Don’t wait for Will Smith?… STAR TREK ship gets a new lease on life… JUG FACE finds a pit of horror…
From the luxurious Cinefantastique Online studios in NYC, Dan Persons brings you up-to-date on what’s happening in the world of fantastic media.
In a belated edition of the Cinefantastique Video Review podcast, Steve Biodrowski dissects AFTER EARTH, the vanity project starring Will Smith and Jaden Smith, directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The film features one or two brights spots to remind us of Shyamalan’s once formidable talent, but the director over-emphasizes the sentimental aspects of a father-son trying to survive on a hostile planet, without generating any real drama or igniting the action scenes with any excitement.
M. Night Shyamalan continues to be a very good director doing not-very-good movies. In the futuristic adventure AFTER EARTH, Will Smith — who also came up with the story — plays a literally fearless warrior who crash-lands with his son (actual son Jaden Smith) on an abandoned Earth grown wild and dangerous in the interim. With his father’s legs broken, it falls to the teen to maneuver a threatening jungle to retrieve the beacon that can signal help — but that will mean braving the perils of an uncharted jungle and, more importantly, controlling the fear that threatens to destroy him (VALUABLE LESSON ALERT). For the audience it means being able to appreciate the lavish production and nicely mounted action sequences while battling the crushing boredom that stems from the inert drama. Come join Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons as they discuss the film and mourn for ever seeing another THE SIXTH SENSE. Plus: What’s coming to theaters next week.
At first glance, it might seem touching that Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith would produce a movie in order to turn their son into a star; after all, what parent does not want a child to follow in his/her footsteps? On closer inspection, however, AFTER EARTH borders on child abuse. Expected to exude macho charisma and dramatic gravitas, poor Jaden Smith (who was actually good in THE KARATE KID) winds up looking like a nervous child who, forced to play baseball by his father, strikes out with the bases loaded, his public humiliation aggravated by unrealistic paternal expectations. Not that Jaden Smith deserves to shoulder the blame: the film intended to serve as his star-vehicle is so badly written and directed that even Will Smith’s prodigious star charisma is dimmed to near invisibility.
There is a brief flash of interest at the very beginning, with a handful of shots cut together to show that Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) has been stranded on an unfamiliar world by the crash of a spaceship. Almost immediately, however, the succinct visual story-telling gives way to a voice-over exposition dump that sets the tone for the rest of the film: Humanity ruined Earth, so they had to move elsewhere, but we encountered aliens who bred monsters called Ursa that hunted us by smelling our fear. (Were we invading the alien’s planet, or were they trying to kick us out of our new home? This is never clarified.) Kitai’s father, Cypher Raige (Will Smith) learned to master fear, making himself invisible to the Ursa – a technique known as ghosting.
With that out of the way, we then embark on a flashback to set up the situation we have already seen. Cypher was on his way to a mission to release an Ursa; he brought estranged Kitai along in the hope of a little father-son bonding. After the crash, their only hope for survival is to secure a rescue beacon located in the tail section of the ship, which broke off and landed miles away.* With Cyper’s legs broken, it falls to Kitai to make the hazardous trek on his own. Unfortunately, he and his father are not quite the only survivors of the crash; the Ursa is out there roaming as well. Kitai, we learn from a later flash back (there are a few of them), was traumatized as a child when he saw his sister killed by an Ursa. Anyone want to guess what the dramatic conclusion of the film will be? In case you missed the metaphor, AFTER EARTH is not only about living up to daddy’s expectations; it is also about mastering your fear. On screen, this translates to 90 minutes of Kitai sniveling, followed by the obligatory and totally expected final-reel moment when he man’s up, puts on his manly brave face, and bravely battles the Ursa. The sudden metamorphosis to virtual superhero, enhanced with computer-generated action gymnastics, reminds us of how much better this moment worked in THE MATRIX.
