Sometimes it's nice when fiction is simple.
I mean, it's nice when a story decides what it wants to be or to do and then goes along with it. Sometimes I think stories get bogged down by details that don't necessarily help it along to one point. I always like to use the example of Pip going to the theatre in Great Expectations; it has little bearing on the story, but Dickens describes the scenes in such long, drawn-out detail. The same goes on in plenty of movies today, where we have action sequences just for the sake of action sequences and other similar things.
So that's why I found After Earth a bit refreshing.
When the trailers were playing for this movie, I thought it seemed okay, the type of movie I'd watch if I got the chance but probably wouldn't make a priority. Then the bad reviews started coming in and the whole box office flop thing. I mostly forgot about the movie until I had the opportunity to watch it a couple days ago. It seemed worth it just to see Will Smith and Jaden Smith working together again.
During the beginning of the movie, I was thinking that it wasn't particularly unique. Of course, no fiction is wholly unique. But I was thinking that we had seen the ruining of Earth before, the colonization of other planets, the war with an alien race, a father and son story, all of that. But then once the story brought us to the planet, something seemed to change. The story wasn't about the ruining of Earth or space travel or war with aliens anymore. It was about a father teaching his son something he had learned about life.
You see, watching this movie was rather like reading a book. What the camera chooses to show you matters. The camera dictates what you are to think and what you are to feel. There was some criticism for the acting in this movie, right? But while we may not have seen Will Smith's character weeping out in worry about his son's safety, we did see little things. When he looks at the pain killer box that warns about causing sleepiness, we know he's weighing options: his own physical pain versus his desire to stay awake to watch his son in case of any danger. The camera gave us that emotion in a simple and direct way that didn't need theatrical acting.
And then there is this "point to the story" that I mentioned. Plot-wise, it is the ability to eliminate fear--I would probably reword that, for our world, as the ability to control fear. All throughout, the enemy is vague except that in that it smells fear and violently kills. This vagueness means that the point is not war with an outside enemy; it is war with something within. Once Jaden's character reaches a point of resolution where he understands that if he dies, he just dies, then he can understand what it is to not be afraid. And once he has had this way of looking into the face of life and death and reigning in his fear, he no longer wants to face and defeat that fear.
Here is where I think the movie differed from others. A standard action movie would have had Kitai become a great warrior and possibly win the war to save all of humanity. But the story isn't about war. Kitai didn't need to learn to fight or to kill. He needed to learn a personal growth lesson. So once he had learned that lesson, he was free. It was before he learned that he wanted to join the Rangers and try to make up for the horrible memory in his past; now he can move on. Seeing what life and death (or past, present, and future) mean for himself, he can move on.
It still isn't my favorite movie in the world, but it made me think. And everything about it was designed to one end, not simply to create a spectacle of action and battles. So I found it an interesting movie.