“Warning!” says a computerized voice, “This planet has been declared unfit for human habitation. Do not attempt to land.” But Prime Commander Cypher Raige (Will Smith) has no other options. His severely damaged spaceship crash-lands on Earth, abandoned 1,000 years previously after humans destroyed it and fled to their new home planet, Nova Prime. Only Cypher and son Kitai (Jaden Smith) survive the crash, Cypher immobilized by injuries and the ship’s rescue beacon kilometers away with the destroyed tail section. Can young Kitai make the hazardous journey to the beacon, assisted only by his father’s voice, communicating — on and off — from the destroyed ship? For answers, see “After Earth,” a mythic story about a boy’s journey to manhood.
Will Smith is all-business as laconic Commander Cypher and 14-year old son Jaden is tentative as yet-untested son Kitai in this father-son narrative. Jaden is the hero whose journey to the beacon will save — or not — his life and his father’s. “You are going to retrieve that beacon,” says Cypher, “or we are going to die.” Kitai is unprepared. While his classroom work in the Ranger Academy is excellent, in the field, his headmaster tells him, he collapses. So, on inhospitable Earth, the stakes are high: “Every decision you make,” says his grievously injured father, “will be a matter of life and death.” Can he do it?
Others in the small cast include Sophie Okonedo as supportive wife and mother Faia. Of their son, she says to Cypher, “You have a son whom you do not know. He needs you.” On Earth, as it turns out, Cypher needs his son. Zoe Kravitz is Kitai’s older sister Senshi. Glenn Morshower is Commander Velan.
“After Earth” is a mythically-inspired hero’s journey/coming-of-age adventure tale, with a sci-fi frame. It’s a father-son bonding story, too, starring a father and son. Will Smith is credited with the story; director M. Night Shyamalan co-wrote the script with Gary Whitta. All draw from Joseph Campbell’s scholarly work, whose best-known book, “The Power of Myth,” is a conversation with Bill Moyers about “Star Wars” and world mythology. In “After Earth,” for example, Kitai expresses reverence and thanks to a giant eagle who figures in the boy’s adventure. As in a vision quest, Kitai discovers what has been missing in his consciousness.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action, violence and disturbing images, “After Earth” runs 100 minutes. It’s a movie for older teens and adults; when I saw it, young people lost interest after the first 20 minutes. Still, it’s a movie you could talk about with young adolescents. It’s a bit slow-going, but I recommend it.
“After Earth,” Will and son,
Puts a boy to the test —
Can he win survival
On his vision quest?