For the sake of its young star it’s a great pity that M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth is not a lot better. Somehow the parts of this film are superior to the sum.
Jaden Smith is likeable and convincing as Kitai Raige, a teenager shipwrecked on an inhospitable Earth with his injured father. The young character has the awesome task of trekking alone 100 kilometres through a redwood forest to activate an emergency beacon. Jaden Smith has the equally impressive job of being the sole actor on screen for much of the picture. After Earth is certainly a performance for him to be proud of.
It goes without saying that Jaden’s father Will Smith knows his way around a cinema screen. His character, the stoical Cypher Raige is intriguingly unlike his usual roles. Sophie Okonedo and Zoe Kravitz complete the main cast as mother and daughter Raige.
The After Earth plot idea came from Will Smith and feels like a gift to his son. It is a coming of age story about a young man who finds his inner strength with the support of his father. It also follows a classic hero on a journey improves himself story arc.
This is all very well, but After Earth simply fails to engage the senses.
There are some clever visual design features, including the architecture of Kitai’s home and the organic feel of the spaceship interiors.
Unfortunately the CGI animals are not convincing. The big cats in particular are a let down so soon after Richard Parker the tiger in Life of Pi. As the setting is a forest, the plant and wildlife cinematography should be magnificent, but sadly it isn’t. To my eye this is After Earth’s big failing.
The Earth is a major character in this movie and she simply isn’t given the chance to shine.
It strikes me that After Earth had the potential to be a Buddhist version of Life of Pi. Both are stories about teenagers on a journey alone in the wilds. The newer film is punctuated with a feel the present motif, just as Life of Pi has a lot of God in it.
Perhaps an Ang Lee remake is due?