Poor M. Night Shyamalan. The filmmaker can’t seem to catch a break. His last decent movie was “Signs” in 2002. When he was given the opportunity to write and direct Will and Jaden Smith in a science fiction/action adventure movie, you would think it would be a slam dunk. Instead, the man who was once dubbed the next Steven Spielberg has fallen deeper into the abyss with “After Earth”.
It is 1000 years into the future. We humans no longer live on Earth. After treating the planet like a dump for many years, Earth has become inhabitable for us. (There’s a slight environmental message here.) Our new home world is called Nova Prime, but we had to fight to keep it. General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) is one of our most honored soldiers ever. His son, Kitai (Jaden Smith) has some very huge shoes to fill as he is just beginning his military career.
The two embark on a training mission with other soldiers, but it is hoped that father and son can start to bond, as their relationship is currently strained. Their ship crash lands on a hostile planet and they appear to be the only survivors of the accident. Cypher is badly injured and it is up to Kitai to travel through this hostel territory to find a beacon so they can call for help. The hostile planet they land on is Earth!
You know you are watching a science fiction movie when the characters interact with holograms the way we interact with our Ipads. Other signs of science fiction are seeing spaceships flying around a future looking city and all the characters have uncommon names like Cypher and Kitai and they speak with an odd accent. All these are ingredients in making a sci-fi movie, but not necessarily a successful one. You still need to write a very sharp script with characters we care about; otherwise you are in for a heap of trouble.
If this movie is more to showcase Jaden Smith as a future movie star, it succeeds. It’s not that he’s very notable in his role, but if you look carefully, there are signs of things to come. This boy will one day be able to do it all, from playing a cop in a crime drama to a charming romantic lead. All this is in Jaden Smith’s future one day. You can see it in his eyes. He is a focused actor and comes from two talented parents.
It’s difficult to pinpoint where M. Night Shyamalan went wrong with “After Earth”. While once a master at this, in this movie, he fails to build up any suspense. Before you can finish thinking, “How’s Kitai going to get out of th…” the matter is already resolved. A movie like this is tough to sell because the audience knows EVERYTHING that is going happen, almost to the detail. You can get away with that sometimes as long as you give us a fun ride. Aside from the excellent sound design, “After Earth” is anything but. It is Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and some disturbing images.