After starting his career with the amazing The Sixth Sense and following it up with the layered Unbreakable, director M Night Shyamalan has only seen a steady – and disappointing – decline. Teaming up with Will Smith has not helped his sagging fortunes either. Sci-fi drama After Earth is a snooze fest.
A father and son duo, with issues of their own, crash into Earth, a planet that was destroyed by the humans years ago and abandoned in exchange for a new planetary home. Will Smith plays General Cypher renowned for his fearlessness and able to ‘ghost’ (appear invisible to alien creatures). Smith junior (Jaden) plays his son Kitai, training to be a cadet like his father once was.
Once crashed on to Earth, Kitai is responsible for ensuring not only his survival but that of his injured father too, a challenge he must face almost alone. Cypher guides Kitai through a perilous situation during which that latter also has to face his inner demons.
It is Kitai’s rite of passage into manhood, just as this film is Jaden Smith’s big showcase as an actor to reckon with. In fact he rather outshines his father Will who spends most of the film bleeding in a chair while reciting his lines in a dull monotone that lulls you to sleep.
The script is most problematic and simplistic. Nature versus nurture; man’s destruction and nature’s retaliation; inner strength; danger versus fear etc are the themes. The special effects are not enough to alleviate the fatigue you feel while watching After Earth.
I kept searching for signs of Shyamalan of old, but only glimpses were visible. Perhaps that’s what happens when you helm a film a father is making for his son.