Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
For a film born in the mind of Will Smith and directed by M. Night Shyamalan After Earth is a remarkably well made and executed movie. It offers up science- fiction intrigue, family conflict and raw emotion throughout its 100 minute run time.
The story begins with an account of how human beings left Planet Earth after the planet evolved to wipe out any human life. Humanity then found refuge on a world they named Nova Prime, a world which was also inhabited by a race of aliens called the S’krell. The S’krell bread a creature called the Ursa that could hunt humans by smelling their fear. Will Smith plays Cypher Raige who leads the human resistance known as The Ranger Corps, an elite group of soldiers who can train their minds to not feel fear in order to defeat the evil Ursa.
Years later Cypher’s son Kitai (Jaden Smith) is training to join the The Ranger Corps. However he is distant from his Father and in an attempt to make them bond Kitai’s Mother Faia (Okonedo) convinces Cypher to take Kitai with him on his next mission to train Rangers on distant worlds. Things go wrong on board the ship and inevitably their space ship crashes on Earth cleaving their vessel in two and releasing a trapped Ursa that was on board. Cypher wakes up with his legs broken and so tasks Kitai to venture across the hazardous terrain of Planet Earth to send a distress signal back to Nova Prime with Cypher acting as his guide by speaker phone. The journey tests their relationship and Kitai’s Ranger skills and also brings up dark family memories. All the while Kitai is being hunted by the Ursa and his inability to control his fear means that he faces a showdown with the monster whether he likes it or not.
Overall it’s a rather entertaining film, at no point throughout its course will you find yourself bored. Will Smith again here proves that he is sheer box office appeal personified. Yet, his performance in this film is much more reserved than roles he has depicted in previous sci- fi epics ‘Independence Day’ and ‘I Am Legend’. Put it this way he is less Fresh Prince and more Uncle Phil in this film.
It also doesn’t feel like Smith Sr. trying to boost the appeal of his son Jaden, who incidentally seems like a rather good actor already for his tender years. The dynamic of the film is based around a Father son relationship and so works extremely well. We get honest performances on screen and we see the emotions of a Father- Son relationship realistically acted out before our eyes.
M. Night Shyamalan’s direction has been overlooked a little on this film considering that the media hype around it has been firmly focused on The Smith Family but Shyamalan here again proves that he can produce visually stunning works that bring in big box office takings. The director will be better known to most of as the man that brought us ‘The Sixth Sense‘, ‘The Village’ and ‘Signs’ but After Earth is more informed by 2010’s ‘The Last Airbender’. The latter of these films obviously suffered by losing out in the courts to James Cameron and having to change its name from the originally planned ‘Avatar’. Which overall was a shame because as a big budget special effects movie ‘The Last Airbender’ was visually stunning in parts as is After Earth.
The film does have its downfalls. None of the other characters on screen get enough time to really add value to the story. Only one character outside the four strong Raige family is named. The film’s opening is also a little rushed as it seems that the director was just a bit too eager to dive into the family dynamics that he captured so well.
The way in which Kitai and Cypher communicate as Kitai traverses the harsh jungles of Planet Earth is cleverly used. They begin by being in constant contact, then they lose contact and then Cypher can see Kitai but not speak to him. It’s not just Will Smith shouting at his son for 100 minutes the film teaches us all lessons in respect and trust when it comes to our families.
All in all After Earth is a good concentrated piece of well acted sci’ fi. It shares a lot of DNA with Duncan Jones’ ‘Moon’ being that it’s an epic story played out inside a larger conflict. We never see the evil alien race that unleashes the Ursa (and maybe we’re not supposed to) but considering how the public has already lapped up this winning Father- Son combo it does feel like an After Earth 2 could very much be on the cards. And that’s nothing to be afraid of because fear… is a choice.