Tuesday, May 6, 2014

After Earth is a 2013 science fiction film by M. Night Shyamalan starring Will Smith and and Jaden Smith. It sucks.

The plot, such as it is: Earthlings abandoned Earth some three centuries ago after a terrible environmental disaster. Most people now live on Alpha Centauri. About 20 years ago, humanity encountered a vicious alien race which used attack-bears. I kid you not. It seems these attack-bears can smell fear, so humanity was pretty easily wiped out. Then Commander Will Smith learned how to "ghost", or control his fear. He led the human race in stopping the attack bears and the aliens, but in so doing he neglected his family terribly. When he was four years old, Jaden Smith saw his sister eaten by an attack-bear, and he has blamed himself ever since for not controlling his fear. Although he has a loving mother and has gone to great schools, no one has diagnosed him with survivor's guilt. Now Jaden wants to go into the military and be a great warrior, just like his dad.

One day, Will Smith feels guilty for neglecting his family. So he takes Jaden on a trip aboard a military transport that is going to pass by Earth. They hit a meteor shower, as if this were some sort of 1940s B-movie serial, and crash on Earth. They end up in the rear of the starship, where Will's leg is horribly broken. Because Earth's atmosphere now has a lot less oxygen, they will die unless Jaden goes for help. The front part of the ship is about 20 miles away. So Jaden takes off, drinking "oxygen fluid" to enable him to breath and talking to his dad via a wrist-communicator.

Naturally, even though he's told to avoid all animal life, the first thing Jaden does is antagonize a group of killer baboons. They chase him inot a river, where he is bitten by a poisonous leech. He administers an antidote, and passes out -- only to be almost frozen to death. Unfortunately, by now Jaden has broken two of the capsules and has to rush to make it to the other part of the starship -- where a communicator and more capsules await. Jaden reaches a waterfall, but has no time to climb down. So he uses his built-in flying suit (which everyone aboard a space-bound transport would wear, right?) to fly down the cliff face. He has a fight with his father in which he blames himself for his older sister's death, and -- weeping -- leaps from the cliff.

Unfortunately, a giant eagle attacks him and takes him to her nest. He's almost eaten alive by eaglets, but then saber-tooth tigers attack and eat the eaglets. He maanges to beat off a few tigers and climb down from the nest. The next day, he builds a raft (which takes him but minutes) to float down the river to the wrecked ship. He sleeps and dreams that his dead sister tells him that he's not to blame for her death. Another "thermal shift" occurs that leaves him almost frozen to death, but the eagle finds him, builds a nest around him (I guess she thinks he's a baby eagle), and saves him. The eagle dies giving him her warmth.

Finally reaching the downed spacecraft, Jaden finds a bunch of oxygen capsules. Unfortunately, "ionic radiation" is blocking his father from speaking to him. But his father, oddly, can see and hear everything that's happend to Jaden. One of the attack-bears that the ship was carrying has survived, and killed all the remaining crew. Jaden has to take the communicator to the top of a local volcano (because those are completely handy and climbable) to escape the radiation and call for help. He runs into the attack-bear, learns to control his fear, and kills it. He passes out... The rescue ship arrives to save father and son. Father and son reconcile, for reasons that are not clear.

That ill-mannered, egotistical little brat, Jaden Smith, couldn't act his way out of a wet paper bag if you gave him a knife and more water. The film is constructed completely around him, as if you somehow cared whether this whiny, arrogant little snot survives or not. A series of jaw-dropping coincidences -- including one laugh-out-loud scene in which a giant condor builds him a nest at night and sacrifices itself to keep him warm and alive -- work in his favor.

The film cost $135 million to make. Add in another $80 million or so in costs for prints and advertising.

No, remember: A studio only gets half the box office (the other half goes to the theater owners). The film grossed $244 million worldwide. With total costs of about $215 million, the studio needed to make $430 million at the box office to break even. It didn't come close. Not even all those Burger King cups and millions of packages of After Earth children's underwear and other licensing income failed to save this baby from costing Sony Pictures enough money to sink the Japanese economy. (Sony won't release numbers, but most observers think Sony Pictures lost about $90 million on the film.)

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