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After Earth: Blu-ray + DVD + DigitalHD UltraViolet Review

After Earth (2013) movie poster After Earth

Theatrical Release: May 31, 2013 / Running Time: 100 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: M. Night Shyamalan / Writers: Gary Whitta, M. Night Shyamalan (screenplay); Will Smith (story)

Cast: Jaden Smith (Kitai Raige), Will Smith (General Cypher Raige), Sophie Okonedo (Faia Raige), Zoë Isabella Kravitz (Senshi Raige), Glenn Morshower (Commander Velan), Kristofer Hivju (Security Chief), Sacha Dhawan (Hesper Pilot), Chris Geere (Hesper Navigator), Diego Klattenhoff (Veteran Ranger), David Denman (Private McQuarrie), Lincoln Lewis (Running Cadet), Jaden Martin (Nine-Year-Old Kitai), Sincere L. Bobb (Three-Year-Old Kitai), Monika Jolly (Female Ranger)

Buy After Earth from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet • DVD • Instant Video

Very few Hollywood film directors have been deemed worthy of singling out in advertising by name or credits. Until this summer, M. Night Shyamalan was one of them. For over ten years, writer/director/producer Shyamalan has primarily been known as the maker of The Sixth Sense.
It seemed relevant early in his career and undoubtedly helped 2002's Signs earn blockbuster status. But a series of creative and financial disappointments have since turned that claim to fame from a selling point to a warning sign. After Earth is Shyamalan's first film in any capacity since Sixth Sense opened on his 29th birthday that neglects to identify him in the marketing. And why dredge up his faded promise when you can mention bigger names in front of the camera, like the world's biggest movie star Will Smith and his rising teenaged son Jaden?

It turns out that celebrity father-son duo wasn't much of a draw either. After striking out with critics almost unanimously, After went on to fizzle with moviegoers, its $60.5 million North American gross the lowest for a Will Smith vehicle since the 2001 biopic Ali and one of the very worst showings of his illustrious career. The lackluster performance made the reigning king of summer tentpoles look more like the feeble prince of nepotism. Guess he wasn't kidding when he told us parents just don't understand.

All puns aside, After Earth is truly a disappointment of epic proportions for Shyamalan and the entire Smith family. Will took his first feature story credit here, while his wife Jada Pinkett Smith numbers among the producers. But it's top-billed Jaden, whom The Karate Kid seemed to prepare for following in his father's footsteps, whose profile will probably take the hardest hit. With such high-stakes pressure hanging over these kids' heads, who can blame younger sister Willow for backing out of the Will-produced Annie remake and away from acting in general?

In the post-apocalyptic thriller "After Earth", crash survivor Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) is on his own to stay alive and get back home.

After Earth is set in a future where our home planet has become uninhabitable. Mankind resides on a place called Nova Prime. Alien beasts called Ursas pose a threat and children like Kitai Raige (Jaden) are trained to be soldiers. Paralleling life in the Smiths, Kitai has huge shoes to fill. His father, Cypher (Will), is revered for his fearlessness that has enabled him to defeat the deadly, fear-smelling opposition. Kitai is disappointed to remain a cadet and not yet be promoted to ranger.

On a routine flight, a ship crash-lands on Earth, with Kitai and Cypher as the only two survivors. Both of Dad's legs are broken, leaving young Kitai to prove his worth and perform the necessary action. That action is to locate a beacon that can send a distress signal back home. Retrieving that beacon is no easy task because everything on the planet has evolved to kill humanity. In what sounds like a single-player video game design, young Kitai has to reach hot spots every night to stay alive. He has six inhalable vials enabling him to breathe in the atmosphere. He also is fitted with "smart fabric", clothing that changes color to suit the situation, and a naviband on his arm which allows him to maintain constant visual and aural contact with his father, who is bound to the fuselage wreckage.

Kitai faces an assortment of obstacles, from a toxic paralyzing agent in the sting of a leech to ravenous bears and giant birds. His Dad coaches him through the process, instructing him every once in a while to "take a knee, Cadet" and stay sharp. Both father and son remain haunted by memories of Kitai's older sister (Zoë Isabelle Kravitz), who was killed in front of Kitai, while he followed her orders to remain in a protective bubble. The encounter with the leech diminishes Kitai's vial count, prompting Cypher to abort the mission, orders Kitai disobeys.

