If writer/director M. Night Shyamalan ever finds himself back in the good graces of filmgoers and critics, it certainly won’t be with After
Earth.  This sci-fi survival tale features the same lifeless, plodding tone that has marked all his films following his hit 2002 alien invasion
drama, Signs.

The brainchild of star Will Smith (Who is credited with the story), After Earth features a plot so cliché and simple it borders on amateur.

In the distant future, humans have left Earth, which is now a quarantined planet thanks to the combined efforts of our self-destruction and
alien wars.

Smith’s Cypher Raige and his son, Kitai (Smith’s real life son, Jaden), are the sole-survivors of a crash-landing on Earth.  Cypher is injured
in the crash and it’s up to Kitai to trek through the dangerous wilds to find an emergency beacon in the ship’s separated tail section.

Cypher is a legendary soldier who was able to lead humans to victory over the aliens thanks to his complete fearlessness.  The hostile
aliens can sense fear despite being completely blind and deaf.  Apparently metaphorical subtlety is completely lost on Smith and Shyamalan.

It also begs the obvious question of how these aliens can do anything if their only sense is to ‘smell’ fear.  But coming from the man whose
previous sci-fi film featured water-soluble aliens invading a planet that is 70 percent water, I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised.

The difference is that film featured enjoyable characters and legitimate suspense, something almost entirely missing from After Earth.

The core of the film is the relationship between father and son.  While it is indeed this story’s most admirable attribute, the overly-simplified
characterizations ultimately feel hollow.

And while I would stop short of calling After Earth emotionally-barren, their relationship is not memorable enough to overcome the film’s
forgettable sci-fi trappings.

Visually, After Earth just can’t compete with its rivals in the genre.  This is, in part, due to Shyamalan’s unspectacular camerawork and also
the film’s occasionally bizarre production design.  The bland futuristic interiors appear to be pieced together from tarps and fabrics.

The sound editing on the other hand is occasionally impressive, with the crash sequence being an incredible highlight.

Perhaps the most consistent contributor to Shyamalan’s films has been composer James Newton Howard.  Once again he provides a solid
score that works hard to elevate the spectacle and the drama.

The performances are adequate enough, with the elder Smith forgoing his usual persona for his stoic portrayal of a strict and humorless
military man.

Surprisingly, it’s Jaden who really gets the spotlight here.  With his father immobilized for most of the movie, it’s Kitai who gets the bulk of
the screen time.  And weak material aside, he does a nice enough job to stave off the charges of nepotism inherent in this project.

The two leads get a few good scenes together involving Cypher’s philosophy about fear and Kitai confronting his father about his harsh
parenting style.

The family has a traumatic past that is effectively revealed through flashbacks and gives the film at least a slight amount of drama and
character.

I also liked the sequence where Kitai defends a nest of giant hawks from an attacking alien.  It has a nice payoff.

Beyond these moments, there just isn’t much to say about After Earth.  It’s not good, but not particularly bad either.  It’s a watchable, but
ultimately forgettable film.  The story is without a single surprise or hook and the plotting is downright lazy.  Thematically, After Earth is as
blunt as they come.

At best, this is an uninspired, flat piece of filmmaking.  It won’t satisfy fans of sci-fi, Smith or Shyamalan, and simply cannot be recommended.

* *
(out of four)
AFTER EARTH
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

Written by: Gary Whitta and M. Night Shyamalan

Starring: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Sophie Okonedo, Zoe
Kravitz, Glen Morshower

Music by: James Newton Howard

Cinematography by: Peter Suschitzky

Released: May 31, 2013; 100 Minutes