At the suggestion of his wife, Cypher takes Kitai on a trip, but their bond is put to its greatest test after Cypher's ship takes heavy damage in an asteroid storm. The ship's crew heads for the nearest surface to land—Earth, a place that humans fled ages earlier and gave over to animals ready to kill any returning visitors. Complicating things is the escape from the ship of a multi-limbed alien beast called the Ursa.

From there the film picks up where it left off in the opening minutes. Only Cypher and Kitai survive the crash, but Cypher, his legs broken, must send Kitai to fetch a beacon that is with the rest of the wreckage, miles away, through inhospitable terrain requiring supplemental oxygen to overcome Earth’s toxic air. With the help of a tracking device that shows Cypher his son’s surroundings, Kitai sets out on the perilous mission, guided by his father.

If the dialogue in After Earth is lacking at some points, Shyamalan's camera work and direction keep the film moving. Even shots of an immobile, wounded Smith, are pleasing to watch, thanks to Shyamalan’s subtle pans and zooms—not to mention Smith's ease at conveying urgency and emotion through tone of voice, a hard stare and the certainty that comes from years of refining a disciplined, life-preserving attitude. Young Jaden shows the strains of a teen struggling to exhibit the values instilled in him by his dad, even as he struggles to put across such lines as, "I hear something. I think it’s water. A lot of it," without completely embarrassing himself.

Shyamalan’s direction here is subtle compared to some of his earlier projects and most bombastic summer cinematic fare. The filmmaker lets his actors carry the weight of the film, demonstrating again why the elder Smith is such a steady, compelling actor.

At its core, After Earth is a father-son story in which a young man is called upon to put into action the lessons his father has instilled in him over the years. It’s not complex, but it's largely satisfying, and it shows that Shyamalan still is capable of helming effective genre stories. The film is not, however, suitable for young children, and its pacing may test antsy teens accustomed to the slam-bang style of much of today’s entertainment. After Earth is far from perfect, but if it challenges viewers to slow down and think about what they’re watching, that should count a mark in the film’s favor.

CAUTIONS

  • Language/Profanity: Joke with sexual implications; “da-n”; “that sucked”;
  • Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Self-injections of pain reliever; an antitoxin injection directly into the heart
  • Sex/Nudity: n/a
  • Violence/Crime: Monsters are killed; dead bodies dangle from a tree; a violent crash landing; dead body with a head wound; dead animals; a boy sees, in silhouette, his sister impaled and killed; an animal attack in a bird’s nest; a girl’s face suddenly appears disfigured
  • Religion/Morals: Assertion that fear is not real, but a choice; to fight without a trace of fear is referred to as “ghosting”

Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@hotmail.com.

Publication date: May 30, 2013