It’s been more than 1000 years since humanity fled the planet Earth, leaving behind an ecologically devastated world that is no longer hospitable to our species. A new settlement called Nova Prime has become our home world, but a lengthy war with an alien race results in the creation of a lethal new foe called the Ursa: a monstrous species that can track us via the pheromones we secrete when we’re afraid. The only to combat these creatures is by “ghosting,” refusing to succumb to fear, remaining emotionless and thus becoming invisible to the Ursa (this genetically engineered force of destruction also happens to be blind).
[pullquote_right]The biggest detriment to the film’s success is its young star.[/pullquote_right]General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) was the first “ghost,” and his ability to combat the Ursa effectively has elevated him into a military commander of legendary proportions. He is idolized by his teenage son, Kitai (Jaden Smith), who wants not only to follow in his father’s footsteps, but to exceed him at every turn. Unfortunately, Kitai’s pride and arrogance are holding him back from advancing to Ranger status, which causes something of a rift between father and son.
As General Raige and Kitai embark on a routine exercise, their ship is badly damaged in an asteroid storm and breaks apart as it crash-lands on an unknown world: Earth. Badly injured, the General is forced to send Kitai on a journey to recover a distress beacon from the tail section of their destroyed craft, across more than 100 kilometers of the hostile, deadly planet that we left behind.
[pullquote_left]Even at a mercifully short 100 minutes, the film is dull, boring, and embarrassing.[/pullquote_left]Despite its interesting premise, the film stumbles nearly every step of the way, with the biggest detriment to its success being its young star. Will Smith may be blessed with a seemingly unfair amount of charisma and talent, but these traits evidently were not passed along to his offspring. Much of Jaden’s dialogue delivery is laughable, and his attempts to show emotion result in the same odd expression plastered on his face for the bulk of the film. Is he confused? Is he in pain? Does he have to poop? We’re not really sure.
The elder Smith’s aforementioned charisma is strangely missing from this film, as well – the General is known for being almost completely devoid of emotion, and the actor’s slow, monotonous line delivery just feels stiff and wooden. It doesn’t help that every character in the film speaks with a bizarre accent, which does little to distract from the extremely sub-par writing – the dialogue is generic, there are entirely too many expository voiceovers, and we’ve seen these same character arcs hundreds of times before.
[pullquote_right]If the Fresh Prince wants to make his son into an action star, this isn’t the way to go about it.[/pullquote_right]This is director M. Night Shyamalan’s first attempt at helming someone else’s project, and while he can’t be held responsible for the script, he can certainly be taken to task for just about everything else. Nearly everything about the production design feels lifted from other (much better) films, and a staggering amount of the CG effects feel unfinished – or maybe they were just cheaply done. Some of the environments are beautifully shot, but there’s not nearly enough variety, giving the impression that Kitai keeps traversing the same small stretch of land over and over again. And seriously, what’s going on with those accents?
After Earth benefits from a mercifully short running time, never becoming the big, bloated mess that it could have been. But even at 100 minutes, the film is dull, boring, and embarrassing. If the Fresh Prince wants to make his son into an action star, this isn’t the way to go about it – the only thing this film proves is that talented, charismatic, entertaining parents do not necessarily produce children with the same qualities.