Saturday, June 1, 2013

YA Guy Reviews... AFTER EARTH

YA Guy doesn't typically review movies.

But YA Guy loves fantasy and sci-fi, both movies and books.  (Just take a look at my Top 10 list if you don't believe me.)

And AFTER EARTH, the new Will and Jaden Smith vehicle from oft-reviled, sometimes-celebrated director M. Night Shyamalan, is so perfect for this blog, I couldn't resist.  It's a totally YA-guy film, with an early-teen male protagonist, a father-son relationship, a host of cool monsters, and a bunch of lessons in courage and responsibility.  So I trust you'll indulge me if I depart somewhat from form.

AFTER EARTH takes place a thousand or so years after human beings have destroyed the earth's environment and effectively driven themselves from the planet.  Setting up shop on another planet, they find to their dismay that it's already inhabited--and that the natives aren't keen on company.  They unleash monstrous beasts called Ursa, which are blind but can smell the human fear response and hunt their prey without eyes.  Only people who can "ghost"--suppress their fear--can escape and fight back against these fearsome predators.

And guess what?  Will Smith is one such guy.

A general and a celebrated hero of the battles against the Ursa, Smith (whose character's name I won't even try to write out) is also an absentee dad, too preoccupied with his military leadership to pay any attention to his son.  That all changes, however, when the two are the sole survivors of a crash landing back on earth--and the son needs to venture into this hostile environment to find the homing beacon that's the last hope for him and his gravely injured father.

The story of AFTER EARTH is pretty simple: a boy has to become a man, and a man has to become a father.  The film hints at other thematic elements--environmental degradation, colonialism, militarism--but these take a definite back seat to the twin quest narratives.  It's not exactly thrilling stuff--you know from the moment the movie starts how both quests are going to end--but it's well-acted (especially by the younger Smith), reasonably well-paced, and mercifully free of the glaring directorial gaffes for which Shyamalan is infamous.  All in all, I'd call it a modest success, neither edge-of-your-seat-gripping nor an epic yawnfest.  It was fun, and maybe that's all it was meant to be.

As a YA-guy film, it was pretty much paint-by-numbers; the arc of the son's development--from tearful mama's boy to Ursa-busting action hero--couldn't have been more predictable.  For me, that was the film's biggest weakness: the boy's growth to manhood held no surprises, and hence no emotional resonance.  When all that's at stake is "will boy become brave?"--and when you know from the get-go how the film's going to answer that question--what's to care about or root for?

I'd love to see more YA-guy films that delve into the complexities of young male adulthood, films like What's Eating Gilbert Grape? or The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  And being the fantasy/sci-fi fiend that I am, I'd love it if some of those films (other than the Harry Potter series) were in the speculative genres.

So you tell me: what are your favorite YA guy films?  Are any of them fantasy or sci-fi?  Which YA-guy books would you love to see made into films?

Eagerly awaiting your answers.

Until then, I'll save you the aisle seat.


  1. I think I've watched What's Eating Gilbert Grape about fifty times!

  2. Me too. The question is, why don't I just buy it for the permanent collection?