After Earth ** (out of five)
M. Night Shyamalan’s tenth feature is a vehicle for Jaden Smith, and is produced by Jaden’s father Will Smith, who is, or at least was, until this movie, the last semblance of what they call a “bankable star” left on the planet. Why, occupying that position, Mr. Smith would choose this film to act in, strait-jacketing him into a boring sci-fi role of The Bravest Man in Starfleet (or somesuch), who is so brave that he need show no emotion, and therefore has no room for nuance in his art of any kind, is anyone’s guess. Therefore, it can be mine.
My guess is that Smith has made this movie, and employed Shyamalan (who was once, briefly, the Hollywood studio system’s greatest auteur) to promote the cult he belongs to, which is Scientology, and upon whose tenants and “philosophies” Jaden has been raised.
The film’s central idea – that “fear is a choice”, and can be beaten – is thus dramatized by having Jaden’s character Kitai hurled onto a planet amongst spooky creatures who can only “see” you if you’re fearful (like the old wive’s tale about dogs smelling your fear, which might actually be true). Kitai has been separated by his super-brave Dad because of a spaceship crash and Dad’s injuries; they keep in touch, however, with a kind of bluetooth thingie, allowing Smith Snr. to intone a lot of fooey while his son actually had to show up to a lot of greenscreen sets and conquer the character arc of looking scared to not looking scared. I guess he achieves this. Young Jaden is a stunning-looking kid but lacks his father’s charisma, at least so far. He’s no Tatum O’Neal, Jodie Foster, or Haley Joel Osment.
This movie is a rort: part Scientology tool, part extremely ill-conceived familial gift (wouldn’t it be better to let your kid go to school than ask him to endure endless takes in a greenscreen studio?) and part blatant money-making attempt (which probably won’t pay off; the film is financially under-performing in most regions). Will Smith was once the antidote to The System: how that has changed.