Follow TV Tropes


Film / After Earth

Go To
Take a knee, cadet.
"This is a Class 1 quarantined planet. The threats we will be facing are real. Everything in this planet is evolved to kill humans. Every single decision we make will be life or death."
Cypher Raige

After Earth is a 2013 post-apocalyptic science-fiction action film directed by M. Night Shyamalan, co-written by Shyamalan and Gary Whitta, and starring Will Smith and his son Jaden Smith.note  It was released on May 31, 2013.

The film is set in a distant future, 1,000 years after humans evacuated Earth due to a massive environmental catastrophe. Cypher and Kitai Raige, father and son, are the sole survivors of a spaceship that crashed on what turns out to be an abandoned Earth. Cypher is mortally injured in the crash, which means Kitai must travel across the wild environment alone to activate the distress beacon in the wreckage of their ship, with highly evolved animals and extraterrestrial creatures that detect prey by smelling their fear in his path.

The original story idea for the film came from Will Smith himself, and he hired Whitta to develop the idea more thoroughly. Shyamalan also made a few passes at it, although his involvement is so downplayed that it wasn't mentioned in any of the trailers or promotional material — which many believe was due to the negative reputation he had accrued with his past few films.

In 2018, it was revealed that the film was intended to be the first installment in a Shared Universe franchise titled 1000 AE that would have included a sequel to the film, multiple TV series, a video game, theme park attractions, an educational program in collaboration with NASA, cologne and perfume lines, and a social media platform, among other media. All of these plans were abandoned following the critical and commercial failure of the film.

Danger is real. These tropes are a choice:

