The latest M. Night Shyamalan film After Earth is worth seeing for the continued development of child actor Jaden Smith. However, moviegoers looking for much more than that may be slightly disappointed at the lack of character and story development in the movie.
The movie is set 1,000 years after humans have left Earth due to an environmental cataclysm, which sets in motion the evolution of new species designed to destroy humans. Settling on a new colony called Nova Prime, humans are protected by The Ranger Corps, a peacekeeping military-style group commanded by General Cypher Raige (Will Smith). The Rangers are engaged in a conflict with the S'krells, an alien race, which intended to colonize Nova Prime before humans arrived. The S'krells attack by using a secret weapon, the Ursas, vicious creatures that can tear humans apart with their pincers. Ursas hunt by sensing fear, smelling it through pheromones humans excrete when they are afraid.
Cypher becomes the most revered Ranger by developing a way of fighting the Ursas called ghosting, which enables humans to fight fearlessly, a technique he teaches to other Rangers. Now on the eve of his retirement, Cypher yearns to be with his family, particularly his 13-year-old son, Kitai (Jaden Smith), who is desperately seeking his father's approval as well as promotion to the rank of Ranger from his superiors. Cypher organizes one last training mission and at his wife's urging takes Kitai with him. After the ship crash lands on Earth, a now quarantined planet, Cypher and Kitai are the only survivors with Cypher suffering from potentially life-threatening injuries.
Kitai is sent to locate the tail section of the plane, which contains an emergency beacon that will allow the pair to be rescued. Outfitted with a suit that contains special fibers, which can detect a predator's presence as well as monitor vital signs, Kitai sets out and encounters a series of evolved creatures that threaten to destroy him before ultimately encountering an Ursa.
The original story idea was that of Will Smith, who initially envisioned the movie set around a father and son, who go on a camping trip with the son having to hike several miles after the father sustains serious injuries to find help. However, after discussing the idea with screenwriter Gary Whitta, Smith applied the concept to a larger science fiction concept. Concepts such as the "smart suit" are neat story points but most of the film is shot with just Will and Jaden Smith and the screenplay fails to properly develop the relationship between the two to sustain the average moviegoers attention.
Although the development of the characters and plot falls short the film offers a tantalizing plot detail, which could be converted into a life lesson for many of us. In one of the few nice moments of the film Cypher tells Kitai how he overcame the Ursa by explaining that fear is something that is chosen as a reaction to something that has not even occurred. Cypher tells his son that danger is real but fear is a choice.
This film earns two-and-a-half out of five stars. An interesting note is that this is the first film shot on the Sony F65 digital camera, which has been touted as the next generation of digital cinematography because of its ability to capture picture and color information never before available.
After Earth is rated PG-13 for science fiction action violence and some disturbing images.