Spenser and I independently surmised generated power when it blow around.

Speaking of cheap art direction, I saw an old Captain Video space serial, and the space ship didn't even have seats, just subway-style straps. I thought that was hilariously low-budget. Watch for the straps in the cockpit of the After Earth spaceship!

In fact, we enjoyed the overall look of the film - the tech, the new planet, the jungles of Earth. But I suppose that almost any movie can look beautiful. Art direction is a science now.

I can't say this was a good movie. I listened to the take-downs on the How Did This Get Made podcast, and I can't really argue (usually from laughing too much). But is wasn't much worse than Oblivion - which as just as absurd and suffered from Tom Cruise as well - and that's a pretty good movie.

In conclusion, go see it and tell me I'm wrong.

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