Smith-Family Robinson meets Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island, all done with M. Knight Shame-About-the-Last-One’s heavy handed symbolism; a sci-fi fable that has divided opinion.
Polluted Earth. Exodus. Space colony. Alien Invasion. Blind aliens, but they can smell fear!
Tough space ranger. Headstrong teenage son. Broken relationship. Spaceship crash! Earth. Alien on the loose!
With this little subtlety, you know something’s wrong when Smith Snr. is a character called Cypher Raige and Smith Jnr. sees dead people…
It’s another extraordinary visual treat wrapped around a formulaic and derivative script; one with so many rules and McGuffins – the ship-wreck, the distress beacon in the lost tail section, the overnight freeze, and all the creatures “evolved to kill humans.” Hang on, humans haven’t been there for a thousand years and evolution takes longer than that anyway. And the Earth is such a lush paradise again, why hasn’t it been recolonised?
Because it’s a survival movie, one-part Jeremiah Johnson, three-parts Jurassic Park, one-part Mysterious Island, but with much better effects. It’s a grandiose family reconciliation tale bound up in a Brothers Grimm childrens’ adventure in a dark forest full of hostile baboons, sabre-cats, and giant eagles.
Also add one Grendell-like giant bug, the Ursa, which the Earthmen foolishly brought with them.
If you were expecting another I am Legend from Will Smith, the good (or bad) news is, this isn’t it. Will does his best so be serious, stoic and grown up as the legendary ‘ghost’ ranger without fear, who defeated the aliens last time around. But given he is injured in the ship wreck and lies there most of the movie like a sci-fi Ivanhoe unable to move, he has to do most of his acting from a chair. On the surface a rigid, solemn and frankly boring character, there is enough depth in Will’s performance to get across the concerns and regrets of the absent family man.
Whilst we’re being fair, Jaden Smith (The Karate Kid, The Pursuit of Happyness) turns in a great performance as young Kitai. So irritating at the beginning, we find out he has survivor guilt – the Ursa’s killed his sister in front of him. He is the child in peril who has to undertake the dangerous journey and learn how to ‘ghost’ like his father; cover his fear in order to avoid detection by the alien.
But above all this is a life-lessons movie: “danger is real, but fear is a choice.” Fear is the mind-killer, embrace your destiny, must you… sorry, I wandered into the wrong movie for a moment, but you get my drift. Kitai gets all Samurai-serious for the finale, and that’s that; job done.
Based on a story by Smith, from a magazine piece about a father and son surviving a plane crash, Shyamalan is the hired writer (with Gary Whitta, a video-game journalist and consultant) and director, recovering from the critical misfires of The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening and the disastrous The Last Airbender.
After Earth goes about it’s business with serious intent, the most expensive Aesop fable ever screened. Enjoyable, overloaded as it is with layers of guilt, regret and family therapy, you might choose to enjoy it simply for the adventure, in which case, it’s nowhere near as bad as the critics say it is. What do they know? RC
After Earth (2013)
Director: M Night Shyamalan
Writers: M Night Shyamalan, Gary Whitta
Certification (UK): 12A
Runtime: 100 mins
Genre: Sci-fi, Adventure
Cast: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo, Zoe Kravitz
Related: Oblivion (2013)