After Earth
PG-13
Entertainment: +4
Acceptability: +2

Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Sophie Okonedo. Action/Sci-fi/adventure. Written by Gary Witta, M. Night Shayamalan. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

FILM SYNOPSIS: A crash landing leaves Kitai Raige and his father Cypher stranded on Earth, 1,000 years after events forced humanity's escape. With Cypher injured, Kitai must embark on a perilous journey to signal for help.

PREVIEW REVIEW: After Earth is the best sci-fi adventure since Close Encounters of the Third Kind!

We’ve come a long way technology-wise since Steven Spielberg’s 1977 alien classic, but all too often the profound morals and messages found in the best of science fiction have gotten lost between the state-of-the-art CGI effects. Even sadder is the fact that frequently today’s space age epics are devoid of spirituality or any acknowledgement of God. And while After Earth doesn’t recognize God, it does incorporate spirituality, and suggests that we look within to find purpose rather than just anesthetize our brains with electronic time-passers.

There are several issues incorporated within this tale of survival: honor, father/son relationships, forgiveness, the sanctity of life, and sacrifice. Though none of these subjects is used to beat us over the head, they are a part of the makeup of this scary, thrilling movie metaphor.

Tightly written and wonderfully photographed, it takes us to a world outside our own. And what a pleasure to see a film that tells a story of estrangement and the overcoming of fear, without including the standard issue of crudity, disrespect, and profanity. (We should cherish a moviemaking attempt like this, because they don’t come along very often.) Believe me, viewers will be so caught up in the action and relationships that no one will leave the theater wondering why there wasn’t more swearing.

Perhaps what impressed me the most was its star, Will Smith. Mr. Smith basically takes the second lead, relegating the heavy lifting to his talented son. Smith’s character is a by-the-rules military man, his affection and love deeply camouflaged under years of suppression and a deep resentment. His character is almost robotic at times, his voice and mannerisms controlled and sedate even during the possibility of death. With any less of an actor, the role would come across merely as a boring martinet. And even without his customary Fresh Prince groove, Will Smith evidences big screen star power. It is an affecting performance.

And what a relief to find director/writer M. Night Shyamalan back in top form. Though the filmmaker is renowned for combining sophisticated entertainment with thought-provoking material (Signs, Praying with Anger, Wide Awake, Unbreakable, The Sixth Sense), for the past few years his films have disappointed both critics and fans. But once again Shyamalan has done the remarkable. Psychological thrills (jolts) are generated without the excesses that most filmmakers use thinking we moviegoers want to be bombarded by gore rather than subjected to suspense and character development. And it spooks without teasing you. There are no red herrings. There are no cats jumping from behind a doorway to fake you out. If our heroes hear an ominous noise emanating from somewhere behind them, well, it’s not a cat! But there’s no blood or guts or gimmicky special effects used to terrify us. Like Hitchcock, Shyamalan builds tension through restraint.

A few science fiction adventures have been respectful of the Christian faith. In the trenchant THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, a commanding being from another world is asked if he has the power of life and death. He responds, “No, that is reserved for the Almighty Spirit.” The classic sci-fi B film FORBIDDEN PLANET also contains lines showing a belief in and respect for God. Generally, however, science fiction films are used as either cautionary tales warning us of how technology can undermine social behavior (METROPOLIS), or most often as horror gore fests (ALIENS, SPECIES) designed to sell popcorn and aid guys who lack the courage to wrap an arm around a cute date.

In this production, however, writer/director Shyamalan uses unfamiliar creatures as a metaphor for our fears of the unknown and our struggles with life’s injustices. His film is about finding our way or finding our way back.

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Summary
Crude Language: None
Obscene Language: A couple of minor expletives, but I caught no harsh or profane language.
Profanity: None
Violence: It’s a thriller so you can expect some jolts and some battles with unknown creatures; the film is not about killing, but about surviving – it is a metaphor.
Sexual Intercourse: None
Nudity: None
Homosexual Conduct: None
Sexually Suggestive Action/Dialog: None
Drug Abuse: None
Other: Some action sequences, such as the huge baboons chasing the Jaden Smith character may frighten little ones.
Running Time: 100 minutes
Intended Audience: Teens on Up

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