After Earth – film review

Film poster for "After Earth".
Film poster for “After Earth”.
After Earth promises a lot and doesn’t completely deliver on all of it (as seems to be the norm lately for director M. Night Shyamalan). The film stars father and son Will and Jaden Smith as General Cypher Raige and his son Kitai, and is based on a story idea by Will Smith.

General Raige has just returned from a mission, and he and his wife decide their son, who just failed to become a Ranger, should go with the General on his final mission before retirement. During the trip, they encounter an asteroid storm that damages their spaceship.

After entering a wormhole to get out of the asteroid storm, the ship comes out near Earth, but the damage prevents them from doing anything beyond aiming for Earth and hoping for the best. General Raige is seriously injured in the crash, and all the members of the Ranger Corps who were traveling with them were killed during the crash, so it falls to Ranger Cadet Kitai to travel the 100 kilometers to retrieve a homing beacon they can use to call for help.

The wildlife on earth has evolved to become much more dangerous in the 1000 years since humanity left for the stars, and the ship they were in was carrying an Ursa, a monster bred by aliens to scent out humans by their fear and then kill them. This premise seems to be an extremely inefficient way for aliens to kill off the humans (as pointed out by Howard Tayler in his review).

I really liked the premise of the film. Humans have moved to another planet (at least one other; the technology seems to imply there may be additional settled planets as well), and it shows them living within their environment in some gorgeous locations (part of it was filmed in Canyonlands National Parks). The production design was very well done and included some very functional yet beautiful elements.

Outside of about 15-20 minutes of the film, the film is almost entirely Will and Jaden acting. General Cypher is supposed to be almost like a Vulcan – he rarely shows any emotion, and that got on my nerves. He seemed to be trying to be too serious. Jaden was generally good, but with a few moments that didn’t quite hit the mark. I’d heard a few negative comments about his acting in the film, but I wasn’t really put off by it.

What bugged me, though, was how they tried to be too serious in the film. In dire circumstances, such as those depicted in the film, humans tend to crack jokes to relieve the tension, but there was hardly a smile or jesting word after they left on their trip from Nova Prime.

I also found the premise of only having six breather fluid capsules, and then breaking three of them to add to the suspense in the film, to be implausible. We have impact-resistant and “unbreakable” materials even now, so it seems a little bizarre that those materials wouldn’t be available 1000 years in the future when they have smartmetal weapons.

Those issues aside, I generally enjoyed After Earth. The jury is out on whether I will purchase it for my collection. I’ll have to think about it.

Release Date: May 31, 2013 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG-13

MySF Rating: Three point zero stars
Family Friendliness: 70%


Alcohol/Drugs: 0 (unless you consider medical almost-use of drugs)
Language: 1 (a couple expletives)
Nudity: 0
Sexuality: 0
Violence: 3 (multiple fights with nasty beasts, some blood and disturbing imagery)

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