This commentary is not going to spoil the movie After Earth if you read it. Go see the film. You will find it one of the few this year worth the nearly ten dollar admission. My main interest is the story, which goes far beyond what is shown in trailers.
I learned long ago to take movie trailers with a grain of salt. Often those present day sideshow barker imitations exist, as did their predecessors, to put butts in the seats. They suck in viewers who want to see the latest, fantastic oddity, like the bearded lady, two-headed cow or Martian baby. Well, the hype for Jaden and Will Smith's After Earth pulled me in, but like many movies the post-apocalyptic drama left a hunger for more. I need to understand more about that future. I want to better grasp what made Will Smith's character, Gen. Cypher Raige, into such a complicated figure. I want to know more about his wife and daughter. I need to see why Jaden Smith's Kitai Raige so deeply feels about his experiences. I suspect budget concerns did not leave much room to flesh out the story. That is why I left with a promise to read Peter David's novelization or other books created to go with this series.
After Earth the movie is about fathers and sons, appropriate for the upcoming Father's Day celebration. The film and the book are also replete with lessons about family, hurt, disappointments and healing. The best part is the story, which if you check Amazon or other book sites, appears as a just-released series of novels and short stories set to cash in on what is likely to be a wave of fandom.
Co-star Will Smith is credited with the development of the tale, which holds more depth than the 99-minute flick is equipped to display. Viewers will wonder whether the tale is autobiographic in some respects, although the tabloids have never signaled any serious father-son drama in the family. The fact that After Earth is set in the next millennium showcases the lack of male role models as problem played out in homes across the world. The rift is often most wide between successful dads and sons forced to live in their shadows. As mentioned, there is much on this part of the story in the movie, but many aspects of what keeps the younger and older males apart go unseen.
In fact, its biggest weakness is the way the screenplay, credited to Book of Eli screen author Gary Whitta and the film's director M. Night Shyamalan, crunch most of the backstory into scattered paragraphs. Those who look at the film's official website will be surprised how much happened in the 1,000 years that precede where the movie story begins. Nonetheless, there is much just enough revealed about the major characters, and they are the tale's richness.
As many sons, Kitai Raige loves his father and wants to be like him. The only problem is the boy resents the old man because he feels abandoned. Gen. Cypher Raige, supreme commander of the United Ranger Corps, commands the military elite that protects humanity in 1000AE (3025AD), and is like a lot of fathers, too. He looks at his male heir with disappointment. The film unveils a lot of the causes of the chasm between them, and entertains viewers with their path to reconciliation and healing.
Peter David's novelization combines three short stories previously published by Del Rey, a Random House subsidiary: After Earth Ghost Stories: Redemption, After Earth Ghost Stories: Savior and After Earth Ghost Stories: Atonement. There is also a prequel, A Perfect Beast: After Earth, by veteran science fiction authors Michael Jan Friedman and Robert Greenberger.
The cautionary aspects of the story about the natural environment, fear and family are important for our time. As mentioned, the essential messages in the story relate across lines of culture and generation. However, it is equally important that movie-goers see the father-son clash played out among African Americans. Black fathers are too often portrayed in American media as unfeeling toward their children, especially sons, yet race is not relevant in the film. The key issue is species in that future, which begins on a new planet called Nova Prime, where humans are daily protected by the Rangers from the threat of alien creatures. After our Earth is wiped out, “human” is the only culture that can matter. That is why fathers, especially those who see themselves as successful should see the film and read the books, then take another look at their sons.