Friday, June 14, 2013

Mark at the Movies: After Earth

Plot:  The basic premise starts with the fact that we "ruined" the earth and humanity left the planet en masse 1,000 years ago and settled on a new world: Nova Prime. There we discovered that we were not alone; a new fearsome predator dubbed an "Ursa" was discovered. The beast is a huge, spidery thing with no eyes. It tracks its prey by smelling the pheromones given off by its terrified victim(s). Cypher Raige (Will Smith) has learned how to control his fear and thus become invisible to the creatures, a process that was called "ghosting." His prowess in helping humanity quell this menace has risen him to the rank of General in the Rangers and garnered him unprecedented respect and loyalty among the troops. But his dedication to this military effort has left him with a family that is distant and his relationship with his son, who is in training to become a Ranger as well, is growing cold. Recognizing this fact - with the help of his still-loving wife - he takes his son with him on one final training mission before his planned retirement. Their ship crash lands on ancient earth and breaks into two pieces. The only two survivors are the General and his son, Kitai Rage (Jaden Smith). Their distress beacon is damaged, but their hope is a working one will be found in the tail section, over 60 miles away from their current position. The General, however, sustained two badly broken legs in the crash and their only hope for survival lies in the ability of his son to travel to the tail section, then find and fire the distress beacon. His father cannot provide any physical aid, but as he strives to survive his injuries he can stay in contact with his son visually and digitally as he makes his way through the dangerous terrain. To add another layer of menace to an already perilous journey, the ship had carried an Ursa on it as part of the training mission, and not only did it survive the crash, it escaped into the wild.

Players: Look at the image above; note that Jaden Smith is the first face you see. That's because he is the actual star of the film, taking the lion's share of the screen time. Will Smith has a commanding presence in the movie as General Cypher Raige, but the story is of his son Kitai coming into his own. 90% of the movie features just these two players. Sophie Okonedo portrays the understanding-yet-firm wife and mother, Faia (pronounced Fie-ee-ah). Zoe Isabella Kravitz portrays Kitai's sister, Senshi, and carries a pivotal piece of the story with her role. All the other actors in the film have mere cameo roles to move the story along.

Performance: Jaden Smith has two previous "well-known" roles. The first was in The Pursuit of
Happyness and he again played his father's son. At that age, he was simply cute and precocious and not a lot of acting chops were expected from him. His next starring turn was in the remake of The Karate Kid and Jackie Chan was along to bear the weight of the dramatics. Smith was fine, but it was a role where not a great deal of range was expected. Here, the story relies almost solely on Jaden's maturing acting ability, and while he shines in spots, I was underwhelmed with his overall performance. The other performance to be taken into account here is that of M. Night Shyamalan (pronounced Shuh-yeah-mah-lahn), a director who has endured a meteoric rise (after The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable and Signs) and then a gigantic collapse after a string of critical and financial failures (The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening, and especially The Last Airbender). Here he is directing one of the few films that he didn't write, though he does share co-writing credit. The story is Will Smith's, but the dialogue was mostly written by Gary Whitta. The film does not carry any of Shyamalan's twisty endings that change the nature of everything you've just seen but instead is told in a fairly straightforward manner. This is a welcome change and the film benefits from it.

Point: There are several layers and undertones at work here. The obvious message was the ecological one. We "ruined" the earth. The next message strongly present was the philosophical one, engendered by the film's catchphrase: "Danger is real. Fear is a choice." Early in the movie Will Smith explains this concept in some detail, including some very worthwhile words about the worthlessness of fear and it being all about what hasn't happened yet. All we can do is live in the moment. Finally, the film is centrally a coming-of-age story and repairing the relationship between father and son. I have read that some saw Will Smith's Scientology beliefs coming out, but I saw nothing of that. Perhaps I am too uneducated. As a believer in Christ and a follower of The Way, the message of choosing to set fear aside (because we know who holds the future) was strongly appealing to me.

Particulars: There is no swearing in this film, and no violence so graphic as to be off-putting. There are moments of gruesomeness, and a few surprises that illicit shivers of sympathetic tension, but they are balanced by the occasional tender moment. You do see a few bloodied crash victims, and several bodies are impaled by the Ursa, but there is no gore.

Raymond's Rating: I give this film two-and-a-half stars, and would mildly recommend it as a movie worth watching. Kitai is given a line at the end that is the flick's one comic moment, and it is a good one.


Mark's Musings is published on a periodical basis - right now on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays - but that may change without notice. Find me on Twitter at This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. This film's working title was "1,000 Years A.E."

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