movies: After Earth: A Smith family affair............
The Smiths unite for After Earth, writes John Beifuss
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).