Will Smith's character, the fearless warrior Cypher Raig, spends most of the movie seated in airplane wreckage with two broken legs.

The secret to Will Smith's movie stardom, to which he effortlessly transitioned from a moderately popular NBC sitcom, has been picking projects with the broadest appeal. Spectacular subjects like alien invasion, robot uprising and superheroes lend to big business.
The always charismatic and entertaining Smith has generated enough goodwill from those must-see event movies that he has even managed to make smash hits out of human interest drama The Pursuit of Happyness, romantic comedy Hitch and the post-apocalyptic I Am Legend. From Men in Black II (2002) to Hancock (2008), Smith headlined eight consecutive films that all easily passed the $100 million domestic mark, an extraordinary streak only a few mega stars have ever rivaled. Few non-sequel live-action films gross $200 M or more stateside; Smith has starred in four of them.

That prolonged popularity, which extended to last year's Men in Black 3, the actor's first movie in three and a half years, has to do wonders for one's confidence. That Jaden was able to put up comparable numbers in the Will-produced 2010 Karate Kid remake suggested that superstardom was in his DNA. Such a thought makes it easy to imagine how this vanity family project took shape. It would reinforce Jaden's leading man abilities, with Will's presence virtually guaranteeing success. With adulthood just a few quick years away, the cycle could start all over again, with son getting a head start on father's young rise to multimedia sensation.

Paternal pride and a practically perfect track record do not seem like bad starting points, but when they are then married to this kind of grandiose science fiction and placed in the hands of Shyamalan, things start to go awry. While Will has proven his acting chops on occasion, his success has hedged largely on his knack for playing the amusing everyman to ground fantastical events in old-fashioned, wise-cracking, cool heroism. Not only has Jaden yet to master that act, he's yet to master acting. And why should he? He was thirteen years old making this, too young to worry about craft and too privileged to have to fight for opportunities.

Alas, After Earth demands a strong lead performance from the kid. It makes that extremely difficult by saddling him with a bizarrely inconsistent affected accent, weird dialogue, a basically no-name supporting cast, and tidy conflict to be worked out in post-production. It's a humorless one-man show. With Dad occasionally talking into his ear, the whole thing feels like a metaphor for Jaden accepting the baton and making his Papa proud. And though that obviously happens in the film, this slow, tedious, illogical presentation does not make it so in the real world.

In the 22nd century, Earth's leeches have evolved to have a crippling effect. Kitai's deceased older sister (Zoë Isabelle Kravitz) appears to him from beyond the grave.

Jaden is young and can easily rebound from this setback. If he wants to pursue a film career (and that isn't clear), he's probably going to have to make it at least look like he's trying and not coasting on his father's name. The harsh reaction to this movie would probably discourage even the most resolute teenager.

Less clear is where Shyamalan, who also wrote and produced this, goes from here. After such a strong start, the director has stumbled to such extremes where you can't imagine things getting any worse. But they do: Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender, and now this. You'd think the hostility his recent films elicit must by partly fueled by jealousy at the tremendous success he found at a young age that seemingly went to his head. But does anyone still care about Shyamalan's ego or that faux documentary the former Sci-Fi Channel once devoted to it? No amount of schaudenfreude can explain how difficult it is to find anyone who isn't a troll or professional contrarian who can defend his latest movies or see how they add to his artistic progression.

Shyamalan's struggles are baffling. The abandonment of casting himself in supporting roles of increasing importance seems like a noble concession. He even seems open to authorial collaboration (he shares screenplay credit with The Book of Eli's Gary Whitta here). It just does not make sense that someone who could write and direct something with the massive impact of The Sixth Sense can suddenly cease to put together a competent, watchable film.

After Earth seems sadly comparable to Battlefield Earth, the disastrous 2000 sci-fi movie John Travolta has never fully lived down. You don't want to see that kind of failure attached to the immensely likable Will Smith, even after he confessed that he somehow turned down the title role in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained for not being the lead, yet is fully okay playing second fiddle to his son.

With the memory of its flopping and thrashing somewhat faded, After Earth is now available to own on DVD and in the Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet combo pack reviewed here.

