US, 2013, minutes, Colour.
Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Sophie Okonedo.
Directed by M Night Shyamalan.
Probably best to describe this futuristic story, set a thousand years from now, as a film for boys age, say, ten to fifteen. The hero is a 14 year old, a recruit for the rangers on the Nova planet. He is brash and not promoted which compounds his sense of guilt for the death of his sister when he failed a test, thinking his father blames him. His father is the commanding general of the rangers.
But, the father takes his son on an expedition to bond with him. When their space ship crashes to earth after being damaged by a meteor storm, they are stranded. The boy has to travel 100 miles to find a beacon to fire for safety. Will he do it? Earth has a different atmosphere. Animals, some ferocious, roam. The temperature lowers at night.
The film has received bad reviews, some of it critical of the director whose reputation has lessened after his success with The Sixth Sense in 1999. His last film was The Last Airbender. And some commentators are critical of Will Smith. He wrote the story of the film and co-wrote the screenplay with the director. It is a star vehicle for his son, Jaden. He gives him top billing. They had worked together some years ago in The Pursuit of Happyness and Jaden Smith was The Karate Kid in the re-make with Jackie Chan.
So, if After Earth is judged according to the expectations for more adult-oriented films like Oblivion, then it fails. If it is reviewed as a Boys’ Own Adventure for teenage boys, it is a short story with some nice touches as real-life father and son portray father and son and their bonding. Jaden Smith is certainly not the world’s best actor but he manages and gets better as he has to hold the story together. It’s a limited film, limited by its scope and target audience as well as in performance. It deserves a chance.
1. An entertaining science fiction, futuristic film?
2. A film for teenage boys rather than for an adult audience?
3. The critiques for the film, almost all negative? An unpopular film for bloggers?
4. Production values, the planet of the future, buildings, homes, transport? Way of life? The information given about Earth, the visuals of destruction? Humans and then moving away?
5. The Rangers, Kitai and his training, brashness, running ahead, the interview with the commander, his not being promoted? The role of the Rangers and their status?
6. Kitai’s father, in command, his personality, severity? His return to his family? Planning to resign from the Rangers, to spend more time? His love for his children? But not emotionally expressive?
7. The general, his wife, managing the household, her job? The meal? Children? The older daughter?
8. The flashbacks, Kitai and his test, the monster, his sister, his failing, the monster devouring? The visuals? His memories? His father’s response?
9. The new mission, the father taking his son, his father’s pride? In the space ship? Kitai and his wandering, seeing the monster?
10. The meteor storm, the general and his strategies, decisions, the pilots? The space ship being partly smashed? Out of control, the impact of the crash on earth? Deaths?
11. Father and son surviving, the father and his broken leg, the attempt to heal it, the transfusion, failing? The medication? The broken flare? The need to travel 100 miles to get the other flare?
12. The father, his supervision of his son’s travels, the transmissions, the screen? Measuring the heart beat? The files for liquid oxygen? Some of them being smashed? The general and his drowsiness? Urging his son to come back?
13. Kitai, his age, relationship with his father, wanting to be a ranger? His decision to go on the trek? His uniform and its changing color and indicating the atmosphere? His sword? The oxygen? The difficulties of the journey, the terrain, the cold nights and shelter, his dreams and his sister appearing, the log over the waterfall? Threat of the eagle? The chicks and the nest? His leaping off the cliff, the wings and flying? The bird and its menace? Later saving him? Dragging him to safety from the attacking animals? The monkeys and death threats? His warding them off? The tiger-typed animals? His outrunning them, into the river? The cave and his shelter? The raft and his drifting, his sister guiding him? His father willing his safety?
14. The loss of oxygen, the distance to the plane tail, his father warning him, his decision to go ahead, the memories of the past, wanting his father’s approval? His running, seeing the mountain, making contact with his father, the volcano and the lover? His trying to find a signal? Finding more oxygen? The monster, the confrontation, the fights? The sword? His vanquishing?
15. Sending the flair, the rescue team, getting his father? The injury to his leg – but his standing to attention to salute his son as the previous soldier had stood for him?
16. Special effects, the re-creation of earth? Vegetation, animals, the evolution of 1000 years? The remnants of human experience?
17. The Moby Dick theme, the whales, the environmental message?