To really appreciate “After Earth” you have to be a parent. As a parent, you have to know why Will Smith came up with the story for the film. It is then that you can see the metaphor and really enjoy it. All of those qualifiers makes it a special film to parents, but what about anyone else? “After Earth” is a film that you could wait to see on video, but it won’t be a waste of your rental fee.
Will Smith recently explained how he came up with the story in an interview with Vulture. The film, in short, is a metaphor for him watching Jaden grow up and choosing to be in the business of Hollywood. A choice that Will said he would never have made for his son, but supports him in doing it. For me, as a young father, I totally get the film. I love my little 9 month old, and even watching her fall-crawl-fall from the sidelines is tough at times. With that set up, you can totally understand how the movie will play out and what is going on.
Cypher Kaige (Will Smith) is a superstar soldier who with his estranged ranger-in-training son, Kitai (Jaden Smith), become stranded on Earth when their crippled spaceship crash lands. With the ship split in two, Cypher’s legs broken, and only the two Kaiges surviving in their half of the ship, Kitai must make the perilous journey to the tail in hopes of setting off a homing beacon.
Along his journey, Kitai must fend off some of Earth’s animals that have evolved to kill humans. The Earth’s temperature fluctuates to freezing temperatures at night. So each day he’s tasked with making it to a warm spot for the night. Not only is he up against Mother Nature, but he also has to be leery of the Ursa (a fear smelling, human killing alien) that was being transported in their ship. BOOM! Your three act structure, and character arch is all there for the taking. Our heroes are traveling, an unexpected crash happens, the hero must choose to go into the unknown world or die, faces danger, his/her own fear, and hopefully survives at the end. The problem is, we never quite get the emotional attachment to the characters that we need to fully enjoy and become a part of this journey.
With Cypher unable to move, the weight of the film is on Kitai. He’s the one that we watch doing most of the action. While Jaden Smith is believable, and has a bright future in Hollywood, he couldn’t quite carry the load. The accents that the Kaiges have are horrible. I couldn’t figure out if it was British or Southern or both. That pulls you out of the film right away. Then, the usually charismatic and suave Will is bland and stiff as Cypher. I get it, he’s mastered not feeling and that’s where his arch will take place, but it just doesn’t feel right.
Watching the trailer, I thought this film was going to be awesome. Then I found out it was directed by M. Night Shyamalan...a secret hidden away in Sony Pictures advertising. It must be tough on him to always be the director/writer of one of the greatest cinema twists in film history, and have the weight of one of his first films being his best film to date. This film doesn’t put him back up with “The Sixth Sense” but it definitely is no “The Happening”.
Overall, the film is entertaining, but not worth seeing in theaters. I do think that the Will and Jaden film collaborations are good as long as they keep being spaced out by 7 years at a time. Hopefully next time it will be in the hands of better screenwriters and a better director. Ooooh! Yeah I said it. :)