*/**** Image B+ Sound B
starring Chris Klein, Leelee Sobieski, Josh Hartnett, Annette O'Toole
screenplay by Michael Seitzman
directed by Mark Piznarski
by Bill Chambers In Here on Earth, prep-school valedictorian Kelley (Chris Klein) leaves campus after curfew in his new Mercedes and gets embroiled in a game of chicken that winds up leaving the small town next door short one gas station ("here on Earth" even Hallmark movies have explosions) and restaurant. Kelley and the other boy, a local with permanent bedhead named Jasper (Josh Hartnett), are sentenced to a summer of rebuilding the diner, which I'm sure sounds like wise, character-building justice until the headline "ROOF OF RESTAURANT BUILT BY TEENAGE RIVALS WITH NO CONSTRUCTION EXPERIENCE COLLAPSES, KILLING PATRONS." A girl comes between them, the latter's long-time sweetheart Sam (Leelee Sobieski). She spies on the preppie delivering the graduation speech he could've made to the birds and the trees, and is touched enough to want to jump his bones.
Here on Earth is the sort of movie-by-committee that had a soundtrack set in stone long before it had a finished screenplay. The actors are psychically chained to the continuous stream of pop songs, frolicking when the beat is fast, surfboard-stiff during power ballads, their emotions dancing like a follow-the-bouncing-ball over the lyrics. It used to be that the film inspired the soundtrack but now the tail wags the dog. What I can't tell is if veteran TV director Mark Piznarski, late of "My So-Called Life", was salvaged or sabotaged by the wall-to-wall music--whether it imposed some linearity on incoherent editing strategies or got in the way of the picture's flow. The establishing scenes might as well be in "shuffle" mode, and there is a curious detachment to how it's shot. Usually, TV helmers abuse the close-up, but Here on Earth is abundant in indifferent medium shots that record the broad strokes of what's happening without capturing the light in the actors' eyes, if indeed there is any.
Klein, Sobieski, and Hartnett have all had their moments in the past, and if you're going to do Picnic for the "Dawson's Creek" set you could do a lot worse than that cast. (Sobieski is really rather good here in what amounts to a misplacement of energy.) But the same instincts that led to the soundtrack spelling everything out lead to a deus ex machina in the form of cancer that lets everyone off the hook--Kelley for stealing Jasper's girl, Sam for straying, Jasper for feeling jealously protective--and reduces Here on Earth to maudlin garbage. Regardless of what you may think of "Dawson's Creek" or "My So-Called Life", the interpersonal dynamics on teen shows are remarkably convoluted and rarely so cleanly resolved; it's a shame we don't respect the same audience to handle a similar complexity on the big screen.
What is interesting, I suppose, is that Kelley's resistance to his new Rockwellian digs never abates, and since we're tethered to his POV, we, too, remain uncharmed by this Podunk throughout. Drippy characters, unpleasant surroundings, cancer--Here on Earth is an awfully morose place to be. Still, there is one good scene, or at least one scene that stands out for the right reasons: While Kelley and Sam are alone in a field, he slips her shoe off and starts kissing her bare foot. Kelley being a foot guy is far more interesting than him being a poor little rich boy, and Sam, by all appearances, digging it smuggles a peculiar note of eroticism into an otherwise chaste teen romance. Suddenly, these are human beings with urges, kinks, dimensions. We're a long way from Endless Love, however, and soon the film resets to a status quo that includes Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer's Michael Rooker glowering through another bread-job.
Any shortcomings displayed by Fox's 1.85:1, 16x9-enhanced DVD release of Here on Earth are aesthetic as opposed to technical. Michael D. O'Shea, evidently one of the few Irish cinematographers with no particular affinity for lighting, delivers by-rote backwoods scenery whose occasional soft quality only inhibits the transfer's clarity. Flesh tones and shadow detail, however, are well above average. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is clear if imbalanced--a number of dialogue exchanges oblige a boost in centre-channel volume. Surround usage is too subtle to envelop the viewer, with the forest passages calling for stronger attention to atmosphere.
Here on this disc you'll find, supplementing the feature, trailers for Here on Earth, Anna and the King, Anywhere But Here, Romeo + Juliet, Drive Me Crazy, Ever After, and Simply Irresistable, plus five Here on Earth television spots, the obligatory soundtrack promo, and a video for that most annoying of the bubblegum divas Jessica Simpson's "Where You Are," the film's nominal theme song.
96 minutes; PG-13; 1.85:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround; CC; English, Spanish subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Fox