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Thursday, May 30, 2013

After Earth

The Space Family Smith

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Love and rivalry between father and son, the odyssey of searching for a passage home, the slaying of monsters—ancient and enduring themes in myth and literature. After Earth shapes them as science fiction with Will and Jaden Smith playing father and son, stranded on a post-apocalypse Earth, stalked by an alien monster trained to kill humans and smell human fear.

The elder Smith is a formidable presence as the military officer Cypher Raige, but his son Jaden plays the protagonist. The boy, Kitai, is unprepared for the role of hero when his father's starship crashes on their ancestral home, Earth, a millennium after war and environmental catastrophe forced humanity to evacuate to deep space and fend off new enemies. Kitai must learn—and with no time to spare—from his father's Jedi-esque concentration and emotional control. "Fear is a choice," Cypher instructs Kitai. And Cypher must learn to be a little less of a commanding officer and more of a dad.

After Earth squanders opportunities for drama and surprise through the tiresomely prosaic device of telling the backstory in the opening narration. But the real interest is the adolescent Kitai, resentful yet desperate to please his father. It's Kitai's story, with Jaden's face registering anger, fear, wonder and the realization that he has been forced into a pair of shoes three sizes too big.

After Earth can't be called a triumph for director M. Night Shyamalan. It's not a return to the high level of The Sixth Sense or Signs, but has moments of awe and tension as well as a mixture of intriguing special effects and old-fashioned futurism built from the materials of the present. In the summer blockbuster season, After Earth is a quieter, less frantically paced science fiction alternative to Star Trek Into Darkness.