Directed by: M. Knight Shyamalan
Starring: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Zoe Kravitz, and Glenn Morshower
The Plot: It’s Mr. & Mr. Smith. Since humans last left our homeworld it’s evolved into a hostile planet. A father and son combat team on a mission to train cadets on how to “Ghost” against mankind’s alien threat – the menacing Ursa – crash land on the ancient cradle of civilization. The injured father must guide his son through hungry territory to a rescue beacon one hundred clicks from their crash site. The only problem being that one of the Ursa has been shipwrecked on the world as well. The Ursa hunt by detecting fear pheromones in their human prey. Will the boy be able to subjugate his fear – will he be able to “Ghost” – and thus remain invisible to his enemy? Or will he succumb to the horrors of an angry world and get gobbled up?
The Film: If I may pass one small nugget of the knowledge I’ve accrued in my few years as a father, let it be this one.
No one is going to love your kid like you do.
You may see a being built out of the very best parts and pieces DNA can provide, but most people will only see a loathsome, snot-encrusted monster. Or in Jaden Smith’s case – a spoiled man-boy trapped in the super-storm of puberty, his father’s box-office legacy, and a public ready to tear him to pieces.
We don’t like Jaden Smith. I don’t know if we ever will in fact. Which is why I’m thinking M. Night Shyamalan cast him in his latest Summer event movie. Let the Smith boy take all the heat – while the filmmaker still trying to recover from the worst creative slump of his generation slips quietly past the highly tuned senses of the hungry blogosphere.
Not so fast M. Knight. Don’t think that I didn’t detect your familiar odor during After Earth. Not the painful to inhale, disorganized scent of your latest batch of films. But I detected a whiff of old Shyamalan. The guy who made Unbreakable, Signs, and The Sixth Sense. The guy we once liked, but then turned on – for very good reasons. And I don’t know if I can blame you for grabbing Jaden Smith by the nape of his neck and hauling him like Barrabas before the merciless court of public opinion to alleviate some of the bitterness and criticism your work has reaped these last ten years.
After Earth is the best work M. Knight’s produced since The Village. Which might not be a compliment at all really.
After Earth, regardless of how you may feel about M. Night Shyamalan as a filmmaker and Will Smith’s campaign of attrition to force his kid onto us, really isn’t that bad of a movie. In fact, if you’re the parent of an eleven year old boy of your own, I’d be hard pressed to find another movie this weekend that your kid is going to like as much as this one.
Think of the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs – his Tarzan novels pollinated with his John Carter novels – and then infuse the concoction with the energy and tone of modern Asian anime.
Jaden Smith’s Kitai Raige (the name even screams anime) must travel solo across an unforgiving alien world – in this case, Earth – armed only with a nifty shape-shifting katana sword and a small collection of asthma inhalers, (after millennia of industrial pollution and cow flatulence Earth’s atmosphere has been rendered toxic to human lungs) to save himself and his father, as a vicious, extraterrestrial predator stalks him.
Earth has gone prehistoric since we last left it. And most of the fun of After Earth is rediscovering the biology of a world we thought we knew.
Not that everything’s completely crackerjack with this new M. Night film.
I think it’s a nice movie filled with neat ideas, but still can’t escape the feeling that it limited itself. The template to keep the story focused on two characters is an elegant touch, but M. Knight never really explores the wonderful playground he’s gifted himself with this time around. Thinking back to Signs, or The Village even, there wasn’t a corner of those microcosms – a small corn farm, a township in the forest – that was left uncharted. With After Earth he’s been given the landscape most popcorn filmmakers would kill themselves to get their cameras onto, and he oddly chooses to keep it at a distance.
Maybe it’s the stiff acting, (pubescence hasn’t given lil’ Willie a single ounce of magnetism) or the near-constant flashbacks to a tragedy in Katai’s childhood, but we don’t ever feel totally pulled in to this realm.
Nor do we ever really escape our personal decree that Jaden Smith sucks.
The Verdict: My generation’s going to scoff and bellyache about Will Smith’s kid being unduly promoted to the role of action hero, but generation iPad is going to get a kick out of this movie. Sure, it’s a prototypical summer family diversion flick. But it’s kind of a cool one with some ambitious ideas sprinkled in for flavor.
I think you’ll be surprised by how much you actually like it.