Tuesday, June 4, 2013

After Earth - A Two-Minute Movie Review

M. Night Shyamalan has not had a good couple of years. In fact, it can be said that his last good movie was 2004’s The Village. The director and writer who brought us The Sixth Sense and Signs also left us with The Last Airbender and The Happening. Would he make amends with his latest effort, After Earth? I’m going to take the minority opinion (according to Rotten Tomatoes) and recommend After Earth, with a caveat or two.

Will Smith is Cypher Raige, a celebrated war hero known for his ability to “ghost,” which, in essence, is the ability to control his fear. The monsters used by an alien species to fight the humans are sightless, but have an ability to track their prey based on the pheromones secreted while frightened. His son Kitai, played by his real-life son Jaden Smith, suffers from the guilt of witnessing his sister’s death at the hands of one of these beasts and not doing anything about it. The elder Raige sees his son as weak and incapable. When the two crash land on a long-abandoned Earth, the badly injured father has no choice but to send the son to recover the ship’s homing beacon. The resulting hour and a half is spent watching Kitai battle the elements, strange creatures, and of course, the beast that haunts his dreams.

After Earth is not typical M. Night Shyamalan fare. There’s no surprise ending or mystery to unravel.  It’s a simple science fiction film suitable for anyone not interested in complication. Other than the father/son struggle, there are no other story lines to cloud issues. After Earth plays out like a video game, where the hero passes various hurdles before eventually facing the boss to win the game. This makes it ideal for younger audiences, but older viewers may be put off by this simplistic approach. I should also note that the movie plays out for most of its duration with the father and son separated, with one in search of the beacon and the other slowly giving in to his injuries at the ship.



The jury is still out on Jaden Smith's ability to carry a film. He's at time engaging and other other times flat. The elder Smith is convincing as the strict, emotionless father.



This is a difficult one. I don't think much could have gone into writing this one, but I do give props to some of the original concepts introduced, like breathing treatments (almost like asthma inhalers)  that make dealing with Earth's diminished atmosphere bearable.


Special Effects

Some reviewers have taken issue with how the various creatures are depicted -- hogs, an eagle-looking bird, a pack of monkeys -- but I thought they looked fine. And the scenes in space were real enough.

After Earth is, at its heart, a teenage coming-of-age story. If that’s your thing, you won’t be disappointed by M. Night's latest. If you’d like to see more Will Smith and less Jaden Smith, check out Independence Day instead.

After Earth is rated PG-13.

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