The latest trend in sci-fi seems to be returning to a post-apocalyptic Earth, trashed after a run-in with extraterrestrials, and still coming out on top. Both Tom Cruise with Oblivion and Will Smith with After Earth have taken a crack at it. As opposed to other apocalyptic visions from recent years, like The Road and Book of Eli, which basically say once things go south on us, we land in a shithole we’re not likely to recover from, these two new contenders in the realm of post-Earth survival manage to leap past tragic events to a time of return where the technology still works, people persevere somewhere else, and the home planet needs some serious saving.
A crash-landing leaves teenager Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) and his legendary father Cypher (legendary father Will Smith) stranded on Earth a thousand years after cataclysmic events forced humanity’s escape. With Cypher critically injured, Kitai must embark on a perilous journey to signal for help, facing uncharted terrain, evolved animal species that now rule the planet, and an unstoppable alien creature that escaped during the crash. Father and son must learn to work together and trust one another if they’re to have any chance of returning home. Oh, and Will Smith is behind this production from start to finish, giving the man one of the most expensive family bonding experiences in human history. He hired M. Night Shyamalan to direct. More later…
On a spectacular, future Earth that has evolved beyond recognition, one man’s confrontation with the past will lead him on a journey of redemption and discovery as he battles to save mankind. Jack Harper (Cruise) serves as a security repairmen stationed on an evacuated Earth. Part of a massive operation to extract vital resources after decades of war with a terrifying alien threat that still scavenges what’s left of our planet, Jack’s mission involves patrolling the breathtaking skies from thousands of feet above. It will probably not rate as a spoiler to say that the fate of humanity is in his hands.
Oblivion will make you believe its story until the very end, while After Earth will never earn your belief even at the beginning. The look of Oblivion is just fantastic. Director Joseph Kosinski has nailed this world. It’s beautiful and sad from some angles, and it’s technological and authentic on other levels. It’s jam-packed with CGI, but that never seems to be something that takes over. On the other hand, Shyamalan’s After Earth never gets out of the uncanny valley. Maybe it’s all the animals, but it’s never quite right. Both Cruise and Smith are committed to their characters, but Cruise nails his and Smith falls short. We like Will Smith because he’s got a certain cool but, in this film, he’s just the Great Santini, always on his kid’s case. The story of Oblivion has a surprise built in, but After Earth seems so predictable. I mean, is there any risk that father and son won’t learn from this experience and work it out between them?
After Earth’s brand of apocalypse loses out to the more finely tuned and played version that Oblivion represents. If you have a chance to still see Oblivion in a theater, it’s worth it. After Earth, not so much.