movies: Af­ter Earth: A Smith fam­ily af­fair............

The Smiths unite for Af­ter Earth, writes John Bei­fuss

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - PLAY CONTENTS -

SOME par­ents post their chil­dren’s pi­ano recitals, school plays and sports ac­com­plish­ments on YouTube.

If you’re richer than God, how­ever, you can pro­duce a movie for your kid.

That’s what Will Smith and Jada Pin­kett Smith have done with Af­ter Earth, which is not so much an­other Will Smith sci­encefic­tion ac­tion-ad­ven­ture as it is a show­case for the cou­ple’s son, 14-year-old Jaden Smith, who treks across a mon­ster-stalked fu­ture earth while dad Will, im­mo­bilised by a bro­ken leg, spends the movie in a wrecked space­ship, bark­ing or­ders and keep­ing a watch­ful eye on his off­spring via 31st-cen­tury Skype.

The re­sult is a sur­vival story that’s more L. Ron Hub­bard than Jack Lon­don.

‘‘Fear is not real. It is a prod­uct of our imag­i­na­tions,’’ dad lec­tures son. ‘‘Fear is a choice.’’ As the story of a son des­per­ate to please a per­fec­tion­ist celebrity fa­ther, Af­ter Earth may prove more in­ter­est­ing for fu­ture Smith fam­ily bi­og­ra­phers than for ac­tion fans. The movie seems a gen­er­ous ges­ture (Will even cedes top billing to Jaden), yet it’s more cred­i­ble as a por­trait of fa­ther-son ri­valry than as an up­lift­ing fa­ther-son bond­ing ad­ven­ture.

Will Smith – who also takes the ‘‘story by’’ credit – is cast as a stern, heroic gen­eral with the un­likely name of Cypher Raige. Gen­eral Raige is a fa­mous space ranger and mon­ster-slayer in a fu­ture era in which mankind has fled the de­spoiled for­mer ‘‘par­adise’’ of Earth for a less-pol­luted and – scav­enged planet.

Jaden Smith is the gen­eral’s son, ath­letic yet reck­less Ki­tai Raige, a would-be ranger who has yet to mas­ter the art of ‘‘ghost­ing’’ – to be so brave that he can­not be de­tected by the ‘‘Ursa’’, a sort of acid-spit­ting gi­ant alien louse that lit­er­ally smells hu­man fear.

Be­fore you know it, Cypher and Ki­tai be­come the only sur­vivors of an emer­gency crash land­ing on the re­turned-to-the-wild Earth. To re­trieve a bea­con that of­fers their only chance of res­cue, Ki­tai must trek through lush again-primeval for­est while his in­jured dad – so bad-ass he per­forms surgery on his own leg – waits in the wreck­age.

Un­for­tu­nately for Ki­tai, the for­est is home to hun­gry over­size cats, con­dors and par­a­sites. In fact, ‘‘ev­ery­thing has evolved to kill hu­mans’’, the gen­eral re­veals.

Af­ter Earth seems to have been cre­ated by peo­ple who have watched a lot of movie ‘‘scifi’’ but have read lit­tle science fic­tion.

The story’s sit­u­a­tional tech­nol­ogy is as il­log­i­cal as its evo­lu­tion­ary the­ory. The peo­ple of the fu­ture have hy­per­drive space­ships but no pros­thetic limbs: A leg­less sol­dier de­pends on his com­pan­ions to lift him from his chair.

The most sur­pris­ing thing about Af­ter Earth is that it was di­rected by M. Night Shya­malan, ap­par­ently agree­ing to be a di­rec­tor-for-hire af­ter the de­clin­ing for­tunes of his own projects in the 14 years since The Sixth Sense.

The spe­cial ef­fects, pro­duc­tion de­sign and dig­i­tally en­hanced lo­ca­tions are im­pres­sive, but the movie doesn’t have much im­pact.

Its re­fusal to over­load its 100 min­utes with ab­surd ac­tion-ef­fects se­quences is com­mend­able, but it doesn’t com­pen­sate with the sus­pense or in­ten­sity of other trek-through-the-wilder­ness ad­ven­tures. Call it Ursa mi­nor, not Ursa ma­jor.

Af­ter Earth opens to­day.

Will and Jaden Smith (inset) team up for sci-fi tale Af­ter Earth, star­ring Jaden as hero Ki­tai Raige (left).

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