A thousand years ago, mankind was forced to leave Earth due to an environmental cataclysm and they settle on their new planet, Nova Prime. After a terrible conflict with an alien species that use fear-detecting creatures called Ursa, a fear suppressing technique called ‘ghosting’ is developed and the human race defeats their aggressors. General Cypher Raige takes his son, Kitai on a mission to help mend their failing relationship but when their ship is badly damaged, they are forced to crash-land on Earth. Unable to walk, Raige sends Kitai to find the tail section of the ship, 100km away, in order to send a distress beacon to ensure their rescue. During his journey, Kitai must face creatures that have evolved to kill humans and find the Ursa that was being transported on the ship.
After Earth (2013) – Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Running Length: 100 mins
Starring: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo
Genre: Science Fiction
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan (not that you’d know it from the lack of his name on the promotional materials), ‘After Earth’ has been completely slated by many critics for its slow plot and bad acting from its leads, Smith Snr and Smith Jnr. However, after watching this movie, we agreed that, while it isn’t fantastic, it isn’t actually a bad film, especially compared to past Shyamalan output. The concept of having everything on a planet evolving to kill humans is an interesting one, although it isn’t fully realised. If more danger had been faced by Kitai then the intriguing idea would perhaps have had more legs. Despite a wasted opportunity, and that the amount of plot holes do grate as the film progresses (a very convenient moment involving a giant condor made us shake our heads in bewilderment), overall, ‘After Earth’ was perfectly entertaining. One of the main issues is perhaps that there is no real personal growth seen from Kitai, he is constantly terrified, lurching from one crises to the next in a perpetual state of blind panic. Some development of his fear, such as showing a gradual growth into a braver man, would have made his character more believable.
Will Smith takes an unusually straight role as Raige Snr, a man struggling to cope with the death of his daughter, who has a strained relationship with his son. Jaden Smith (Will’s real-life offspring) is also good as Kitai, a boy desperate for his father’s approval, who blames himself for his sister’s death and wants to become a member of the Ranger Corps in order to follow in his father’s footsteps. Having the two main characters separated but communicating via a remote link allows the tension to remain grounded, thanks to Cypher’s calm, clear instructions to Kitai. That said, the plot does slow down painfully in the middle section of the film and, as previously mentioned, more action and danger would have been welcome here. Overall, ‘After Earth’ is a watchable and enjoyable sci-fi movie with lots of suspenseful moments; the story is good (as written by Will Smith himself) and, while it plods a little at times, it is one best watched and enjoyed on face value.
IS ‘AFTER EARTH’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?
In an early explanatory scene describing that when Cypher discovered how to ‘ghost’ passed the Ursa, there is a shot of Cypher holding a twin bladed weapon (referred to as a ‘cutlass’) and calmly slicing the throat of an Ursa. We see some blood drip out, but this is in the middle ground, the shot doesn’t linger, and due to the large and distinctly ‘alien’ look of the Ursa the moment shouldn’t be too upsetting.
When Kitai and Cypher are on a transport ship, Kitai curiously explores a restricted area. He is then goaded to test his ghosting skills by approaching a captured Ursa that is being held captive. We do not see the Ursa itself at this point as it is in within some sort of large spherical container, but the character talking to Kitai is slowly describing the body’s ‘fight or flight’ reflex and how the Ursa can sense his fear, whilst Kitai gradually gets closer and closer. This is very tense scene that lasts a few minutes.
When the transport gets into problems, an explosion rips off the back of the vehicle. We see the bodies of various people get blasted out of the hole. Although for the most part we do not see any specific characters get sucked out of the vehicle, when the incident first happens it is when Cypher is trying to calm Kitai down and he gets thrown back mid-sentence, which may scare some younger children.
Kitai spends the rest of the film trekking to get to the broken-off tail section that landed several day’s journey away. Of the animals he has to get past, two are particularly scary. At one point he is pursued by an angry group of baboons who bare their teeth and snarl at him. What follows is an intense chase sequence and Kitai is terrified. Similarly, later there is a scene where Kitai finds himself trapped inside a giant nest whilst large lion-like creatures trying to break in through the ‘walls’. The animals are fierce and attack continuously. Kitai has to fight them off and is constantly on the verge of being hurt by them in a scene that lasts around 5 minutes.
Cypher is badly hurt in the crash and has to perform a field patch-up on his broken leg. This involves using a scalpel to cut into the flesh and then inserting a clear plastic tube as an ‘arterial bypass’. The tube clearly fills with blood. Also, in relation to blood, there are several shots of the crew who were blasted out of the ship later being found impaled on trees, usually more than one in a tree. The bodies have clearly been picked up and forced onto the branches and there is quite a lot of blood, although not close up.
Through the film there are several flashbacks involving Kitai’s sister. She is seen to be a happy and loving older sister. However on more than one occasion we see her death whilst confronting an Ursa in which she is violently lifted and thrown against a wall in front of Kitai’s eyes (when he was around 6 years old). This may be scary for kids, especially as the moment is returned to several times with increasing footage and emotional impact each time.
The climax of the film is an Ursa attack. This beast is huge and very aggressive, constantly lunging at Kitai and the screen. If a child has been alright up to this point then the Ursa should not be too distressing, but for any child who has been struggling with the movie so far, the Ursa will likely be too much as the scene is a good 10 to 15 minutes of extreme danger.
CAN I SEE A CLIP?
Whilst some of the harshness of the criticism feels a little unfair, there is no denying that ‘After Earth’ is flawed. The plot relies heavily on convenience and ‘because we said so’ to get through. It is very difficult for any actor to carry a film by themselves (especially with few other characters to bounce off of) and, as Jaden Smith is a fledgling actor whose character is that of a scared young man, he does seem to struggle with the action that the film demands of him. However, as an ‘impossible journey’ film, the action is entertaining and should be a lot of fun for children who like a bit of tension and danger. Ultimately, due to the peril and amount of violence, we would suggest that this movie is not appropriate for children under 10 years old.
Emotional Distress: 3/5 (much of Cypher and Kitai’s dialogue is loaded due to Kitai struggling for his father’s approval. Once crash-landed, there is one moment when Kitai shouts at his father which could be upsetting. Also, as mentioned, the death of Kitai’s sister is constantly shown)
Fear Factor: 4/5
Sexual Content: 0/5
Bad Language: 0/5
Dialogue: 3/5 (Cypher’s description of the danger that Kitai is in my upset some kids)
Other notes: Deals with themes of conquering fear, laying blame for past actions, trying to live up to expectations and the importance of living in the moment.
Words by Mike Record