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After Earth: Woulda Shoulda Coulda

by Sandra Olmsted

Somewhere Will Smith, director M. Night Shyamalan, and maybe even Jaden Smith are rethinking a number of choices made during production of After Earth. On paper maybe this sounded like a great film, but some where that got as lost in the woods as Jaden Smith’s character, Kitai Raige, does in film.

The basic premise is that a super successful dad, Will Smith as Cypher Raige, has grown apart from the son, Kitai, who desperately wants to impress dear old dad by following closely in his colossal footsteps. The heart of the film should be the relationship between a father, who is a hardnosed military leader, and a son, who doesn’t feel adequate or loved. Further complicating their relationship is the backstory of Senshi Raige (Zoë Kravitz), the older child, and thankfully and interestingly a daughter, who sacrificed her life to save Kitai several years earlier.

During a father-son bonding trip, the spacecraft runs into an asteroid storm, is damaged, and crash lands on earth, which had to be abandoned 1000 years earlier due to pollution and war. With dad injured, the rest of the crew dead, the homing beacon damaged, and the other section of the ship with the other homing beacon 100 miles away, it is up to Kitai to man up and save them both by getting to the other section. If the film should have been about father and son bonding, why didn’t the film utilize the Smiths’ father-son strong bond as well as The Pursuit of Happyness did?

What is explained in the film actually makes no sense with or without the explanation, and frankly, not explaining so much would have let the audience discover the world of the film and would have maintained the suspension of disbelief necessary with futuristic scifi settings.  There are little annoyances which aren’t explained, like the quirky accents and the use of “magically” high tech swords-like weapons when clearly some kind of gun would have been much more efficient against the Ursas.

Who bred the Usras to attack man by smell human fear pheromones, and if this race of beings who had this capability where are they and why aren’t they fighting humans themselves? Why did these beings make their bio weapon, the Uras, blind? Then there’s the fact that all of earth’s creatures have “evolved to kill man” when man has been absent for the earth for 1000 years. How could that happen? Why can’t humans breath on earth after only 1000 years of separate evolution? How did earth come to freeze every night, but the plants flourish, and the giant bird freezes to death?  Why explain all the wrong ones when the audience and characters should have been discovering these quirks of the future world together as the movie progressed?

Since Jaden has most of the screen time while Will is anchored to half of the damaged spacecraft by severely injured legs, it is up to the young Smith to carry the film. I’ll have to reserve judgment on Jaden’s acting because no actor could carry a film by him or herself with so sloppy a script. He does a good job in some scenes, but the role doesn’t provide much range.  Jaden spends all his screen time with a dramatically furrowed brow, worrying about the challenges he faces, when there should have been some moments for wonder at this primordial world.

Will Smith has little screen time, and even doing surgery on himself and trying to stay awake to help Kitai via communicators, doesn’t give the elder Smith much to do. The screenplay is credited to Gary Whitta and M. Night Shyamalan, with Will Smith taking a story credit. Rumor has it that After Earth was originally conceived by Will Smith as a contemporary survival story. Doesn’t that sound interesting? The After Earth producers hoped to cash in on the popularity of The Hunger Games and Life of Pi by mirroring those films’ themes, but doing so, just makes After Earth’s plot and script all the more contrived.

 After Earth does have some moments and elements that are interesting, such as the “ghosting” technique that allows humans to block their fear pheromones and not be seen by the Ursa, and there’s Kitai’s dream of his dead sister at just the right moment to save his life.?

After Earth wants to cash in on the popularity of The Hunger Games and Life of Pi, but doing so just makes the film’s plot and script all the more contrived. The movie is a Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Columbia Pictures presentation of an Overbrook Entertainment/Blinding Edge Pictures production. It is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and some disturbing images and runs 99 minutes. After Earth is in theaters now, but don’t wait to see it, if you are planning to.


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