A crash landing leaves teenager Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) and his legendary father Cypher (Will Smith) stranded on Earth, 1,000 years after cataclysmic events forced humanity's escape. With Cypher critically injured, Kitai must embark on a perilous journey to signal for help, facing uncharted terrain, evolved animal species that now rule the planet, and an unstoppable alien creature that escaped during the crash. Father and son must learn to work together and trust one another if they want any chance of returning home. (from MovieWeb.com)
Not surprisingly, After Earth didn't get the warmest reception at the box office. While it has the star power of Will Smith behind it, the film hardly makes the best use of it, as Smith clearly takes a back seat to give his son Jaden a chance to take lead. The end result is a film that has its heart and mind in the right place, but all the pieces don't seem to fit well enough to make everything work together just right. And I have to admit I'm not entirely sure it's all M. Night's fault this time.
After Earth takes place hundreds of years in the future, after humanity has vacated our home planet of Earth. Will Smith plays Cypher Raige, an all-star military man who has mastered the art of what they call "ghosting" -- overcoming your fears to the point where a predator cannot find you. On his last mission before retiring (doesn't that always seem to be the case?), he decides to take his teenage son, Kitai, along for the mission. Kitai and his father are rather distant due to the amount of time he's spent away from home, and the boy is in the middle of training hard to become a ranger, like his respected father. The routine mission experiences trouble when an asteroid field destroys their ship, stranding them on Earth. It soon becomes up to Kitai to travel across life-threatening terrain to retrieve a beacon that was shed from their crashed ship so they can be rescued. The film thematically is about a parent training up a child in the way that they should go but needing to accept the fact that eventually they need to let go to allow the child to bloom on their own. It's also clear that, while the theme is occuring in the story, it's also happening behind-the-scenes as Will steps back to allow Jaden to be the star. That's an endearing concept but also a somewhat problematic what.
Aside from the fact that you watch a Will Smith film for the purpose of seeing Will Smith perform in a movie, too much about After Earth rides on young Jaden Smith's shoulders. Strong child actors are not easy to come by, but forcing them to be one when it's not necessarily a natural talent doesn't help anyone either. Jaden has worked best on screen when he's had good direction, the right role, and the right costars, but one of his lowest points was the troubled remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still. M. Night Shyamalan is notorious for drawing wooden performances out of his actors to begin with, so when you toss an inexperienced actor into that situation, it's not pretty. To his credit, Jaden fairs better more times than not--his a kid playing a kid, afterall--but since he's the person we see on screen most, it does a disservice to the film. The most dodgy instance, however, is when, before the film's final act, Kitai and Cypher get into an argument which causes Jaden to deliver a rather whiney performance on par with Hayden Christensen's temper tantrum in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. And the fact that the scene involves a far superior actor in Will Smith doesn't help Jaden either.
Despite its flaws (including predictability-- from the moment they mention "ghosting" in the opening scene, you already know how the movie is going to end), After Earth may be M. Night's most watchable film since Lady in the Water. The story is interesting enough and the mystery surrounding the post-apocalyptic Earth makes it feel a bit like the classic journey movies of yesteryear (even if some things that happen don't make sense; just remember these two words: bird rescue). M. Night is able to give us some suspenseful moments throughout the movie, despite the finale being kind of a letdown. The biggest problem the film may have, however, is -- who is the target audience? While the theme is about a parent letting go so their child can learn on their own, the tone of the film (and the fact that the lead is a kid) feels more like the kind of film I grew up on in the 80s. However, there's some gruesome violence that's clearly not suitable for younger children, so you have to wonder just who the movie was intended for? (Toning down the gruesome imagery could have easily earned this a PG rating, too. Tweens would have probably loved it then.)
The content is M. Night Shyamalan movies has always been one thing above all else: violence. Possibly the most gruesome sequence finds Kitai coming upon a dismembered monkey arm (complete with bloody stump) before finding a whole pile of dismembered monkey parts from several different animals. Another scene shows Cypher trying to give himself a blood transfusion of sorts and we see a tube he just stuck in his thigh filling with blood while we see the wound and blood around it. Finally, another scene shows Kitai dreaming and imagining a girl talking to him. She tries to get him to wake up and when he doesn't, her face suddenlt turns bloody and cut up on one side. It's like M. Night took a cue from his Sixth Sense days too much (and sadly, I saw the idea of using the gross face to shock Kitai and the viewer coming!). Language is contained to only 1 "d*mn" and there is no sensuality or sexual content.
For the most part, After Earth is a step in the right direction for M. Night Shyamalan. It's by no means his best work or even close to it, but given how poor his recent projects have been, this is still a step up. Diehard fans of Will Smith might feel shortchanged by his lack of screentime (mostly because he literally hangs back to let Jaden take the sole spotlight for most of the movie), but his presence still adds to what otherwise would be a completely lost effort.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 11/14/13)
A Father's Legacy (8:53) - This is really the only behind-the-scenes featurette on the DVD. There's a slew of on-set footage of Will and Jaden working together and goofing off. Here, Will and M. Night talk about the theme of parents letting their kids go to experience what they taught them on their own. There's some great B-roll footage of the scene where Cypher and Kitai argue, and although it happens over communication and not in person in the movie, Will is seen right off camera reading his lines for Jaden to act off of. It's also clear that Will used this production to mentor his son as an actor.
1000 Years in 300 seconds (5:27) - This is a montage set to music from the film of behind-the-scenes footage (with no dialog).
The Nature of the Future (5:24) - This is another montage set to music of nature footage.
Xprize After Earth Challenge (3:36) - Sony hosted a contest for fans to come up with a "plan" to save Earth. The video shows the winner's Lego model and then lists the names of the runner-ups.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 11/14/13)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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