After Earth was a touching father-son drama with neat sci-fi action sequences chained to a central conceit that required expensive amounts of bad science and stupefying quantities of inconsistently-applied science to make it work. Frankly, the film would have been more believable as a fantasy with wizards, dragons, and a young apprentice on the run.
This is one of those movies where I kind of want to make a bulleted list of the things that pulled me out of the film, along with a much longer bulleted list of things which, once I was out of the film, I realized were completely broken.
I'll focus on two. I'm not made of time, and this film would support 10,000 words of this kind of deconstruction.
1) The monsters are things that an alien race engineered to hunt and kill humans. Their scary powers? They smell our fear, and can cloak to become invisible. Their weakness? They are basically blind. Let's look at a short list of implications:
- If they're too blind to see a human standing still (let alone walking alongside them preparing to stab them), how do they manage to walk around without bumping into everything?
- If you can engineer something to be invisible, the odds are good that you've got the technology to engineer it to be able to see things. In a broad spectrum, even.
- If you're engineering something to hunt humans based on our pheromones, you've probably got a sufficient understanding of our biochemistry for effective poisons, or maybe a good plague. That'll be faster than building monsters that have to sneak up on us and stab us.
2) The morphing "cutlass" is super cool, and it's very believable. Implications?
- If you can make fifty different configurations of sword out of a morphing pipe, pretty much every other tool you need (especially the expensive ones) should use the same tech -- medkits, body-armor (perhaps with a helmet!), and maybe even equipment that can "heal" itself.
- It never breaks, and punches holes in stone. If you can build THAT, then maybe your really important, life-saving tools shouldn't shatter when you tumble down a hill.
- Guns are still better. LOTS better. Hunting something huge, with sharp claws and three times your reach? SHOOT IT WITH A GUN.
I could go on. Pretty much every cool, sci-fi thing they put in this film ended up working against the movie by taking me out of the story. I'm willing to suspend some disbelief, but I'm not willing to just be stupid for two hours.
Am I a hypocrite for hating on After Earth for bad science while letting Star Trek Into Darkness take my top slot for fun? Frankly, I don't care. Star Trek worked for me in spite of its execrable science, and After Earth never cleared that hurdle. Maybe a longer, more detailed analysis would reveal how bad science can be made to work well for the viewer, and maybe Star Trek still has a line of credit I'm willing to let it burn through.
Speaking of credit... as the credits rolled a saw the directorial and writing credits included M. Night Shyamalan. He has no credit left with me. He can compose a shot, inspire a performance, and shoot a scene, but I haven't seen him make a decent movie -- you know, actually deliver the whole long-form package -- in more than a decade.
After Earth comes in at number 12 for me this year. Very pretty, nice suspense, good acting, decent action, and an incomprehensibly inconsistent setting.