Saturday, 21 December 2013

Fixing After Earth - A Simple Solution To A Complex Problem

Following its release earlier this year, the response to After Earth was critical to say the least. Even ignoring the accusations of themes relating to the Church of Scientology, or the presence of M. Night Shyamalan as director, the acting overall was poor, the effects bad and the plot was questionable at best.

The script, with the story written by Will Smith and touched up by Shyamalan and Gary Whitta of all people, suffered from many logical fallacies and aberrations of science. Along with Earth itself supposedly being utterly hostile to humans, while instead shown to be a lush easily inhabitable world, a particular sticking point was the villainous forces: The ursas. 

Everything from humanity's methods to combat them to their vary nature consisted of relentlessly baffling choices which made no sense. Rather than having reliable sense of smell, hearing and sight, the ursa could only detect fear pheromones and nothing else. This meant they had no way to traverse the environment and a very easily exploitable weakness which could be used to bring them down despite their powerful bulk.

Ignoring that these were genetically engineered beasts, the weakness for which could easily have been erased the moment their masters to deal with human adaptation, humanity's methods in exploiting this are questionable at best. Since these are pheromones, sealed atmospheric armour or robotic drones would be an easy response to prevent the monsters ever seeing their enemy. As would long range sniper weapons acting beyond their limited range or even air-strikes guided in by ground teams. Instead, their response is to have individuals trained to suppress all emotion and wielding melee weapons charge into combat against them. No, this doesn't make any more sense on screen and these are just some of the more notable problems within the film.

However, there is an easy solution to many of the film's failures in writing. While the issues with bad CGI, questionable direction and poor acting would remain, it would remove many points of discontentment among critics. What's more is that it is an easy switch which would only require minor alterations to the story at best. 

What is this answer? Turn it into a high fantasy film.

Now, just think about this for a few minutes. We already have the human soldiers from an advanced civilisation being forced to carry blades into combat rather than guns for seemingly no reason. Furthermore, the actual ship crash itself is one of the very few moments which the science part of this science fiction film is truly a major piece. Beyond a few points, by that I mean very few points, where technology is seen being used, most of the time the protagonists are seen making do with what they have on hand. As such reducing them to the point where they yet to even develop black powder weapons only seems to make sense.

Naturally turning the setting into fantasy would mean this would have to be a shipwreck rather than a starship crash, but that in itself only helps to assist certain points. These would be both minor plot issues which had audiences scratching their heads at and major ones which broke all suspension of disbelief. For example, the conclusion has Kitai (yes, that is the name of Jaden Smith's character) being forced to climb up a mountain for no apparent reason to activate a distress beacon thanks to a "lack of signal". This would make far more sense if he was having to climb up it to build a fire and try to attract any passing ships.

The entire problem surrounding the ursas could easily be solved in such a setting. Without the ability to create robotics or other obvious alternatives, it would make sense why humans would be required to train warriors to shut down their emotions and fight their foes with blades. 
Furthermore, the ursas themselves could have a similar origin but be re-created to have their limitation make sense. Keep the idea they were the creations of someone intended to wipe out humanity, but add a layer of fantasy and magic to it. Have them be flesh golems, creations of some sorcerer with vampire spirits bound into their bodies which feed upon fear as it is all they know. While not the best excuse, their limitation becomes more reasonable and the ursa's presence in the film becomes more excusable. Rather than having the ship transport one for little apparent reason, instead the film could justify one still being in the land they were shipwrecked in thanks to humanity driving them out.

Other elements such as why humanity was driven out and the land itself could be put down to magic altering the land. Rather than being somewhere the average audience would be familiar with and trying to build itself upon science, the idea of a fictional location having gargantuan versions of familiar creatures and random weather changes would be easier to accept. After all, many tales already have such things with giant turtles, humanoid titans and similar creatures existing in many mythological tales.

This doesn't fix everything obviously. The problem of Cypher Raige (Yes, that is what Will Smith called his character) having his legs broken and directing Katai through drones would be harder to justify here. It would require significant plot changes or some similar fantasy excuse. Then again, considering one major criticism was sidelining the film's strongest actor, perhaps the fact he couldn't be pushed to one side in this setting would be an improvement.

Would it have made the film good? Definitely not. Many problems would remain, but at least some things would not break a suspension of disbelief so obviously. This also only works going by what's on screen, but few to no people actually saw the manual which explained many of the plot elements the film never went into.

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