After Earth

Directed By: M. Night Shyamalan

Starring: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Isabelle Fuhrman, Sophie Okonedo, Zoë Isabella Kravitz, and David Denman

"Fear is not real. It is a product of thoughts you create…Now do not misunderstand me, danger is very real. But fear is a choice."
-General Cypher Raige, Prime Commander (Will Smith)

In all the advertisements for After Earth over the course of 2013, one major credit has been noticeably missing, the director.  The marketing efforts heavily focused on the father-son duo of Will and Jaden Smith and the fear factor of being on a dangerous futuristic Earth but deftly hid the key fact that After Earth is an M. Night Shyamalan film.  That's a big thing to leave out, something that might lead to more poor unsuspecting moviegoers buying tickets for the latest Will Smith flick.  For those of you who don't remember, Shyamalan's most hated credits include films like The Village and The Happening.  With this in mind, there's absolutely no reason to expect good things from After Earth.

Earth was once our paradise.  However, we polluted it.  We ruined it.  Once the planet became so polluted that it was uninhabitable, we abandoned it and made our home elsewhere on a planet known as Nova Prime outside our solar system.  That was a thousand years ago, and in that time Earth has become a very dangerous place where all life has evolved to destroy humans.  It's this dangerous place where Cypher Raige (Will Smith) and his son Kitai will crash land after a one-in-a-million asteroid storm severely damages their ship.

Three days earlier, Cypher returns home for the first time in three years.  The general is a highly revered soldier in the Ranger Corps who pioneered the technique of ghosting, ridding oneself of all fear and rooting oneself in the present moment.  It allowed him to defeat deadly alien creatures that thrive on fear.  Having not seen his father for a long time, Cadet Kitai would like to bring his dad the good news that he's been promoted to Ranger.  That doesn't happen though thanks to a decision made by Commander Velan (Glenn Morshower).  In a bad mood because of Velan’s decision, Kitai disrespects his father at dinner later that night when they discuss the fact that he has not been promoted.

At the request of his wife Faia (Sophie Okonedo), Cypher tries to connect with Kitai.  Cypher decides to take the boy on a trip through space with him.  It is on this trip that their ship encounters a highly improbable asteroid storm and crashes on Earth, one of the most dangerous planets in the universe.  Killing all aboard except Kitai and Cypher, the two must get their hands on an emergency beacon or die.  Cypher's legs are broken, so he's not going anywhere.  Kitai, on the other hand, is in good health and will have to traverse 100 kilometers to find the tail of the ship where the beacon resides.  With deadly animals, dangerously fluctuating temperatures, and a fear-loving alien foe known as Ursa on the loose, Kitai needs both a commander and a father to navigate the trials ahead of him and to master his fear.

The second post-apocalyptic film this year following Oblivion, After Earth lives up to the reputation of director M. Night Shyamalan more so than its lead actors Will and Jaden Smith.  The central premise of the film is questionable at best.  The movie is devoid of all emotion for the most part, which severely limits its appeal.  Finally, this film isn't scary enough for a movie so focused on fear.  There needs to be a little more terror in the atmosphere.  All in all, the film has all the bells and whistles of a summer blockbuster but it lacks the most important thing it could possibly lack, entertainment value.

I get the central premise of the film that Cypher and Kitai are the only two survivors of this crash.  I just don't buy it and can't suspend my disbelief.  From my perspective, Kitai is the only one who should have survived the crash.  It's not that I have an ax to grind against box office superstar Will Smith.  It's pure logic.  If I were to get into a car accident at a speed of 80 miles per hour while not wearing a seatbelt, chances are that I would be a cadaver at some morgue later that day.  Is there any reason to expect any less when a ship crashes onto planet Earth after breaking apart in the atmosphere?  Kitai is wearing his seatbelt.  Cypher is not.  We see Cypher getting sucked to God-knows-where during the crash.  The fact that Cypher somehow survives defies logic, and M. Night Shyamalan should have justified this in some believable way.

With M. Night Shyamalan at the helm, After Earth has dazzling special effects and gorgeous visuals of a futuristic Earth that’s reminiscent of prehistoric times.  However, the film lacks a human touch.  It lacks warmth.  With this unyielding focus on mastering fear and ghosting, we get a very cold Will Smith throughout the film and a frequently whimpering Jaden.  We don't get the charismatic older Smith we know and love.  We get a black Spock who's nothing more than a voice from a ship.  We also don't get the spunky, likable Jaden with whom we've gotten acclimated on the big screen over the last several years.  We get a teenager whining and crying about his lot in life.  In a two-man show where performances are so critical, this is exactly the direction in which the film shouldn't go.  It's a disastrous creative decision on the part of Shyamalan that costs the film dearly.

Finally, we have the fear factor, or lack thereof.  After Earth is a movie where fear is of the essence.  It's something that Jaden has to master.  With this in mind, why is there very little suspense or terror in the movie?  The audience should feel just as much fear as Jaden tries to demonstrate on screen.  However, Shyamalan does nothing to scare his audience and immerse us into this dangerous world where Kitai is struggling to survive.  Because of this, we're less invested in the plot and the way in which it will ultimately unfold.  We have less reason to empathize with our two main characters and their plights.  Sadly, fear is never a choice available to the audience in After Earth thanks to Shyamalan.

Everybody strikes out every once in a while, even Will Smith.  I have no idea why he thought it would be a good idea to get together with M. Night Shyamalan.  Possibly, he was lured by the prospect of doing a father-son movie with his son Jaden.  I can appreciate that.  I just can't appreciate the final product of their collaboration.  For lack of a better way to put it, After Earth sucks.  I have no choice but to give this poorly conceived science fiction film a 0.09% rating.  Have some gin and tonic with this one.