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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » After Earth (Blu-ray)
After Earth (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures // PG-13 // October 8, 2013 // Region A
List Price: $35.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Neil Lumbard | posted October 20, 2013 | E-mail the Author
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After Earth Blu-ray Review

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After Earth is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama which takes place over 1,000 years into the  future, following a devastating series of events which left the remaining human beings alive on Earth with no other choice than to leave Earth behind in order to survive. Environmental anguish is something that brings about a seismic shift in humanity's opportunity to live. Starring family members Will Smith and son Jaden Smith and directed by filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, discovering the story of After Earth made for one of the summer season's most intriguing cinematic productions.

In the distant future, humanity has settled down at a new home planet known as Nova Prime, and rebuilds. Yet an alien attack removes peace for Nova Prime and a war is waged against the alien creatures known as the Ursa. These gruesome alien creatures attack and kill human beings and cause devastation in a war between humans at the Ursa. The protective forces from the United Ranger Corps are humanity's greatest defenders and are trained to fight the creatures, who are capable of "smelling fear" and using this technique to find and kill humans. The Ranger with  significant honors and who is perhaps considered the greatest of the Rangers is Cypher (Will Smith), who is viewed as a hero to the Rangers. Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) is Cypher's son, a teenage Ranger in training who wants to be able to live-up to his dad's accomplishments.

As the film's story begins to unfold, audiences witness Kitai trying and failing to pass the test to becoming a Ranger warrior. Kitai seems determined in trying to live up to his father's accomplishments but is looked down upon as incapable in the eye's of those surrounding him, including his teacher, who is someone who feels he is not ready to become a Ranger. Part of these responses may be because of the fact that when he was a young child, a traumatic experience left him in a state of guilt and confusion that he carries with him. Yet he is still strong, and along the course of the film audiences get to see his bravery and determination unfold along the path of the story.

In an effort to try and connect more with his son, Cypher invites his son along on a spaceship mission that is to be his final outing before retirement. While on the ship's flight, an asteroid storm leaves the ship damaged and it crashes onto the abandoned Earth. To make matters so much worse, there just so happens to be a formerly contained Ursa that is now loose on the planet. It had been contained on the spaceship, but now it's another obstacle for the fight to survive on Earth. Can Cyper and Kitai work together, find a way home, and survive a new environment unknown to them: the abandoned planet that all humanity once called home?

Will Smith gives one of the best performances of his career in this film. I was really enthralled with his performance and found it to be one of the best roles he's had in his career to date. The film called for Smith to be both emotional and emotionally distant as the relationship with the son, Kitai, is explored throughout the course of the story. This is a brave performance and the realization of the performance is incredibly effective.

Jaden Smith is also surprisingly good in his role. The acting is cohesive and you can feel as though the performances were significantly better because both Will Smith and Jaden Smith have a real-life father-son relationship dynamic. It translates well to the cinematic screen and it helps the movie to excel in a way many films portraying such relationships cannot seem to grasp onto as efficiently sometimes.

 

Some audiences may be intrigued to know about the visual quality of the film's cinematography and the special effects. The director-of-photography on After Earth is none other than Peter Suschitzky (The Empire Strikes Back, Eastern Promises) and as one of David Cronenberg's frequent collaborators and as an excellent Director of Photography in general, After Earth is visually remarkable. The film looks stunning in its photography. The special effects are also cutting edge and look seamless with the photography.

It seems worthwhile to note that this is Shyamalan's first all digital film, and that it was shot with some of the highest-resolution possible cameras. I've always enjoyed the filmic quality inherent to actual film and the way it was previously used to make his films. Yet I was also a thoroughly pleased fan and quite impressed with the way the digital photography was effectively utilized.

In another departure for Shyamalan, this was his first effort to date with a co-screenwriter. The additional help was found in screenwriter Gary Whitta (The Book of Eli), who I imagine was in some way creatively influenced by Shyamalan in writing Eli, which shares some of the similar Shyamalan tropes. It was a good fit creatively and the two did excellent work together on the screenplay. The story is credited to Will Smith, who helped come up with some of the basic conceptual ideas behind the film's creation. It was certainly a team effort.

I have always found that one of the strengths of Shyamalan is in how he manages to effectively tell his stories with a quiet and often under-stated grace. He understands as a director where to progress his stories into those 'big' cinematic moments while never forgetting when to pause a story for character development, moments of reflection, and for the general dramatic structure surrounding his cinematic works.  

Shyamalan is a master filmmaker when it comes to making films that are meticulously nuanced and emotionally resonant in the same way all the best dramatic stories are: by placing the main interest on character. This is where the soul of films lie. The best stories are about people. The relationships and experiences in humanity. While telling these dramatic stories he also does so utilizing unconventional genre filmmaking conventions at the same time. After Earth is a sci-fi picture, and most of Shyaman's films fit a 'genre' build, but that's not the fundamental backdrop of his filmmaking, nor has it been in his past creations.

After Earth is at its core a story about a father and son who are displaced and who are coming to know one another, and it's about a young man trying to conquer his fear. The film is much more concerned with telling the story of these characters and with having a heart; an emotional core. Shyamalan finds these elements far more fascinating than an exploration of unknown territory and typical sci-fi tropes of non-stop action/adventure. There are elements of genre-filmmaking inherent in all of his films, yet at the core he is an original storyteller with a different approach when it comes to telling dramatic stories.

