“I heard stories of Earth, It was a paradise, but we destroyed it.”
We have been watching the trailers for "After Earth," and we get the idea that this is a film about the typical hard-ass of a father character, and the typical son trying to prove his worth to his dad. "After Earth" is that and a lot more. These types of films can be played out in many ways and that is what makes "After Earth" a bit different. The film stars Will and Jaden Smith, father and son in their second outing together. Not really publicized as in the past, but not really hiding it, is that one of the scriptwriters, and the director of this Sci-Fi, battle against the elements, is none other than M. Night Shyamalan. Don't let that throw you off, "After Earth" is solid and runs about one hour and forty minutes and is rated PG-13.
Told chronologically out of order, and with plenty of flashback sequences that remind one of another Will Smith flick, "I Am Legend," we are told bits and pieces of a much deeper story. Obviously, Jaden Smith is our protagonist, Kitai Raige, son of the famous war hero played by his real father Will Smith. Cypher Raige, who is a General in the Ranger Corps, is tough as nails and fearless. As in typical father and son bonding films, Cypher is distant, serious, and seemingly unfeeling. Kitai, on the other hand is in desperate need of some fatherly approval. Aren't we all? Kitai, we find is the best in his class, but too immature to be promoted to Ranger. The history of the human race unfolds as Kitai tells of the ruin of Earth and humankind’s new manifest destiny to inhabit other worlds. They built Arks and left, now living on Nova Prime: the world the Earthlings escaped to about a thousand years before. A planet where, apparently, some alien race decided to leave them a genetically engineered present. We find the Raiges on the night of Cypher's brief homecoming. We see a few family moments to give us insight into the dynamics of this somewhat dysfunctional military family. I don't know if this is true of all military families; however, the relationship between father and son in "The Great Santini" comes to mind. Realizing that he may be losing his family, especially his son, Cypher sets off to lead one more training mission before announcing his retirement. When isn't it right before someone's retirement that all hell breaks out? Taking his kid along on this little vacation trip, the two find they get more they bargained for.
Father and son speed off to their destination in a ship of dubious design, reminding one of a giant Manta Ray. As much as Kitai wants to please his father, he is after all a 14-year-old boy with all the curiosity that comes with that age. During the flight, when he should be sleeping, he is out and about exploring the ship and ignores a big red 'Restricted Access' sign. Why he does that is anyone's guess. I look at my own teenager, and I immediately understand. At this point, we are introduced to the film's main antagonist, a creature known as an URSA. Looking something like a cross between a bear but kind of like a spider, there is one caged in the back of the ship, and Kitai is both drawn to, and scared by the creature. Like "Jaws," you don't actually get to see the creature in action right away. "TheBook of Eli" writer Gary Whitta does something that one may think is perfect this time around, he brings out the creature at just the right time. Throughout the story, Whitta's script leaves both subtle and not so subtle hints that there is danger on the horizon. The creature is worth the wait and the CGI gives us a monster that could give one nightmares.
Predictably, there is a problem with the flight and their spaceship is brought down. Crashing on the forbidden planet Earth, the Raiges are the only survivors. Locked into his seat, on order by his Commanding Officer (his father), Kitai is the only one who makes it through the crash in one piece. Cypher is broken and in peril, and now he must rely on his son to fetch from the other half of their ship's broken fuselage, the second emergency beacon. The beacon is about a thousand kilometers away in a land fraught with danger and it is up to this young cadet with no real experience to save their lives. Shyamalan gives us two stories going on simultaneously, Kitai's travels and encounters with the elements, and Cypher's attempts to fix his femoral artery in his broken leg while trying to guide his son through the landscape, which are infested with creatures that have evolved unchecked by man for over a thousand years. Not to mention the URSA creature that, although is blind, tracks its prey by the scent of fear. Director Shyamalan's choices for filming locations are exotic and beautiful. Filmed in Utah, Northern California, and Costa Rica, Shyamalan presents his viewers with the sheer beauty and grandeur of Mother Nature. We don't see much of this anymore with worlds now totally recreated on a green screen set. The art direction for "After Earth" is different, reminding one of the sails of a ship and is organic in nature. Minimalist by design so as not to distract the audience from the main focus – the relationship of a immature son and his estranged father.
This is not your typical Will Smith film. No sly remarks thrown in, no happy go lucky "Prince
of Bel Air," no Captain Hillard whose charisma and appeal we saw in "Independence Day." No, this is a Will Smith playing a father whose life and his son's life are in grave danger and how he is unable to save the day himself. On one hand, we have Kitai working to defeat his greatest opponent in this film, and that is himself. In a Jedi/Zen sort of way we are instructed that "Fear is not real. It is a product of thoughts you create. Do not misunderstand me. Danger is very real. But fear is a choice." Jaden Smith plays his part perfectly. I suppose that Gary Whitta and M. Night Shyamalan wrote Jaden's part to augment the looks of fear and abandonment that he portrays throughout the film. Or, did they write his part to show off his defiance that most teenagers have at that age. Either way, we see a Jaden Smith who is more mature in both his acting skills and in his personal confidence. Kitai, developing from the wild, uncontrolled child running around like a chicken with his head cut off, to a young man who acknowledges the gravity of his situation and that he is in a fight for survival. Will's character has his own problems to contend with. Besides having to do self-surgery, keep an eye on his kid, and check via flying probes for the URSA creature, he struggles with his own shortcomings as a father. We find out, that Kitai had an older sister who died tragically. Actually, both Raiges must come to terms with this death and how they dealt with it in the past and how they as a family must find a way to use that event as place of bonding. Trapped with a broken leg in the front part of the craft, Will’s character must do his emoting with his face and show us the anguish that he is going through.
I found the emotional interaction between father and son go from extremely harsh, to that with an aura of respect, while remaining firm. The shift is seen slowly throughout the film as we see some tender moments between Kitai and his wounded father. In some cases kind of sappy yet not exceedingly so.
The decision not to feature M. Night Shyamalan's name in the publicity was a wise one. Although his films make money worldwide, Shyamalan is mostly derided since his 2002 film "Signs" where he promised us a big scary monster and failed to deliver. He has been struggling in the eyes of critics ever since. Those days may be over, or, maybe not. After all is said and done, this movie is ultimately targeted at the teen audience or families with younger teens. Both Smiths offer characters that family members can relate to. With Father's Day on the horizon, I can see why this film was released now. "After Earth" was designed to bring families together in a fun inviting sort of way.
In theaters May 31, 2013.
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action, Adventure
Staring: Jaden Smith, Will Smith
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Producer(s): Caleeb Pinkett, Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, James Lassiter, M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: Gary Whitta and M. Night Shyamalan
Running Time: 100 minutes
Release Date: 5/31/2013
Running Time: 100 minutes
Release Date: 5/31/2013