After Earth
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG-13 // May 31, 2013
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted May 30, 2013
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Now that we're approaching June, Hollywood's bigger films will begin to hit theaters one after another. The next big summer blockbuster on the list for 2013 is M. Night Shyamalan's After Earth, starring Will Smith and his son, Jaden. Shyamalan hasn't made a worthwhile film in multiple years. With motion pictures such as The Happening and The Village, he has made a bad name for himself among moviegoers. When his name is attached to a project, a reasonable reaction would be to run away and avoid whatever he's bringing to the silver screen. His newest film isn't very impressive, but it's entertaining enough. Whether you're going as a fan of Will Smith or still have hope that this filmmaker can make something of worth, this movie doesn't entirely deliver. It's surely one of the writer/director's better features in quite some time, but that isn't saying much.

One thousand years in the future, humans were forced to escape Earth due to its inability to support human life. After a ship gets horribly damaged in space, the crew must make an emergency landing on the closest planet - Earth. Cypher Raige (Will Smith) manages to protect his son, Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith), through the crash. However, Cypher is badly injured, which leaves Kitai alone in his journey. He must find the beacon that is located in the tail of the ship, which is far from his location. His father is forced to remain in the ship in order to guide his son through the treacherous quest. If Kitai isn't able to reach the beacon in time, they will both die from a variety of threatening situations that they find themselves in.

After Earth gets off to an awkward start. It quickly attempts to develop Kitai, which soon roots to the distant relationship he has with his father. None of it feels genuine in any form. Gary Whitta and M. Night Shyamalan's screenplay has a lot of embarrassing character development. From the first frame, Kitai is a whiny and unlikable role. Cypher is the typical distant father that doesn't receive much sympathy either. Unfortunately, the character disposition doesn't manage to improve very much. Their interactions aren't much better, as the majority of them feel incredibly artificial. There's quite a bit of unintentional humor throughout the father/son duo, since it's difficult to believe either one of them would react in the ways that they do. The filmmakers constantly utilize parallelism in order to inspire comparisons between Kitai and Cypher. They both maintain a flashback structure that allows us to learn more about these characters. The decision to refer back in time is necessary, but we're presented with a generic story of loss and family. Wake me up when the plot returns to the present task at hand.

Fortunately, After Earth gets better as it continues. While the dialogue never improves, it most certainly becomes more entertaining. Shyamalan is working with an extremely straight-forward plot, which allows him to remain on task. Instead of being concerned with creating a twist ending, he remains focused on keeping viewers entertained. With each new area explored, there are a variety of new dangers to be faced. The remainder of the running time plays out a lot like a video game. This survival story works as an entertaining ride if you turn your brain off and ignore the enormous plot holes. However, the filmmakers have successfully made Earth a threatening place, but it's a shame that more of the film is spent talking about the danger instead of facing it. When Kitai finally engages in battle, it isn't very difficult to enjoy the mindless amusement that is After Earth.

While the movie focuses on the journey to the tail of the ship, this sci-fi flick refers to our treatment of the environment quite often. Not only do we see the threatening creatures inhabiting the Earth, but the audience is presented with Kitai's reaction to a planet that he has never explored. This sense of wonder is primarily a backdrop, but it feels real when it has a moment to surface. There are a few other small concepts that work in this film. The creature's ability to track its prey through its fear is presented rather well. This ultimately makes for an engaging final act that is fitting for the finale of a summer blockbuster. This screenplay doesn't make for a great piece of filmmaking, but it accomplishes what it sets out to do, for the most part. It's simple and fun, which is more than I was expecting to say before seeing this feature.

With a big name like Will Smith, this is sure to gain the attention of large audiences around the world. However, his performance as Cypher Raige is simply mediocre. It could have been a lot worse, but his fans will be disappointed by this representation. Meanwhile, he clears the way for his son to star in the lead role. Jaden Smith is quite embarrassing as Kitai Raige. He comes across as being incredibly awkward on screen. Even through the most emotional scene in the film, he manages to make it unintentionally humorous. Despite the fact that Will is Jaden's father in reality, the relationship feels incredibly inauthentic throughout. I never believed the connection that was growing between these two individuals. This is perhaps the weakest asset of After Earth, since the acting constantly drags the narrative down.

Even though M. Night Shyamalan makes some strange choices with his actors, he hits a home run when it comes to the environments. He delivers breath-taking art that will leave audiences with their jaws on the ground. However, the same cannot be said about the creature designs. All of the creatures are created with CGI, which varies throughout the film. Some of the animals look fine, but others are shoddy. They have a digitized texture that simply doesn't feel real. However, the action sequences are definitely a lot of fun. Other than the creatures, After Earth looks pretty good.

The straight-forward approach taken with this sci-fi action flick works. While the acting isn't very convincing and unintentional humor isn't a rarity, the film gets better as it continues. If you maintain reasonable expectations, then you'll be more likely to enjoy this summer blockbuster. It doesn't mean much, but this is M. Night Shyamalan's best movie in quite some time. The visual environments are excellent, although some of the creature designs are shoddy. After Earth has some embarrassing flaws, but it's entertaining enough. Rent it.

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