‘After Earth’ uses sci-fi format for a father-son bonding tale on abandoned planet earth
Like many former fans, when The Last Airbender was released I wrote a cinematic obit for writer-director M. Night Shyamalan: “We’ve been patient. After he gave us The Sixth Sense, we expected great things from him. While I liked Unbreakable and defended his work in Signs, the time has come to admit that he got lucky with Sixth Sense and we overrated his talent. While The Last Airbender is better than such recent duds as Lady in the Water and The Happening, it still comes up way short. I’m not expecting anything good anymore from Shyamalan.”
With the above preamble you might be expecting another review trashing After Earth, the sci-fi father-son bonding drama starring Will Smith and his son Jaden, directed by Shyamalan, that has been raked over the coals mercilessly, with a 12 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.com.
While my expectations were tempered by the horrible reviews, my overall reaction was positive. Is it great sci-fi? No. Is it an interesting story, yes, and I’m not going to trash Will Smith for using his pull in Hollywood to help his son’s career.
Smith stars as legendary military hero Cypher Raige, whose call to duty has kept him away from his family. His teenage son Kaiti doesn’t really know him except as a stern father figure more than an actual father. While their ancestors came from Earth, that planet was ruined by its inhabitants one thousand years earlier so they were forced to abandon it and colonize a new world.
Cypher asks his son along on an off-world training exercise, and Kaiti, who was just rejected as a military cadet candidate, is eager to prove himself. He will soon have that opportunity when the ship hits an asteroid field and crash lands on Earth.
With the rest of the crew dead and Cypher badly injured, Kaiti must travel across this inhospitable planet with its rancid air and nasty predators to find a beacon in the tail section of the ship, which broke in half when it crashed.
With his father’s help only available via communication and monitoring, Kaiti has to learn quickly to adapt to his surroundings and face danger without panic. There is plenty of danger to overcome including loss of communication, predators looking for a new exotic meal, dangerous changes in temperature and toxic bugs.
Jaden Smith is asked to carry this movie and does a fine job of it as we watch his fear fueling his survivor skills and helping him make his own decisions when he loses contact with his father.
The screenplay, based on a story by Will Smith and written by Gary Whitta (The Book of Eli) and Shyamalan, does not have the classic Shyamalan plot twist and is perhaps better for that. It is a two-character story with a bunch of CGI landscapes and critters, and one titanic face-off with the dangerous beast that was onboard the ship and escaped.
The pre-summer movie season got off to a pretty good start with Iron Man 3, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Fast & Furious 6 and this week, a sleeper hit, the illusionist-fueled heist movie Now You See Me. Now the summer season officially kicks into high gear with the kids out of school and ready for plenty of action at the multi-plex.
You don’t have to be a gearhead to enjoy the Fast & Furious movies; I’m living proof of that. There is something particularly resilient about this franchise. The cool cars and even cooler gang of remarkably talented car jockeys manage to up the ante each time out.
When director J.J. Abrams rebooted the Star Trek franchise with such consummate skill, balancing the expectations of long time Trekkies with his take on their beloved characters while also forging a superior action film that had a more modern sensibility, he set the bar very high. Star Trek: Into Darkness does not quite reach the heights of the first film, but it does pass muster as a terrific summer popcorn movie.
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