Film: "After Earth"; Cast: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo and Zoe Kravitz; Director: M. Night Shyamalan; Rating: **1/2
"After Earth" is not the archetypal sci-fi film, but it's a special film: remarkable and sagacious. The futuristic action film is the hero's journey layered with lessons about fear and danger, hope and despair, father-son bonding and, alas, am I trying to read too much into the film?
The film begins like a parable with visuals of natural disasters layered with a voice-over that states; "I heard stories of the Earth as a paradise until we destroyed it." And the highly evolved humans migrated to a planet called Nova Prime.
Unfortunately, the planet was already claimed by another predator species, with razor fangs and pincers called 'Ursas', who hunt by smelling fear. The humans managed to curb the Ursas by overcoming their fear.
The film trails Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) a budding ambitious cadet, carrying his own emotional baggage.
Kitai is in awe of his father the General and Prime Commander Cypher Raige (Will Smith) for his ability to 'ghost fight'; slang for fighting without fear. But at the same time, Kitai is slowly turning into a rebel. The cause? "He is missing his father," who is always out on a mission.
So as a bonding exercise, Kitai accompanies his father on a mission to Ethos in a dynamic spacecraft. Enroute, they encounter an asteroid storm. Their spaceship gets damaged and they crash land on Earth. While the debris of the ruined spaceship is strewn across 100 kms, only father and son are the sole survivors.
Unfortunately, by this time, "everything on earth has evolved to kill humans."
Kitai sets out to locate the tail end of the ship and a homing beacon that will get them safely off the planet while Cypher stays put to mend his broken legs and guide him through virtual imaging. Kitai's journey is not an easy one, as evolved species, rugged terrain and a vicious alien, bar his path.
Once communications are cut off, Kitai must make his way alone through dangerous territory. Throughout their ordeal, both father and son are strengthened by warm family memories of mother Faia (Sophie Okonedo) and sister Senshi (Zoe Kravitz). Even though physically absent, their strong bonds clearly help keep Kitai going, until he's finally able to face his fears and defeat the alien monster tracking him along the way.
Will Smith as Cypher Raige realistically portrays the stern, strict military man, often away from home on long tours of duty and unable to show much emotion to others. Jaden Smith, as Kitai, stands his ground with an equally strong performance. But somewhere down the line they don't seem to touch a chord as the tasks performed by them seem very mechanical.
The visual effects are very impressive, especially when Kitai is being chased by a pack of wild-irritated baboons and on another instance when he is chased by the giant bird. Also, kudos to composer James Newton Howard, for a strong soundtrack that blends into the film.
Director M. Night Shyamalan ensures that the cinematography and the computer generated images seamlessly merge to give a surreal output. The ecosystem on both the planets - Nova Prime and Earth are distinct. The director has taken pains in ensuring the detailing of every specimen that's shown on screen.
Unfortunately, it's the weak story with a slow automated and dragging plot, that does not support all of its impressive trappings and probably the reason why it fails to impress.