After Earth

click to watch trailer

I really wanted to like this movie. First, M. Night Shyamalan’s understated, slow-paced directing style might have reigned the boisterousness of a Will Smith action movie, while the up-tempo of a sci-fi action flick is exactly what a Shyamalan movie typically needs. Second, the theme shown by the trailer (but not any more in the actual movie) was an intriguing, dramatic tension of the choice not to fear while accepting the reality of imminent danger.

Instead, the only redeeming qualities of this wandering flop of a sci-fi flick were the solid musical score and Smith’s successful portrayal of a role uncharacteristic to his movie persona.

Having said the latter, Smith had almost no physical action in the film. But the music, scored by     was excellent. It has a psychedelic, often melancholy quality broken up with dark and sonorous moments reminiscent of The Shinning. This departs from Shyamalan’s usual M.O., incorporating as little music as possible, and goes a long way to heighten suspense during Kitai’s harrowing trek through the perilous jungle, full of phony-looking computer animation.

Smith, credited for writing the story’s premise, plays Cypher Raige, Ranger General and title-holder of the worst name in science fiction. The movie is set in a future that has humanity living on a new planet after destroying Earth with war and pollution. Cypher’s son, Kitai Raige (runner-up for worst name) is not the strong, silent type his father is willing him to become. Instead, Kitai’s mother observes a more “intuitive” young man, who is desperately trying to reach his father after a family tragedy turns their differences into grating conflict that threatens to drive them apart.

Kitai’s mother suggests that Kitai goes along on his father’s next planetary excursion. Their space travel crash-lands on earth, 1,000 years after it was condemned by humans. Father and son are the sole survivors.

Man is now an alien in his own home, where all wildlife has evolved to kill him. During the crash, Cypher is mortally wounded and Kitai must brave the wild to recover a beacon, under the remote guidance of his father.

The stage is set for the overbearing father to see the world through his son’s eyes, and finally accept his deepest fear. There is also opportunity for the young man to prove his individual strengths and to understand his father’s pain. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t go there. Instead, the movie only shows a father who controls his tone while wounding his son’s heart until the boy can finally live up to his expectations – a successful tragedy.

Will Smith’s acting would have saved the day, if there was some kind of action for him to perform. Instead, Smith’s character spends most of the movie laid up in a chair with a pained expression on his face, just like the audience.

The story would have worked better if the father had not been able to guide his son, so we could see how Kitai’s intuitions serve him in the absence of the father who at once gives him strength and denigrates him. The most compelling scene has Kitai recollecting all his father’s instructions and wisdom in the midst of great fear and uncertainty. The parallel is almost realized.

Kitai, insecure but perceptive, is free to choose what guidance to follow from the master of controlling fears at the cost of emotional distance. That tension would have been a great parallel with the new world around Kitai, a world that has a greater gravitational pull and thinner air.

The movie blissfully graces through the dangers of concrete symbolism and dives right into the beauty of special effects, which were nothing exceptional.

…Also, watching the shadow of the camera boom cross over the screen during the climax of the movie was a downer.

There was great opportunity to connect with the audience, but it was entirely lost on a story that didn’t see fit to make use of parallels or metaphor, which is especially strange considering the movie takes itself so seriously.

My overall rating: 1 ½ stars out of 5

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