Two new trailers for upcoming sci-fi flicks offer wildly different visions of a future Earth. Neither looks particularly original, but both point to a planet pulsing with danger.
In Oblivion, Earth looks desolate after an alien invasion, a wasteland dotted with wrecked landscapes and malfunctioning machines. In After Earth, a boy finds himself in a Life of Pi-style fight for survival in a lush world filled with natural dangers akin to Avatar’s flora and fauna.
Neither scenario looks very hospitable for the films’ protagonists, but which would be more life-threatening? And, perhaps more importantly, which speculative world will be home to the more captivating sci-fi story?
In Oblivion, Tom Cruise plays a drone repairman named Jack Harper. “Sixty years ago Earth was attacked,” says Harper in a voiceover in the trailer above, which was released over the weekend. “We won the war, but they destroyed half the planet. Everyone’s been evacuated. Nothing human remains.”
Nearing the end of a stint working in the harsh future environment — a career cliché if ever there was one — Harper soon discovers he’s not the only human on the planet. The trailer shows off plenty of slick-looking spacecraft before the usually comforting voice of Morgan Freeman delivers a menacing message. Then we get a terrifying glimpse of … something. Everything’s trashed and post-apocalyptic, which has led some to compare Oblivion to Wall-E.
By way of contrast, the world shown in After Earth looks beautiful, and the creatures on it look very Terran. The humans who crash-land on the planet — Cypher Raige and his son Kitai, first shown in a genuinely touching moment as a emergency ramps up aboard their spaceship — are played by real-life father and son Will and Jaden Smith.
In the After Earth trailer, embedded above, the elder Raige lays out the dangers ready to be encountered in the forests of the future. “This is a Class 1 quarantined planet,” Cypher says. “The threats we will be facing are real. Everything on this planet has evolved to kill humans.” Kitai encounters many wild beasts as his father’s reassuring voice outlines the difference between fear and danger, outlining what looks like a classic coming-of-age tale.
What you won’t get from either of these new teaser trailers is a smack in the face with the filmmakers’ names — there’s no glimpse of the wearisome “from the visionary director of” tagline here.
But the films are both coming from marquee directors, albeit ones hoping to bounce back from disappointing films. For Oblivion, that’s Joseph Kosinski, whose directorial debut, Tron Legacy, showcased a stunning visual style but failed to tell a compelling story. For After Earth, the man at the helm is M. Night Shyamalan, a talented director who’s on a bit of a losing streak (The Last Airbender, The Happening). Shyamalan co-wrote the After Earth screenplay with Stephen Gaghan (Syriana, Traffic).
Will either of these films deliver the kind of brain-teasing, soul-stirring story that make all the epic visuals worthwhile? We’ll have to wait till next year to see: Oblivion opens in April and After Earth follows in June