He is also a true sentimentalist. His heart for character and story is in the same style as that of the great filmmaker Steven Spielberg. It is undoubtedly for these reasons, amongst others (to share another day, as I hope to write a book on Shyamalan's films), that the filmmaker resides as one of my favorite writer-director's around. Even after all the years that audiences have written off various efforts by Shyamalan, I always find something unique, interesting, and beautiful in the way he tells his stories. After Earth is another successful exploration of humanity told through his unique eye for storytelling.

The Blu-ray:


Video:

After Earth arrives on Blu-ray in 1080p High Definition in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The film is touted by Sony as being 'Mastered in 4K' for Maximum Picture. However, I hesitate to give top marks to the transfer. While it's an almost flawless transfer is most respects, looking crisp, clean, and beautiful to behold I was a tad disappointed that the bit-rates max out around the mid 20 mbps, and never really expand beyond the 30+ mbps established on other "Mastered in 4K" releases, like Spider-Man, Glory, and Ghostbusters. This is an issue in encoding more than the way the transfer was scanned and mastered, but it is a valid critique worth considering. I am enthusiastic about films receiving the best transfers possible and it surprised me to have to say that this one doesn't reach all of it's potential, even while it does admittedly look impressive and crisp. I felt that some scenes could have benefited by the increased bit-rates previously given to the '4K' mastered line of releases.

All nit-picking aside, I feel confident that only those who are particularly picky about video presentations and who own HDTV's around 50 inches or greater in dimension will find the transfer worth quibbling about - one can only hope that Sony will consider that this is also something to consider when releasing their latest efforts on Blu-ray, though, as there is a considerable market of home-theater owners who would benefit from Blu-ray transfers completely utilizing the extent of possibilities that exist on the format.  

I hope going forward Sony will give presentations top-of-the-line encodings to accompany "Mastered in 4K' films that are recent productions. This is a quality transfer, but I also feel confident it could have been slightly better if the encoding had given the film some room to breathe.

Audio:

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation is remarkable and should be entirely satisfactory for home theater audio enthusiasts. The bass is prominent and impressive but not overbearingly so and dialogue is crisp and easy to understand. The music score by James Newton Howard has a good degree of balance with the sound effects and the overall ambiance and atmosphere of the film is suited by the score and the clarity of the lossless audio presentation.

A French DTS-HD-MA dub is also included. Subtitle options include English, English SDH (for the deaf and hard of hearing), Spanish, and French.


Additional Blu-ray Screenshots:

Click on an image to view the Blu-ray screenshot with 1080p resolution







Extras:

As a massive fan of Shyamalan, I have always viewed all of the supplements for his films with each release on DVD or Blu-ray. Unfortunately, this is the most disappointing supplemental package that I have ever seen for an M. Night Shyamalan film to date. The featurettes feel generic, brief, and lacking in detail about the making of After Earth. They are merely OK,  barely scratching the surface in terms of looking at the making of the film. Some of the production aspects are covered but don't expect to find anything in-depth included.

A Father's Legacy - This is a cute featurette with some behind-the-scenes footage of Will Smith and Jaden Smith on-set

1,000 Years in 300 Seconds - Shows Behind-the-Scenes footage compiled into a montage video clip set to music, with no dialogue.

The Nature of the Future - This is essentially a generic landscape video that shows footage of the  locations used for filming but without commentary or anything to help provide information as to why the locations were selected to be used in the film. It feels like the kind of thing you'd use as a screensaver or as a background piece to something else. (It feels like pure fluff).

XPRIZE After Earth Challenge - Apparently, a contest was held for kids to enter a competition for After Earth's promotion. It doesn't go in-depth about those who entered but shows some of these efforts in fast-pace footage, and then highlights the winners massive Lego creation at the end. It features a introduction by Jaden Smith.

Alternate Opening - This was apparently optioned as a potential beginning to the film. This is an animated sequence that is trying to establish the back-story in a similar way to how the events in the film unfold at the beginning. It's poorly animated and would not have fit well with the film so I'm glad it got cut out.

Building a World (12 min.) is easily the best featurette on the release with cast, crew, producers, co-writer Gary Whitta, and writer/director M. Night Shyamalan discussing (in brevity) some of the elements of the production of the film. It's not in-depth enough to be a true 'making-of', alas, which is unfortunate as I have always enjoyed the making-of materials on previous Shyamalan releases (Wide Awake notwithstanding).

The Animatics of After Earth - This piece showcases some of the Animatics that were utilized in the film (and several moments that were not included in the final version) and it showcases the art created and gives a bit of information on the process.

Pre-Visualizing the Future - This featurettes explores the way CGI pre-visualization was done with several key sequences so that the final results could be all the more convincing with CGI realization. This was a reasonably interesting piece considering its brief 6 minute run-time was not enough time to go too in-depth about the process.

Click on an image to view the Blu-ray screenshot with 1080p resolution

Final Thoughts:

After Earth is an entertaining, well-made, and fascinating film. I thoroughly enjoyed it. This is one of my favorite films of the year so far, and I hope that a larger audience will discover it on Blu-ray. Many audience members seem to have given up entirely on M. Night Shyamalan (and to a lesser extent, Will Smith as well) but I continue to enjoy Shyamalan's films and Will Smith is always entertaining. If the concept of the two making a film together sounds at all intriguing, I imagine there is a good chance of enjoying the results.

After Earth is a fascinating sci-fi drama with more than enough heart, intelligence, and style to keep things interesting from start to finish. 

Highly Recommended.

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema, and a student who aspires to make movies. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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