By Kyle Virden
The new film by M. Night Shyamalan, “After Earth” recently made its RedBox premiere. Though it hasn’t seen rave reviews by most critics, I found it to have an important message and beautiful cinematography.
“After Earth” is based on a short story by Will Smith, which Shyamalan converted in to a movie script. The film is coproduced and stars Smith and his son, Jaden. Smith does a good job acting as always, although his son still has some things to learn.
This movie tells the story of Cypher Raige (Will Smith) and Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith), a father and son who live far in to the future. Earth has been destroyed by human pollution, so humans have made a new home on Nova Prime.
Unfortunately for humans, alien creatures called Ursas, who hunt by smelling human fear, already inhabit Nova Prime. Humans must learn how to “ghost,” or fight without fear, in order to defeat the aliens.
While on a routine trip between human base camps, Cypher and Kitai are the soul survivors of a crash after a freak asteroid storm force their ship’s captain to go in to hyper-drive. The planet they land on is Earth, where animals have evolved to be unrecognizable to the ones we know today. Their ship has broken in half, leaving Cypher and Kitai the only survivors.
The ship they were on also had a scientific research specimen on board, a particularly nasty Ursa that escapes in the crash. Kitai must go on a heart-thumping journey over Earth’s rough terrain in order to recover a signal beacon from the other half of the ship 100 kilometers away.
This film is redeeming for Shyamalan in that it isn’t quite as weird as most of his recent films like “Lady in the Water.” Most surprisingly of all Shyamalan didn’t make a cameo in this film, thank God. This is most likely because he didn’t have full control of the reins. Smith kept Shyamalan grounded by adding his real world perspective to the mix.
Shyamalan has a reputation for being extremely egotistical, but perhaps he is seeing the errors of his ways since “Avatar: The Last Airbender” bombed so hard. Though the trademark creepiness that is present in all Shyamalan films makes an appearance in this film, it is subdued.
The characters still manage to give the audience the feeling that they aren’t quite right. They tend to have inappropriate affects and say off the wall things, like in “The Happening” or “The Village.”
Will Smith’s character describes being stuck underwater with an Ursa on top of him and says that his blood mixing with the sunlight in the water was “really damn pretty.” These types of statements are kind of strange, but also poetic in a way.
The tight face shots that Shyamalan is known for are also prominent in this film. While Smith is watching his son run through the forests and fields of Earth through video surveillance, the audience sees up close the distress and agony he is trying to conceal on his sweating, pinched face.
Jaden Smith needs to work on his expressions of remorse because it just isn’t convincing. However, he is still young so there is plenty of time to grow, especially with Will Smith guiding him. This emotion seems to elude him because the sadness just isn’t in his eyes. His portrayal of fear, however, is quite good. He even has the nostril flaring response, present in real fear, down to a science.
The most redeeming quality of film is the cinematography. Shyamalan takes us to remarkable viewpoints, such as a ridiculously high waterfall and a bubbling volcano.
This is the first film shot with Sony’s F65 digital camera, which comes in at a whopping $50,000. This camera provides higher resolution than any previous camera, resulting in the digital flora and fauna of “After Earth” looking incredibly realistic.
The message of the film is simple; “Fear is an illusion.” Kitai must learn how to face his fear and overcome it in order to defeat the alien that’s tracking him.
The film is touching because at its core, it is a story about a son trying to live up to his father’s expectations. Kitai is Japanese for hope, which emphasizes the need for Kitai to maintain hope when things look bleak.
Having a real father and son team playing the parts gave the film a chemistry that it would not have had otherwise. Overall, I would recommend “After Earth” if you’re looking for a feel-good Sci-fi movie that leaves you with the “warm and fuzzies” and invites the viewer to think about their decisions.