For such a simple – but potentially emotional – idea, AFTER EARTH is surprisingly muddled. For some reason, it is not enough that Kitai is emotionally scarred by the sight of his sister’s death; he also suffers from the belief that his father expected him to save her somehow – a ridiculously tall order for a mere toddler, and one that Cypher never contradicts (what a dad!). For some other reason, the adventure play out on Earth, which was supposedly destroyed by pollution and warfare but looks surprisingly verdant, all things considered. (Press notes indicate that a thousand years have passed, but viewers could hardly be blamed for thinking the emigration from Earth took place within living memory of the characters.) Also, we are told that everything on the planet has evolved to kill man, which seems rather extraordinary considering that no human has set foot there in a long time.
Director and co-writer M. Night Shyamalan (whose chance of recapturing his THE SIXTH SENSE glory seems to recede with each new film) emphasizes the sentimental aspects of the father-son relationship, to mawkish effect. He also seems unable to handle the heroics and the suspense convincingly; the film feels like an after-school special in which triumph of the young protagonist is a foregone conclusion. It hardly helps that the climax features Kitai wandering around a mountaintop with the rescue beacon held aloft like a cell phone in a “can you hear me now” commercial.
To be fair, Shymalan is saddled with the vehicle he was handed by Will Smith, which is not only misguided but also misleading. Though the trailer is cut to suggest a father-son adventure, the story is actually contrived to sideline the elder Smith so that Jaden can take center-stage for the majority of the running time, which he spends out in the wild while receiving motivational instructions via radio. With his usual jovial persona well submerged, Will Smith comes across as a stiff; his attempts to emote while stuck in a chair and watching the action from a distance become wearisome rather quickly. With other characters restricted mostly to flashbacks, that leaves little to break the tedium.
The result feels less like a drama than an instructional video: how to survive on an alien planet. And not a particularly inspirational one. “Fear is a choice” – the catchphrase emblazoned on the advertising art – is just not as pithy as, say, “Fear is the mind-killer.”
Technical credits are mostly impressive (Peter Suschitzky’s location photography makes the film look gorgeous), but some of the special effects have a slightly cartoon quality – which might be intentional, considering the overall juvenile tone.
There are one or two brights spots. In particular, there is a glorious eagle (computer-generated) who provides whatever heart the film has, easily upstaging Jaden Smith. For some reason, Shyamalan’s brand of hokum works well with animal characters, whose lack of complex, believable personalities is not an issue. The effectiveness of these moments suggests that AFTER EARTH might have worked better as an animated movie; the stylization of the form could have provided a buffer to help audiences swallow the treacle.
In any case, the old show biz adage about not working with children or animals now needs to be extended to include the phrase “even if the animal is CGI.” It is an amusing irony that, in a film designed to showcase the child, it turns out to be the animal who steals the show. AFTER EARTH (Sony Pictures Release: May 31, 2013). Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Written by Gary Whitta and M. Night Shyamalan, from a story by Will Smith. Rated PG-13. 100 minutes. Cast: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Sophie Okonedo, Zoe Kravitz, Glenn Morshower, Kristofer Hivju, Sacha Dhawan, Chris Geere. FOOTNOTE
Of all things I expected from AFTER EARTH, the least of them was that the plot would essentially reprise the set-up of KING OF THE LOST WORLD (2005), which also had crash survivors tracking down the missing half of their vehicle in order to phone home.
Sony Pictures releases this science fiction extravaganza. Will Smith and Jaden Smith star in a futuristic father-and-son version of ROBINSON CRUSOE, set on a depopulated Earth that has evolved in ways hostile to human survival. M. Night Shyamalan directed, from a screenplay he co-wrote with Stephen Gaghan and Gary Whitta, with additional dialogue by Michael Soccio. Cast also include Isabelle Fuhrman, Zoe Kravitz, and David Denman.
U.S. Theatrical Release: May 31, 2013 (moved up from an originally announced June 7).
Such a garden of delights for this Memorial Day weekend! First, we pay tribute to horror icon Christopher Lee on his 90th birthday, as Cinefantastique Online‘s Steve Biodrowski and Lawrence French highlight their favorite Lee films and Dan chips in with a memorable TV moment.