  • Abusive Parents: The dinner table scene, with Cypher's aloofness to his son, makes him seem like this. We later learn that (in Kitai's opinion) he believes his son is a coward, because he didn't face down the Ursa that killed his adult sister when he was a child. It is left ambiguous whether this is true or not, though it would be somewhat out of character for General Raige, a highly compassionate leader.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The novelization provides plenty of extended points of view (even from some of the ancestors of the Raige family) and information on the setting.
  • After the End: The setting of the film is set a thousand years after humans almost destroyed Earth by environmental mismanagement and were forced to emigrate to another planet, where they encountered a hostile alien species with which they entered into a prolonged war. Exactly what happened is explained in supplemental material.
  • All There in the Manual: In regards to the Backstory of AE's fictional universe.
  • Anti-True Sight: The alien monsters can detect humans by smelling the pheromones released by fear, Ghosting is a technique in which the subject feels no fear and becomes invisible to the monster.
  • Archaic Weapon for an Advanced Age: The Ranger Corps prefer to use melee instead of projectile weapons.
  • Artistic License – Physics: A little thing called the greenhouse effect renders wild temperature swings like those seen in the movie impossible. Besides which, if such temperature swings were possible, then the trek to the tail would be impossible on account of the massive superstorms rendering the path impassable.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Species do not evolve to do something, they evolve because something provided an advantage for survival or reproduction. Unless it's a metaphor for "Everything wants to kill everything else, including you, and is very fit for it", a planet where "everything has evolved to kill humans" while the humans were absolutely absent from it, makes about as much sense as saying that everything currently on our planet evolved to hunt Neptunians.
    • Additionally, the giant eagle should have adapted already if the planet freezes every single night. She should not have died of exposure if she had been alive for dozens of years in that environment. Plus, if she died during the night, then her corpse wouldn't have held heat long enough to warm Kitai and save him from dying anyway.
  • "Back to Camera" Pose: The teaser poster sees Cypher on his crashed spaceship overlooking a jungle on Earth, which has now become a Death World. This pose indicates that despite the familiar scenery we're meant to sympathize with the man on the ship.
  • Bait-and-Switch: A subtle and unintentional one. When Kitai hallucinates/dreams of Senshi telling him “You're still in that box,” many confused viewers thought it was setting up a twist in which Katai is still in the box after Senshi's death and has been hallucinating most of the movie's events.
  • Bears Are Bad News: "Ursa" is the Latin word for bear and the Ursa is certainly bad news.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Senshi cared dearly for her little brother. She spent her last moments protecting him from an Ursa.
  • Bizarre Alien Senses: Ursa are able to sense human fear. While this is all well and good, they have no eyes, and anyone who can suppress their fear becomes effectively invisible to the Ursa, implying that sensing fear is literally the only sense they have. One wonders how they navigate the terrain.
  • Blatant Lies: Kitai begins his quest with a pack of potion devices that enhance his respiratory system but two bottles get broken on the way. He lies about it to Cypher when told to report his inventory, but Cypher can tell from Kitai's heart rate that something's wrong and demands proof the next time he orders a report.
  • Body Horror: Kitai is bitten by a leech-like creature that causes a gruesome infection in his hand. Also, the way the Ursa sets up traps to frighten its human prey certainly count. It impales them on tree branches.
  • Breath Weapon: The Ursa can launch an acid-like projectile from their mouths.
  • Brick Joke: Kitai asks if whales were real early in the film, because he's been reading Moby-Dick. The final shot of the departure from Earth pans from land to the ocean, where dozens of supersized whale backs can be seen cutting through the waves.
  • Chameleon Camouflage: The Ursa can go invisible, and decloak when they strike, presumably to get a better bead on their now-spooked target.
  • Chase Stops at Water: The baboons stop chasing Kitai when he cuts through a river to get away from them.
  • Convection, Schmonvection: Kitai takes refuge in a cave with a ledge overlooking an active lava flow and is no worse for wear, and even lights a campfire to make it cozier. Later on, after nearly freezing to death in the wilderness, he runs and jumps up the side of an active volcano, coming within feet of large cracks that glow with the heat of the lava.
  • Cool Big Sis: Kitai's big sis, Ranger Senshi. She was killed by an Ursa protecting him as a child.
  • Death World: Earth has become one, with the planet's ecosystems being dangerous to the now offworld-living humans. (However, only one of the animals that attacked Kitai — the leech — did so without provocation. He threw a rock at the baboon, challenged the cat, and the eagle... had its own reasons.)
  • Data Pad: Cypher uses one that seems to be foldable and floppy like a sheet of paper.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Cypher Raige has to spend his entire time calming his terrified/angry/idiotic son with nothing but his tone of voice. It's obvious he is near weeping with fear for the life or death predicaments his son is in, but has to keep repeating simple instructions to salvage the situation.
  • Double Meaning: "Where is my son?" from a father who is disappointed his son failed to become a ranger. "I've lost contact with our son." Cypher brought Kitai on the mission to establish contact with his son.
  • Dream Sequence: Kitai goes to sleep on a raft floating down a river. It is immediately clear that he is dreaming, as his sister is there.
  • Dull Surprise: Raised to the point of it being a recognised Martial Art, as experiencing fear will get you caught by the fear-smelling Ursa.
