- Movie Rating -

After Earth (2013)

| May 31, 2013 | 0 Comments

M. Night Shyamalan’s “After Earth” is a red-blooded adventure, lean in narrative, spare on plot, heavy on human interest; it reminds you of the kinds of simple gung-ho adventures that I read as a kid.  It is a kind of “go fetch-it” movie, an adventure about a character who must travel a great and perilous distance to find something that will spare his life and discovers things about himself along the way.  In the meantime, it is also knowing and wise about the bond between father and son.  Adventure stories are a dime-a-dozen; fathers and sons are rare.

If it achieves nothing else, “After Earth” leaves us – at last – with the rare portrait of a responsible father who administers (in some ways literally) valuable guidance to his son.  Current movies and television have forgotten the father role, casting the patriarch in negative varieties: The oaf, the mean drunk, the absentee, or the over-grown child.  Here, for once, is the story of a good and honorable but admittedly flawed man, a man dedicated to his military service, and to his family, who guides his son on a perilous journey when they find themselves in jeopardy.

The story takes place in the doomed future in which Earth has become so uninhabitable that humanity has had to be transported to an exo-planet called Nova Prime somewhere beyond the Milky Way.  The focus beings with a military order known as The Rangers who take off on a mission to transport a dangerous animal called Ursa to another location for training purposes.  The Rangers are led by the oddly named General Cypher Raige (Will Smith), a stern-faced, even-voiced leader who is dedicated to duty but somewhat distant to his own son.

The son is Kitai (Jaden Smith), a good-hearted kid who has tried and failed to become a Ranger due to his lack of skill in the field.  His mother Faia (Sophie Okonado) asks the General to take his son on the mission with him.  He relents, but mid-flight something goes wrong, and the ship is forced to crash land on an inhospitable planet (no points for guessing which one).  The ship breaks up, The General is wounded and immobile. So, the kid must make a perilous journey across the forbidden landscape to retrieve a homing beacon.

That’s pretty much all you need to know.  The rest of the film consists of Kitai’s journey across the hostile jungle terrain to reach his destination, coming in contact with large birds, lions, gorillas and several other disgusting creatures of unidentifiable description.  The action scenes here are breathless and well-paced as the kid finds himself running from one thing and then another and using his brain to get out of a fix.  He learns to survive on his own by adhering to the instructions of his father given to him over the radio.

The movie provides us with enough information about the environment and about Kitai’s survival rations to make for a great adventure.  The broken relationship between father and son is healed by distance and by the lessons taught to the son by his father.  It is a lovely bond that grows stronger the more the kid learns, until finally we find ourselves caring deeply about them.

Will Smith, who drops his usual quick-witted one-liners to play a character of admirable seriousness, contributed to the screenplay and gives the bulk of the movie over to his son Jaden who does a good job in the role of Kitai, a kid who wants to do good by his dad but is petrified, not to mention low on supplies.

The plot is logical, and so are the settings.  It is nice, for once, to see a post-apocalyptic future that is not ripe with damaged historical landmarks.  Much of the setting (which we gather is Hawaii) is lush and beautiful. This is the movie that the Tom Cruise adventure “Oblivion” should have been. That film was overwritten and too long for it’s own good, but this one is lean enough that we have time to care about the people involved.

M. Night Shyamalan’s vision of the world has never been a happy one.  The environment of his films is always hostile and dark.  His best films like “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs” are about the uneasy relationships between adults and children who have to survive in that difficult environment.  “After Earth” is no different.  His vision of the future is grim, but perfectly logical.  Look around at the technology present and you could believe that it would be possible.  Pay attention to the details of Kitai’s journey and the decisions he makes and you could believe that it is possible.  It is nice to have an action picture in which the characters are at least as smart as the people in the audience. It isn’t perfect, but it is a nice surprise.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.