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After Earth

2013 | 100 min | PG-13 | 2.39:1

After Earth


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4 user reviews

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Theatrical release date

 31 May, 2013
 07 June, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from After Earth Blu-ray

After Earth Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, May 30, 2013

Although it’s nearly impossible to distinguish from the marketing push, “After Earth” is actually co-scripted and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, the once mighty filmmaking force whose name used to be the guiding light for any promotional campaign. Now he’s barely mentioned, yet “After Earth” retains the atmosphere and odd accentuation of a traditional Shyamalan effort, down to awkward pauses and frosty performances. The big guns here are star Will Smith and son Jaden Smith, and while the actors have difficulty raising the pulse rate of such a lethargic project, it’s really the helmer’s iffy creative decisions that keep “After Earth” more of a wince-inducing drag than the heart-squeezing, mind-blowing sci-fi adventure it desires to be.

In the future, a polluted Earth has been abandoned, with residents colonizing the distant planet Nova Prime, home to the Ursa, an aggressive alien presence that uses the scent of fear to hunt their prey. Establishing himself as a leader is Cypher (Will Smith), a no-nonsense ranger who’s perfected the power of “ghosting,” relinquishing any trace of fear to transform himself into a perfect weapon. His son, Kitai (Jaden Smith), is having trouble living up to his remote father’s expectations, though he’s eager to prove his ranger education when Cypher is sent on a mission into deep space with an Ursa egg onboard his ship. When the vessel is crippled by a sudden field of asteroids, it plummets to Earth, resulting in a crash-landing that leaves Cypher with two broken legs, with Kitai the only hope to retrieve a working homing beacon located far away from the wreckage. Using audio and visual guidance by his father, Kitai sets out to cross the now overgrown, violent planet, encountering animals and toxins that impede his progress, triggering his fear. Watching from afar, Cypher hopes to develop his child’s courage, yet he’s painfully aware of Earth’s evolutionary challenges, pushing Kitai to test his instincts for survival.

“After Earth” commences on a particularly messy note with a scrambled prologue that offers a needless flash-forward to Kitai’s wounded state on Earth before it recounts an entire backstory in a matter of minutes. It’s an enormous amount of narrative real estate concerning the abandonment of Earth, the new life on Nova Prime 1000 years later, the rise of the Ursa, and the mysterious powers of ghosting -- a particular plot point sold with a brief shot of Cypher in combat, resembling a deleted scene the production couldn’t let go of. It’s a lot to take in, too much for Shyamalan to successfully edit into a gripping introduction for this reserved sci-fi endeavor, making future moments, including a second explanation of ghosting onboard Cypher’s ship, seem terribly bungled, revealing bloodstains from a particularly bruising test screening process for the feature. What should be consistent hustle is merely hurry up and wait once the screenplay begins to slow down and Shyamalan’s demand for protracted moments of intimate connection comes into view.

“After Earth” is impressively constructed, with ship design (Cypher’s ride is patterned off the shape of a stingray) and Nova Prime architecture a few of the highlights, eye candy for those who enjoy the minutiae of futureworld expanse. Tech is also interesting (offering biological textures), though it suffers from overanxious sound effects that gleep-gorp everything in sight, including the release of plastic seat belts and the crunch of liquid oxygen containers Kitai requires to breathe on Earth. Visual intensity continues on the vengeful planet, watching Kitai visit deep forests and towering waterfalls, fighting off baboons and eagles as he races to retrieve the homing beacon. Most of “After Earth” contains a running dialogue between father and son, with Cypher pushing cold guidance on a young boy facing his first test of endurance, peppering Kitai with speeches on the nature of fear, playing into a subplot that finds the boy paralyzed with guilt over the loss of an older sister (played by Zoe Kravitz), a tragedy that’s driven the men apart. Considering the wooden exchanges served up by the dreary script, “After Earth” would’ve made perfect sense as a silent film, watching Kitai navigate his way to the beacon through sustained adventure beats and acts of courage, playing up vicious elements of Earth without a strained attempt to contort the tale into an unconvincing lesson on thawing parenthood.

Also damaging the film’s dramatic appeal is a bizarre choice to employ a special dialect to identify the Nova Prime community. It’s baby talk meets Elmer Fudd, and it’s a disaster from the get-go, forced on a novice actor like Jaden Smith, who’s nearly impossible to understand at times, and he’s responsible for the feature’s critical exposition. It’s such a distracting choice from Shyamalan to represent evolution through numb tongues, and it reduces the impact of the performances, forcing the talent to concentrate on the precision of their articulation, not their emotion.

As Kitai marches across the wilderness, journeys into active volcanoes, and outruns a deadly sweep of frozen air (shades of Shyamalan’s eco-minded dud, “The Happening”), it becomes increasingly evident that “After Earth” just isn’t exciting. The director sets his sights on a blistered fight of communication between the survivors, where the steely men finally make a connection on the precipice of death, yet this battle of respect and test of fortitude is oppressively managed, its exploratory essence squeezed out with a rolling pin. It’s constipated work, and while it aims for the heart, it mostly triggers yawns.

Starring: Will Smith (I), Jaden Smith, Zoe Kravitz, David Denman, Lincoln Lewis, Sophie Okonedo
Director: M. Night Shyamalan

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