Written and directed by Thunder Levin
Though you probably wouldn’t know it from the marketing for the new Will/Jaden Smith science fiction epic After Earth, the director of that film is one M. Night Shyamalan. You want an unexpected plot twist worthy of an M. Night flick? What if I told you The Asylum’s AE: Apocalypse Earth is a genuinely decent, old-fashioned science fiction adventure that could have really been something out-of-this-world if not for its meager budget keeping it earthbound.
AE: Apocalypse Earth is less a mockbuster of After Earth than a modern day version of those family friendly 1950’s space thrillers that starred the likes of John Agar. Movies like Journey to the 7th Planet and The Angry Red Planet, with explorers braving uncharted space only to find themselves contending with deadly alien wildlife and unfriendly space natives as they race to repair their hobbled spacecraft.
Don’t know how many of those films inspired writer-director Thunder Levin (the helmer of last summer’s better than it had any right to be Asylum mockbuster American Warships), but there’s no mistaking some of the films that did influence him here, most notably Avatar, Planet of the Apes, and, in particular, The Wizard of Oz. You don’t name your lead character Frank Baum and surround him with another character named Crowe with frizzy hair and another that is a robotic tin man unless you’re making allusions to The Wizard of Oz. In retrospect, I’m kind of surprised there wasn’t a space tornado or the shocking reveal that “AE” actually stood for “Auntie Em”.
Aliens have invaded Earth and are on the verge of victory. A small, select group of passengers prepare for a spaceflight to an inhabitable new world across the galaxy that could prove to be the new home for the human race. Soldier Frank Baum (Non-Christopher Lambert “Highlander” Adrian Paul) becomes an unintentional stowaway on the flight captained by Sam Crowe (Richard Grieco of original “21 Jump Street” fame) and an always eager to help humanoid robot named T.I.M. (Imagine Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” if he looked more lifelike and sounded much peppier).
All on board will be happy to have this military man along for the ride once they awaken from cryosleep to discover the ship has gone off-course and crash-landed on a jungle planet (shot on location in scenic Costa Rica) populated by unfriendly human tribes and the “chameleons”, the never fully seen Predator camouflaged aliens that conquered Earth.
Of great help to them will be Lea, a native of this savage world who speaks English because she spent a considerable amount of time hanging around other humans being held captive by the aliens as part of their zoo. Some in the group don’t trust her because of her camouflage, slightly reptilian-like skin. Baum, on the other hand… Captain James T. Kirk never met a green-skinned alien babe he didn’t want to give the old Captain’s log to so it should come as no surprise to you that romance quickly blooms between Sgt. Highlander and the alien chick who looks like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model in camo body paint.
Try as Levin might, AE can’t quite reach the lofty heights of grand science fiction adventure he was aiming for because Asylum budgets don’t allow for anything particularly grandiose. It kind of kills the illusion of futuristic interstellar travel when you see a cryosleep pod with more loose hanging wires than a busted 40-year-old transistor radio. The sort of thing you could laugh at in other Asylum productions, it proves a detriment in this case.
The biggest area where the budget works against the film is the action. Monster battles are over in a flash. Daring escapes don’t seem all that daring. So much of the action happens in such quick bursts, often working very hard to barely pull off elaborately staged movements, that I never felt much of a thrill. Because of this I found myself experiencing the occasional lull, not really because I found it dull, more because the action quotient wasn’t doing much for me.
Still, the ambition here is admirable enough that I’m willing to forgive budgetary restraints and some of the less interesting supporting players that round out the cast.. With Asylum movies we’re accustomed to a certain degree of nonsense, complete gibberish from beginning to end in some cases, a factor that is often the source of the film’s entertainment value. AE is more literate than what we’re accustomed to from the studio that gave us Mega Piranha and 2-Headed Shark Attack. Hey, look – character development, a storyline that isn’t just a series of random events, even genuine stabs at underlying themes and subtext. What a novel idea.
3 out of 5