After Earth: Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.39:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English, French), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Descriptive Service, Spanish)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Descriptive Video Service, Spanish
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras Subtitled in English; Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: October 8, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in standalone DVD ($29.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

After Earth may have more than its fair share of problems, but it is technically sound, as a $150 million production ought to be. It's also treated to one of Sony's characteristically excellent Blu-ray transfers. The vibrant 2.40:1 picture and potent 5.1 DTS-HD master audio do everything to enhance the film's drama they can. Imagine how flat it'd fall without such polish. The detailed picture is especially impressive under close scrutiny; whether or not that has anything to do with the rear cover's claim that this was mastered in 4K, I don't know.

Will Smith dubs his son "Jaden Seymour Hoffman" in their on-set banter. This alternate opening brings us into the 22nd century with animation.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

After Earth is joined by a fairly unremarkable collection of featurettes, some of which are exclusive to Blu-ray, which presents all of them in HD.

First up is "A Father's Legacy" (8:51) collects remarks on the project from the Smiths, Shyamalan, and others in addition to dispensing behind-the-scenes footage of Jaden's training and production. This just in: Will Smith has predominantly gray hair!

An alternate opening (2:19) brings Earth 1,000 years into the future a little more gracefully and ambiguously with painterly digital animation.

Turns out smart fabric isn't real, as costume designer Amy Westcott needed separate suits to dress Kitai in different colors. You didn't think this animatic likeness of Jaden Smith drew itself, did you?

"Building a World" (12:00) covers production design, a subject to which the filmmakers devoted considerable thought.

"Pre-Visualizing the Future" (5:50) explains how the filmmakers used computer animation after principal photography was completed to make the most of the footage.

"The Animatics of After Earth" (8:39) discusses the modern version of storyboards, which it treats us to numerous glimpses of and compares them to the corresponding scenes from the finished film, assuming they weren't cut.

M. Night Shyamalan looks through the script to see if he can squeeze a twist ending in there in "1,000 Years in 300 Seconds." The natural beauty of After Earth's filming locations is captured in a feature you can turn into a screensaver loop.

"1,000 Years in 300 Seconds" (5:25) supplies more behind-the-scenes looks at filming, without too much regard for its title.

"The Nature of the Future" (5:22) simply gathers striking footage of mountains, waterfalls, and flowers from filming locations around the globe.

It gives you the option to loop it as a screensaver, if you are so inclined.

Finally, "XPrize After Earth Challenge" (3:35) excerpts from video submissions for the film's promotional environmental contest, before a pre-taped Jaden introduces the winning submission. As usual, the girls with braces and LEGOs win!

The same DVD sold on its own, the set's secondary disc includes "A Father's Legacy", "1,000 Years in 300 Seconds", "The Nature of the Future", and the "XPrize After Earth Challenge." It comes in well under dual-layered disc capacity.

Both discs open with a Blu-ray promo and trailers for Grown Ups 2, White House Down, and One Direction: This Is Us. The Previews sections hold all but the first, plus additional trailers for Battle of the Year and The Kings of Summer. After Earth's own trailer is a regrettable no-show.

Both discs opt for a static, scored main menu shot of father and son. Like most Sony Blu-rays, this one supports bookmarks and resumes playback in most every imaginable situation.

The side-snapped keepcase is topped by a slipcover reproducing the cover artwork that interestingly plays up Will and downplays Jaden. An insert supplies your combination Sony Movie Rewards/UltraViolet code.

Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) tries to send a distress signal from the recovered beacon in the snowy climax of "After Earth."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I really wanted After Earth to not be as bad as everyone said it was. Maybe its problems have been overstated slightly. Still, this Jaden Smith vehicle is an unfortunately lifeless sci-fi outing that falls short of his father's usually high standard of entertainment. One of these days, M. Night Shyamalan will bounce back. But not today.

Sony's Blu-ray combo pack treats the film to the highest picture and sound quality available. Neither that technical prowess nor the standard assembly of bonus features keeps the film from disappointing. This is the rare Will Smith movie you'd probably regret renting or buying.

Buy After Earth from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Jaden Smith: The Karate Kid (2010) | Will Smith: Hancock • Men in Black • Men in Black II • Men in Black 3 • Enemy of the State
M. Night Shyamalan: The Happening • Wide Awake • The Village • The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan
New: The Croods • World War Z • Now You See Me • The Neighbors: The Complete First Season
Zoë Kravitz: X-Men: First Class | Sophie Okonedo: Martian Child • Dirty Pretty Things
The Hunger Games • I Am Number Four • Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) • Avatar

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Reviewed October 11, 2013.



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