Friday, December 13, 2013

After Earth

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
2013. Rated PG-13, 100 minutes.
Sophie Okonedo
Zoë Kravitz
Glenn Morshower
David Denman
Kristofer Hivju
Monika Jolly

Kitai (Jaden Smith) is in training to be a ranger just like his dad Cypher (Jaden’s real life dad Will), the most famous soldier of them all. Things aren’t going as well as planned and the kid is very frustrated. Dad isn’t exactly the nurturing type so he just barks orders at junior. At mom’s urging, Cypher agrees to take Kitai with him on his next assignment since it is just a training exercise. Of course, it’s on another planet but them’s the times. On the way, the ship they are in runs into some serious problems and has to crash land on Earth which they most certainly did not leave from. The problem with this is Earth has been declared uninhabitable by humans for quite some time. We are also told that everything on this planet has evolved to kill people. In addition, the man-eating monster known as an Ursa that was locked up in cargo got out during the wreck. If this isn’t bad enough, except for our father-son combo, the accident kills everyone else on-board, both of dad’s legs are broken, and the only device capable of letting anyone know they need help is in the other end of the ship which landed quite far away. It is going to take a few days on foot. So off goes young Kitai to save both their lives.

We follow along on our hero’s trek while his old man tries to guid him from the ship. From both, we occasionally get flashbacks in an effort to flesh out the story. Through these, we find out what happened to Kitai’s sister Senshi (Kravitz) and how it affected both guys. This part of the movie should be much more fascinating than it is. As it plays out, it adds some depth to Kitai, but not so much to his father. Throughout it all, dad is intentionally hard to read, a true stone-face, burying his emotions beneath a Vulcan-like adherence to logic and protocol. His trademark is that he is completely without fear, the smell of which is how an Ursa finds its prey since it cannot see. Cypher tells tells the story of how he got that way, but it comes across as nonsense if you think about it for just a moment. In other words, we never really connect with him.

Cypher’s bond with his son comes across a bit better. Still, it’s strained by their lack of screen time together. Curiously, if I remember correctly, the flashbacks are never of the two them together. We don’t even get much, if any, of Cypher with his wife. Instead, we get drilled repeatedly with the singular event that traumatized both father and son.

In classic fashion for director M. Night Shyamalan, After Earth moves a tad too slow, as well. If the drama playing out were sufficient, this would not be a problem. The drama is not. Rather than building to a thrilling crescendo, it trudges forth like a child who knows he or she is about to be punished. I will give him credit where it is due, though. When there is action, it works. The most exciting sequences involve a giant bird. Trust me, it’s not as lame as it sounds. The special fx showing this and other creatures, Ursa included, are well done. They help create a real sense of danger. In other places, Shyamalan’s cinematic flourishes don’t quite flourish. His use of foreshadowing is way too obvious, making it feel completely contrived and transparently manipulative. As a result, the moment meant to be a tear-jerker comes across as hokey. The ending is also truncated in what seems to be an effort to save run-time. That pacing is to blame. If earlier events were moved along quicker, the finale would not have to be abbreviated.

What is most frustrating about After Earth is that the pieces to make a great piece of sci-fi are there. We have two charismatic stars. Whether you think he is simply the product of nepotism or not, the younger Smith has a presence about him. Of course he probably can’t help it since charisma is his dad’s calling card. Truthfully, it’s toned down here, but Will is a good enough actor to pull it off. The movie also gives us a dire situation which should cause almost unbearable tension. And, as mentioned, the special fx carrying out the narrative are good. Somehow, the puzzle doesn’t quite fit together.


  1. It honestly wasn't the worst thing I ever saw, but it was still pretty damn dull. Especially for an M. Night flick, which usually has some emotion in it, whether it be dumb or deadly-serious. Good review Wendell.

  2. Exactly my point. It tries to be emotional, but just isn't.