DVD Release Date: October 4, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: May 31, 2013
Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and some disturbing images
Genre: Action
Run Time: 100 min. 
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo, Zoe Kravitz, Glenn Morshower

Science-fiction fans are having quite an early summer. First up was the Tom Cruise vehicle Oblivion, which took some of the more interesting themes from director Duncan Jones’ little-seen but excellent Moon and packaged them, with mixed results, in a high-budget, moody thriller. Then came the high-gloss Star Trek Into Darkness, where sci-fi themes and ideas played second fiddle to Spock, Kirk and a strong villain. After a slightly disappointing opening weekend at the box office, Into Darkness held well in its second week—a sign that word of mouth on the film is helping its financial performance.

We’re still not into June, but the summer movie season has given us another sci-fi epic—After Earth, featuring one of the world’s biggest box-office stars, Will Smith, and his son Jaden Smith, who earlier acted with his dad in The Pursuit of Happyness (2006). After Earth is much closer in spirit—and in its measured pacing—to Oblivion than it is to this summer’s Star Trek entry, and it succeeds on its own terms more often than either of those two films. Most promising of all, After Earth marks a rebound for director M. Night Shyamalan, whose previous film, The Last Airbender, was such an atrocity that not even his longtime defenders (this critic included) could go to bat for the filmmaker.

Co-written by Shyamalan and Gary Whitta (The Book of Eli), and based on a story by Smith, After Earth starts with a spaceship's crash landing on Earth—"Paradise before we destroyed it," in the words of the ship’s prime commander, Cypher Raige (Smith)— more than 1,000 years in the future. The narrative then backtracks three days to show us how the crew ended up on Earth’s surface.

Cypher, prime commander in the United Ranger Corps, longs to return to his home on Nova Prime, and to spend more time with his wife Faia (Sophie Okonedo, Hotel Rwanda), and teenage son, Kitai. "I want my family back," Cypher declares, even as Kitai is not so sure he wants his dad back. The son, who has aspirations to be a Ranger, knows his father will be disappointed to learn Kitai’s Ranger trainer won’t promote him because he "falls apart in the field." By contrast, Cypher is an honored, admired hero of battle who has learned the art of "ghosting"—fighting without a trace of fear—while battling alien creatures and other foes.