After Earth – Aesop’s Fables In Space

by Yo Snyder

After Earth is an
Aesop’s Fable set in space. It’s simple and straightforward tale about a boy
growing into a man by slaying his fear, in this case literally represented by a
scary alien that hunts people down by tracking their fear. It’s not a bad story,
perse. There’s a certain primalness in its simplicity, which suits the setting
well, but because it is so simple, 100 minutes of it sort of stretches things a
bit. This is the type of tale that could easily be share in a half-hour after
school special, but isn’t exactly suited for an epic, full-length feature film.
I liked the story, but as the film dragged, I have to admit I was bit anxious
just to get to the inevitable end.

The universe that After
is set in is certainly an intriguing one; unfortunately the film
doesn’t take any time to really explore it in any depth (which is a shame
because it certainly had plenty of space to do so). Any mythology or backstory
is related to us in brief bits of expository dialogue. Now, I’ve heard that a
rather detailed mythology was created for the universe of After Earth, and there’s plenty of indications that there’s more to
this setting than just what we’re seeing and being told, so it’s rather
frustrating that such and intriguing place isn’t really given any space to be

Instead, the story firmly focuses on Will Smith’s character
Cypher Raige, a legendary ranger who first found the weakness in the aliens
that hunted and fed off human fear, and his son Kitai Raige, played by
real-life son Jaden Smith. For about 90% of the movie, these are the only two
characters we see or interact with. Now, that would be fine, except Will Smith
plays a character who has learned to conquer fear. However, in doing so, that
has also seemed to have left him completely emotionless (which would have been
a very interesting character trait to explore in-depth, but, as you’ve probably
guessed, this movies doesn’t). That means you’ll see Will Smith like you’ve
never seen him before; completely reserved and almost entirely reticent. He
barely emotes at all, which gives him very little personality, which for
someone like Will Smith who has a great deal of personality and charm, is very
odd to see. Now, he has some fine moments in the film, but his one note
character does get a bit wearisome after awhile, especially when there are a
few lines that give just a peek of the Will Smith we all know and love. Jaden
Smith doesn’t fare much better, as he basically wears the same timid and
frightened look throughout the film. Of course, the whole point is he’s
learning how not to be afraid, but when the film quickly falls into a steady
pattern of showing him being afraid and incrementally taking steps to start
overcoming it, that same look begins to beg for some variety.

Now, as with all fables, there are some good morals to be
learned here. There’s the moral that the whole movie is really about, which is
quite simply that danger is real, but fear is a choice. Fear is a thought
process that ponders the future, the what ifs and the possibilities. For the
most part what we fear hasn’t even happened or does not yet even exist in time,
and to be afraid of mere potentialities is akin to insanity. It’s a good moral,
and I liked that core of the story. However, another moral is that our Father,
our Heavenly Father, is always with us, even when we can’t hear him. There’s a
point in the story where Katai loses touch with his father due to some sort of
atmospheric interference. Cypher can see and hear his son, but his son can’t
hear him. Cypher tells his son, despite the fact he won’t be able to hear,
that, “I’m here, I’m right here, I promise you I’m here.” I couldn’t help but
wonder how many times God has been whispering that to me. How many times has
there been interference – perhaps due to my own sin, or fears, or worries, or
doubts, or just because of circumstances or whatever – that has blocked me from
hearing my Heavenly Father’s reassurances? Sometimes I start to wonder if he is
still there when I can’t hear him; a natural doubt, but certainly an unnecessary
fear. How many times in the Bible does God promise that he’ll always be there
for us, no matter what, come what may? Your Heavenly Father loves you, and he
promised he would be there, always. Genesis 28:15 is just one example where he
says, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go…” So take heart,
you may not see, you may not even hear, but God is there.

Now, when the strongest thing to be said about a film is
it’s a M. Night Shyamalan movie that isn’t terrible, you know you’re not
exactly talking about a great movie. However, it also isn’t a bad one either. Some films suffer from not having a enough focus. After Earth could perhaps have benefited for having a focus that
wasn’t quite so narrow. If it would have opened things up a bit, given us a
broader glimpse of this place, these people, that could have added some much
needed meat to a very basic, but still very good, story. After Earth is a unique vision of the future, we just don’t get to
see very much of it, and instead are zeroed in on a very familiar story of
rites of passage, fathers and sons, and conquering fears. These are all good
things to explore, but allowing a bit more of the context in which these themes
are placed in to leak into the proceedings might have helped a great deal.
Despite some of its uniqueness and intriguing setting, by the end the film
really doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression.

Score: 4 of 7 – The
film is rated PG-13 due to some intense action scenes that aren’t really all
that bloody, but still intense. There are also some trademark M. Night jump
scares, but oddly, not quite in the places you might expect.