After Earth is an interesting project because it wasn’t made the way most films are. Oscar nominee Will Smith actually wrote the story from which the screenplay was based. Will and Jada Smith also produced the film and clearly molded this vehicle for their up-and-coming superstar son Jaden Smith to blast off into superstardom. Will Smith actually hired director M. Night Shyamalan for the film, which marks his first film since getting raked over the coals for The Last Airbender in 2010. Smith explains that After Earth is really just a father/son camping survival story adapted into a science fiction film that they really hope will be an successful franchise.

  Earth has been abandoned by humans who now live on Nova Prime. Humans were not alone on Nova Prime; alien monsters terrorized the new planet, which is now under control by a sophisticated military government. Captain Cypher Raige (Will Smith) is one of the most respected leaders on Nova Prime, and his “ghosting” ability makes him a superior warrior. His 14 year old son Kitai (Jaden Smith) lives with the regret of watching his sister (Zoe Kravitz) die and is determined to prove to his father that he is not a coward. Kitai accompanies his father on what would have been a simple mission, but when their ship crashes and Captain Raige is badly injured, he will be forced to face the unknown dangers of Earth.

  If your expectations of After Earth are compared to Smith’s other summer blockbuster work featuring aliens (I Am Legend, I, Robot, Independence Day), this will seem very small and confined. This is a much more compact film, with the elder Smith injured and isolated for the entire movie. Smith’s character feels more like a video gamer, as he is controlling Jaden’s character through dire situations where there are no retries (just lots of 1-Up’s). Smith, playing somewhat against type, is the stern and cold, absent father figure while Jaden, in his first really challenging role (challenging because the entire film depends on him), is the defiant and rebellious teenager.

  The script offers some unique elements, including a suit Kitai wears that changes color and material depending on his situation (again, think video game--a la Mario?). There is also a beautiful sequence with an eagle that would even make JRR Tolkien proud. However, After Earth skims over a lot of important material in the first five minutes, chucking 1000 years of history at us and poorly setting up this new world. The “monsters” of the film are uninteresting in their stereotypical design. Even the mission they embark on leaves much unanswered. Still, this is probably the best film Shyamalan has delivered in sometime. Younger audiences will certainly enjoy this more than adults and that seems to be the Smith family's goal, to feed a now Harry Potter-less audience.

Final Thought – A futuristic survival film for a younger audience not as interested in all the pieces fitting together as adults.

Grade C+             By: Dustin Chase