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updated: 5/30/2013 6:32 AM

Shyamalan's 'Earth' another science-fiction thriller short on science

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  • A would-be space ranger (Jaden Smith) takes a knee to contemplate how he can save himself and his injured father in M. Night Shyamalan's "After Earth."

      A would-be space ranger (Jaden Smith) takes a knee to contemplate how he can save himself and his injured father in M. Night Shyamalan's "After Earth."

  • A wannabe space ranger (Jaden Smith) is reassured by his commander father (Will Smith) during a crash landing in "After Earth."

      A wannabe space ranger (Jaden Smith) is reassured by his commander father (Will Smith) during a crash landing in "After Earth."

  • Video: "After Earth" trailer

 
 

To understand the inherent idiocy of "After Earth," you must remember that it comes from M. Night Shyamalan.

His 2002 science-fiction thriller "Signs" presented the stupidest aliens in the universe, extraterrestrial conquerors who, despite the fact that ordinary water is instantly fatal to them, invade a planet that's 75 percent water and generates lots of rain.

"After Earth" takes place 1,000 years after humankind has packed up and moved out to another solar system. Since then, we're told by General Cypher Raige (Will Smith), back on earth "everything has evolved to kill humans!"

So, despite Darwinian theories of intelligent, purposeful change, life on Earth has evolved to kill a species that hasn't existed there for 1,000 years. Really?

That's not all. Giant hawks have apparently evolved to the point they can read a human's good intentions and even sacrifice their own lives to save humans, but only the nice ones.

Wait, what happened to the "Everything has evolved to kill humans" rule?

Granted, "After Earth" may just be a science-fiction movie. but it doesn't offer much science in a fiction that can't decide if it should be a sweet, fantastic children's tale or a violent, R-rated alien invasion opus.

Young Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith, Will's son) dreams of being a space ranger to please his formidable father. General Raige has become a cult military figure for his ability to "ghost," to stop secreting pheromones generated by fear, the only way the crustacian-like creatures called the Ursa can detect humans and kill them.

Most of "After Earth" examines the damaged father/son relationship between young Kitai and his Cypher dad. He has never forgiven Kitai for surviving an Ursa attack that keeps killing his pretty daughter (Zoe Kravitz) during a repeated series of flashbacks.

An emergency crash landing on Earth kills everyone on board a spacecraft, except for Kitai and Cypher. With his legs broken, Cypher dispatches his son to find and activate a distress signal in the spacecraft's tail section 100 kilometers away.

Carrying a select-a-blade convertible sword, Kitai sets out to prove himself against overwhelming odds that Shyamalan piles on with gusto: man-eating baboons, tree-climbing lions, predatory hawks, catapulting snakes, Mother Nature's deep freeze and Kitai's own insecurities.

"Remember," Dad says, arming his son with a lifesaving fortune-cookie philosophy, "that danger is very real. But fear is a choice!"

Smith and his son have worked together before as a father and son in the fact-based "Pursuit of Happyness," and their maturing, real-life relationship pays off here in the quieter moments between spectacular action sequences and those aforementioned guilt-driven flashbacks.

At least one evolution in this movie makes sense.

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