Magazine article Variety

Amid Starry Constellation, after Earth Reps Ursa Minor

Magazine article Variety

Amid Starry Constellation, after Earth Reps Ursa Minor

Article excerpt

FILM

Amid Starry Constellation, After Earth Reps Ursa Minor

SONY PICTURES

After Earth

Director:

M. Night

Shyamalan

Starring:

Will Smith.

Jaden Smith

The last time M. Night Shyamalan tried his hand at a big-budget Man vs. Wild episode, with 2008's The Happening, the unseen villainess was none other than Mother Nature herself. In the decided non-happening that is Shyamalan's latest, After Earth, the threats lurking on a post-apocalyptic blue planet include baboons, predatory birds and a giant alien beastie that looks like a rejected prototype from H.R. Giger's workshop. But it's Shyamalan's career, and that of producer-director Will Smith, that seem to be struggling for survival in this listless sci-fi wilderness adventure - a grim hodgepodge of Avatar, The Hunger Games and Life of Pi that won't come anywhere near equaling those juggernauts with the ticketbuying public. Opening in a very crowded summer frame, the pic will prove an even greater litmus test of Smith's continued drawing power than 2008's Seven Pounds.

Clearly envisioned as a franchise starter for Smith and Sony, After Earth comes with a detailed press kit offering pages of backstory fleshing out the film's futuristic universe, little if any of it actually addressed in the pic itself (suggesting either long-range sequel plans or lots of carnage on the cutting-room floor). Smith, who gave one of his best performances in the lastman-on-Earth vehicle I Am Legend, here mostly takes a backseat to his 14-yearold son, Jaden, whose Kitai Raige is a cadet in the United Ranger Corps, a militia formed a millennium ago when Earth was in the last stages of its manmade downfall. Now, humankind has a new home planet, Nova Prime. The only problem: a hostile alien species that has spent most of the past thousand years trying to kill us with genetically engineered monsters known as ursas.

Some time before our story begins, one such ursa has made lunch out of Kitai's older sister, Senshi (Zoe Isabella Kravitz), an incident that has driven an emotional wedge between Kitai and his father, Cypher (the elder Smith), each of whom on some level blames the other. Making matters worse, Cypher is storied for slaying ursas with his patented "ghosting" technique, in which he becomes invisible to the scent-guided creatures by suppressing his pheromone-generating fears. (There is no simple explanation for anything in this movie.) In short: It's a tough act for young Kitai to live up to.

In a bid to get this slow-moving story started with a bang, Shyamalan opens with the spaceship crash that eventually strands Kitai and Cypher on Earth, then flashes back 72 hours to pile on yet more backstory. Kitai has failed, it seems, to advance to the next level in Ranger training, putting a damper on his reunion with Dad, who's just returned from his latest mission. But as wise old Mom (Sophie Okonedo) advises Cypher, Kitai "doesn't need a commanding officer, he needs a father." So when it's time for Cypher to ship out again, he brings his son along for the ride, little realizing an asteroid storm will tear their ship to smithereens and leave them the only two human survivors. There's also one non-human survivor: a captured ursa now loosed from its cage and prowling the Earth.

Laid low with a badly broken leg and jacked up on hallucinogenic painkillers, Cypher spends most of the rest of the film doing one long Camille routine, while Kitai begins the more-than-60mile trek to the other half of the ship's wreckage, to retrieve a much-needed emergency beacon. It's a journey in which a lot of the rules seem rather arbitrary: For reasons never satisryingly explained, the Earth's atmosphere has become too toxic for human consumption, but poses no threat to other oxygen-breathing fauna that seem to have flourished in mankind's absence. …

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