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AFTER EARTH (2013)

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M Night Shyamalan’s After Earth is an unfairly maligned movie, and reports of it being awful or propagandist are greatly exaggerated. Although it’s neither compelling nor groundbreaking, I wouldn’t consider it deserving of being lambasted as motivated by a Scientologist agenda, let alone as one of the worst films of the year. In fact, I’m going to go right out and say that I’ve seen worse films this year than After Earth. A Good Day to Die Hard, G.I. Joe Retaliation and the more recent Now You See Me are just a few examples of films that are much, much worse than anything you would see in After Earth. But thanks to overzealous reddit hate along with low scores on metrics that the general public seems to bow at the altars of - Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB - the film has garnered plenty of negative buzz. While After Earth is, as mentioned at the top of the post, not an amazing movie by any stretch of the imagination, it’s really not as bad as movie critics and online forums want audiences to think. 

The story takes place a thousand years after humans have abandoned Earth and settled on a new planet called Nova Prime. Although habitable enough, the planet is plagued by alien monsters called Ursa, a species that can detect humans by the pheromones we release when we are afraid. A group of elite soldiers (called Rangers) are trained to fight these monsters, excelling in their ability to suppress their fear and be virtually undetectable to Ursa (a rare talent that is called ‘ghosting’). Led by the unflappable General Cypher Rage (Will Smith), the Rangers are tasked with protecting the human race. On what seems like a routine mission to a nearby planet for some training exercises, the space ship General Rage and his son Kitai (played by Jaden Smith) are on suffers heavy damage from an asteroid storm and has to crash land on Earth, only the planet has now evolved with dangerous elements. With General Rage incapacitated, it is up to Kitai to venture across the treacherous terrain in order to send a distress signal to Nova Prime. 

The story feels at home in science fiction, which is one of the reasons I am surprised that people are insisting that this is a movie about Scientology when, if audiences did not know Will Smith’s religious affiliation, it would sound like standard fare in this genre. It is also very much a father and son movie, or even more so a coming-of-age film, with Kitai striving to prove himself worthy of his father’s respect by surviving under dangerous conditions. There’s an interesting story to be told here, but it’s a shame that the film seemed more preoccupied in showing dazzling visual effects than developing the characters in a much more intimate way. Will Smith’s General Cypher was a bit one-dimensional, for example. I felt that more could have been shown to paint how closed off he became after a family tragedy and how he may have been wrongfully taking it out on his son. It was interesting to see him play sort of an unlikable character, though. There were also some editing choices made that I felt detracted from presenting the characters in full view. For example, in the trailer it shows how cocky and ambitious Kitai is. However, in the theatrical cut, we don’t see these character traits set up properly. Instead, the film sort of clumsily dives into the story, which prevents audiences from seeing Kitai develop fully as a character. So the film certainly could have benefited from a little more plot and character establishment.

On the upside, performances are strong from the father and son leads. As a fan of Jaden Smith’s from his work in The Karate Kid remake, I thought he did a great job in this movie. There is no question that this kid can act. I am certainly excited to see more from him. I would have liked to have seen more of Zoë Kravitz, though. While I knocked the film for concentrating more on imagery than on substantial character development, I have to admit that there are many visually impressive moments in the film. I really liked the costume and set design. I thought it was really cool, for example, how the “smart suits” worked and transformed like camouflage. There are some great set pieces in the film, such as a stalagmite cave underneath an erupting volcano. There are some breathtaking vistas in this film, but unfortunately that makes up the bulk of the good.

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AWESOME MOVIE DADS
CHRIS GARDNER [played by Will Smith], The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Sometimes you have to protect your children from the truth, and you’ll do whatever it takes to make sure their dreams are never limited or their little hearts are broken by hardship and suffering. But sometimes you can’t shield your kids from everything, and the best thing you can do as a parent is to remind them that when the going gets tough, you’ll always be there for them. Will Smith’s performance in this film is remarkable, and The Pursuit of Happyness is an amazing story of resilience and survival in the name of family.

AWESOME MOVIE DADS

CHRIS GARDNER [played by Will Smith], The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

Sometimes you have to protect your children from the truth, and you’ll do whatever it takes to make sure their dreams are never limited or their little hearts are broken by hardship and suffering. But sometimes you can’t shield your kids from everything, and the best thing you can do as a parent is to remind them that when the going gets tough, you’ll always be there for them. Will Smith’s performance in this film is remarkable, and The Pursuit of Happyness is an amazing story of resilience and survival in the name of family.