AFTER EARTH
Author: JoAnne Hyde
May 31, 2013

SYNOPSIS: A crash landing leaves teenager Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) and his legendary father Cypher (Will Smith) stranded on Earth, 1,000 years after cataclysmic events forced humanity's escape. With Cypher critically injured, Kitai must embark on a perilous journey to signal for help, facing uncharted terrain, evolved animal species that now rule the planet, and an unstoppable alien creature that escaped during the crash. Father and son must learn to work together and trust one another if they want any chance of returning home. - Sony Pictures

I’m beginning to think that The Sixth Sense was just a fluke, because none of M. Night Shyamalan’s other projects have measured up to it.

After Earth is no exception.

However, Shyamalan can share blame for After Earth with Will Smith because Smith wrote the story. Smith has envisioned a franchise based on his creation, but I think that’s going to depend on how the film does at the box office.

The thing about science fiction is that you have to be able to believe it at least a little bit for it to work – especially if you’re creating an alternate world. The biggest hole in the story – and I’m not giving anything away because this is in the trailer – is that only 1000 years have passed since Earth’s population relocated to a different solar system, Nova Prime, after rendering Earth toxic. But when Cypher Raige (Will Smith) and his son Kitai (Jaden Smith) are forced to land on Earth, a restricted and toxic planet, due to an asteroid storm that damages their ship beyond repair, Cypher tells Kitai that all life forms on Earth have evolved to kill humans. Now what?!? There haven’t been any humans on Earth to kill for 1000 years. Not only that, but 1000 years is pretty quick evolution!

Unfortunately, there are other civilizations out there, and one of them took a particular dislike to humans and released thousands of human-killing beasts called ursas on Nova Prime. Huge battles ensued, and that’s when Cypher made his legendary reputation. You see, even though these folks can travel easily through space and have built a shiny, new high-tech world on their new planet, the only way they can successfully fight the ursas is to employ a technique called “ghosting.” Apparently, these ursas can only detect humans by the odor of the pheromones released due to fear. Cypher became fearless, and therefore was the best ursa killer in the new world. How he became fearless is sort-of explained later in the film, but I’ll let you be the judge as to whether or not this makes sense.

Apart from the “iffy” logic used to create this tale, another problem is the story itself. It’s the time-worn strict-authoritarian-father and son-who-only-wants-his-love thing. Of course, the outcome is predictable. One of Shyamalan’s twisty endings might have improved things. Jaden Smith has, by far, the most time on screen, and here’s another problem. He cannot act. He runs, jumps, and climbs through the treacherous landscape of toxic Earth credibly enough, but dialogue defeats him. Will Smith does better with roles that are infused with humor – he doesn’t do the dead-serious thing particularly well. Believe me, Cypher is distinctly humorless.

None of the other actors have much to do, but Sophie Okonedo as Cypher’s wife Faia, and Zoe Kravitz as daughter Senshi do a better job than the Smiths. Plus, Zoe Kravitz is absolutely beautiful! Also beautiful are the shots of toxic Earth. The landscapes were put together from locations in Switzerland, Northern California, Utah, and Costa Rica. They did that part right! The “evolved” creatures on toxic Earth are another story. They, as well as the ursas, are a bit cheesy. It seems that in some cases, evolving to kill humans meant becoming very large, and in other cases, it meant becoming sort of pre-historic looking, but not particularly large. The ursas are the typical, slimy, insect-looking creatures that have become almost a cliché in sci-fi films.

I’m guessing from the reaction of the preview crowd – mixed – that fans of Will and Jaden Smith will like the film. Others? Maybe not so much. - J.A. Hyde

GRADE: C-


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