Probably best to describe this futuristic story, set a thousand years from now, as a film for boys aged, say, ten to fifteen. The hero is a 14 year old, a recruit for the rangers on the Nova planet, writes Fr Peter Malone MSC.
He is brash and not promoted which compounds his sense of guilt for the death of his sister when he failed a test, thinking his father blames him. His father is the commanding general of the rangers.
But, the father takes his son on an expedition to bond with him. When their space ship crashes to earth after being damaged by a meteor storm, they are stranded. The boy has to travel 100 miles to find a beacon to fire for safety. Will he do it? Earth has a different atmosphere. Animals, some ferocious, roam. The temperature lowers at night.
The film has received bad reviews, some of it critical of the director whose reputation has lessened after his success with The Sixth Sense in 1999. His last film was The Last Airbender. And some commentators are critical of Will Smith. He wrote the story of the film and co-wrote the screenplay with the director. It is a star vehicle for his son, Jaden. He gives him top billing. They had worked together some years ago in The Pursuit of Happyness and Jaden Smith was The Karate Kid in the re-make with Jackie Chan.
So, if After Earth is judged according to the expectations for more adult-oriented films like Oblivion, then it fails. If it is reviewed as a Boys’ Own Adventure for teenage boys, it is a short story with some nice touches as real-life father and son portray father and son and their bonding. Jaden Smith is certainly not the world’s best actor but he manages and gets better as he has to hold the story together. It’s a limited film, limited by its scope and target audience as well as in performance. It deserves a chance.
AFTER EARTH. Starring Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Sophie Okonedo. Directed by M Night Shyamalan. 100 minutes. Rated M (Science fiction themes and violence).
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.