Then we delve deeply into the weekend’s major release, MEN IN BLACK III, the return of the frenetic secret agents vs. aliens comedy that reunites actors Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones with director Barry Sonnenfeld and, courtesy of a time-travel plot, introduces Josh Brolin as a young Jones. The film was rumored to have no shortage of problems during the filming process (even discounting New Yorkers’ complaints about Will Smith’s Taj Mahal of a dressing trailer), but does the final project transcend the behind-the-scenes turmoil? Steve, Larry, and Dan discuss what’s good and bad in the film, and throw in a discussion of the logic behind building a prison on the Moon.
Plus: Steve and Larry give their capsule reviews of Oren Peli’s return to horror, CHERNOBYL DIARIES, and what’s coming in theaters.
According to Pajiba.com, Amblin’ Entertainment’s MEN IN BLACK III has cast Josh Brolin (JONAH HEX) as a young version of Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent Kay in the time-traveling sequel.
Will Smith and Jones are set to return in their roles in the Sci-Fi comedy, with Emma Thompson said to be playing their new, modern day boss. The site claims Alec Baldwin (THE SHADOW) is in talks to portray the Agency’s head in 1969.
Jermain Clement (FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS) is reportedly playing a character named Boris.
The article says Gemma Arterton (CLASH OF THE TITANS) is in negotiations to play a secretary in `69, and Sharlto Copley (DISTRICT 9) to enact a fast-taking alien.
Barry Sonnenfeld (THE ADDAMS FAMILY) returns as director, with a script by Etan Cohen (TROPIC THUNDER). Shooting is set to begin this November, with a May 25th, 2012 release planned by Columbia Pictures.
The MEN IN BLACK series is based on the comic book created by Lowell Cunninghan.
SuperHeroHype reports that Marc Webb’s SPIDER-MAN reboot (still being referred to internally as “Untitled Spider-Man Project”) is set to begin shooting in LA this December. Sony/Columbia Pictures has yet to confirm whether they will also film in NYC as they did with the first three films. The film is scheduled for release on July 3, 2012 with Andrew Garfield in the starring role and Laura Ziskin and Avi Arad returning to the producer’s chairs.
Barry Sonnenfeld’s MEN IN BLACK III is scheduled to begin shooting in September in NYC. The May 25, 2012 release will star Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin and Jemaine Clement. The summer of 2012 is already shaping up to be a big year for major film franchises.
Will Smith is never one to buck a trend. According to deadline.com, the I AM LEGEND star has signed on to star in and produce THE LEGEND OF CAIN, a film which revolves around Adam & Eve’s “other” son but with a vampire twist. The film has yet to find a director or studio but will be produced by Overbrook Entertainment, whose partners include wife Jada Pinkett Smith & James Lassiter. Mr. Smith is currently in the process of international promotion of this film and the upcoming MEN IN BLACK III.
Director Barry Sonnenfeld (MEN IN BLACK, WILD WILD WEST) has been talking to Showbiz 411 and has confirmed that both Will Smith (INDEPENDENCE DAY, I AM LEGEND) and Tommy Lee Jones (SPACE COWBOYS, BATMAN FOREVER) are coming back for the third MEN IN BLACK film.
Smith has been on board Sony’s third MIB entry for a while now, but Jones’ commitment to the film has been in the balance with replacements such as Josh Brolin Sacha Baron Cohen on the cards. This news doesn’t come as too much of a surprise as Jones has spent the last few years making indie films and so is probably in need of a blockbuster to balance the books.
Not only does Sonnenfeld reveal that both actors are back but also says that MIB 3 will be, you guessed it, shot in 3D. As sick as I am of every single blockbuster having to be in 3D the MIB franchise would actually suit the format and could help make this sequel stand out from it’s predecessors. So far, plot details are scarce but as Sony are aiming to release the film on Memorial Day 2011 so it shouldn’t be long before we learn more about the film.