  • Earth That Was: Earth as a planet is fine, it's just that it isn't inhabited by humans anymore.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: The wildlife of Earth for reasons explained in the backstory and reasons gradually revealed in the movie. This was played up in the trailer, but in the actual film the animals didn't behave this way at all.
  • Eyeless Face: The Ursa, completely blind monsters that have been genetically engineered to hunt humans by the smell of the pheromones released when a human becomes frightened.
  • A Father to His Men: General Cypher Raige is respected and looked up to by his fellow rangers, including one who was apparently saved by him from an Ursa.
  • Fictional Accent: Everyone speaks with an accent that was created from scratch to sound futuristic.
  • Finagle's Law: Cypher estimates that the chances of the Ursa surviving is the least likely. Guess what actually happens.
  • Foreshadowing: Kitai tells his father he is reading Moby Dick, a novel about a physically disabled captain pursuing a monster. Guess what happens to the commander of the ship?
  • General Badass: General Cypher. In the beginning of the film, he becomes the first Ranger capable of ghosting, showing no fear whatsoever, and thus rendering himself invisible to the Ursa.
  • Generation Xerox: After the death of his Ranger sister, Kitai wants to become a Ranger (and possibly a Ghost too) so that his father has someone to be proud of.
  • Green Aesop: Apparently humans screwed Earth up so badly that it was uninhabitable. However, when Kitai sees Earth, it's a world of stunning vistas and incredible wildlife—within just a thousand years, nature has reclaimed the world and cleaned it up rather nicely. So along with an environmental message, the film also lets us know that nature's tougher than we suspect. That said, the wildlife is much bolder than while humans lived there. They're not actually "evolved to kill humans", but they're perfectly capable of killing them anyway.
  • Happy Flashback: Both Cypher and Kitai have a couple of flashbacks to happier times with their family.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The giant bird that took Kitai to her nest earlier in the film saves him after he fails to reach a hot spot. Most likely because of his attempts to save her chicks from the cats earlier. She dies in the process of keeping him warm.
  • Hollywood Tactics: The strange tactics implied to be in use (such as favouring mêlée weapons over ranged ones) are justified since the film is set in a human culture that's trying to avoid ultra-high-tech dominance, preferring organically-dominant technology with as little high-tech as they want to risk. This allows for stylized action sequences involving the use of swords/spears, martial arts, and agile chase scenes.
  • How We Got Here: The opening shot shows Kitai awakening after the ship's crash. Then the movie cuts back to three days earlier, explaining how he ended up there.
  • Idiot Ball: If Kitai didn't REPEATEDLY panic and completely ignore his father's very simple advice, this would be a much shorter film.
  • I'm Not Afraid of You: Because they track down prey using fear pheromones, if the target is unafraid, the Ursa is blind to them. Suppressing all fear for this purpose is known as "ghosting".
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice:
    • The Ursa takes bodies of people it has killed and impales them on tree branches, letting survivors know it's around to get them good and scared.
    • At the climax of the movie, after Kitai learns how to "ghost" like his father, he stabs the Ursa multiple times.
  • Informed Ability: For a world where "everything has evolved to kill humans", there is remarkably little that's actually hostile. Apart from the Ursa, the wildlife doesn't seem any more dangerous than what we have today. (This may be Fridge Brilliance - while most predators didn't evolve to SPECIFICALLY kill humans, because they CAN if given incentive, you may as well treat them as if they did.)
  • Kidnapping Bird of Prey: It's never quite clear whether the eagle wanted to feed Kitai to her chicks or adopt him.
  • Living Weapon: The Ursa, a species genetically engineered by the unnamed aliens antagonizing humanity to hunt humans by smell. They look like six-legged things as large as elephants with smooth skin where their eyes should be.
  • Mama Bear: Do not come between the giant eagle and her offspring. She also becomes protective of Kitai after she loses all her chicks, watching over him from above and saving him from freezing to death.
  • Minimalist Cast: Downplayed; While there are some scenes in the beginning and the end of the movie filled with extras, only a few characters are actually focused on or given characterization/significance. Besides Kitai and Cypher, the only other noteworthy characters are Cypher’s wife, Kitai’s sister (in flashbacks), and a few crew members of Cypher’s ship, and they do not even get a lot of screen time.
  • Mission Control: Cypher spends most of the film confined to the wreckage of the fore of the crashed spaceship, where he takes pains to always maintain the cool, detached façade of a military commander.
  • Mook Horror Show: The Ursa kills about twenty baboons for no apparent reason, leaving their carcasses in a heap.
  • Morph Weapon: The Cutlass; its unique design extends its sharp bladed ends in a variety of shapes which can be chosen by the holder, each blade shape seemingly fitting a different style of attack.
  • Noble Bird of Prey: A giant eagle is one of the inhabitants of the new Earth. It fights off an entire pack of predatory cats!
  • No Escape but Down: Kitai has to jump off a cliff in order to safe himself from a tiger-like beast.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Cypher lost his daughter to an Ursa prior to the movie’s main events and he spends the majority of the movie worrying about his son being out in the wild while Cypher is immobile at their ship’s crash site. Even worse is that he can see what his son sees, but he’s unable to do anything to protect his son other than tell him what to do.
  • Panthera Awesome: Some sort of big cats attack the eagle nest. They don't go after Kitai, though; they're more interested in the helpless baby birds. They only attack Kitai when he decides to defend the eaglets.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Would all evidence of human civilization disappear in only a thousand years? You bet it would. Ironically the neolithic cave paintings Kitai finds would survive just as depicted as well, for the same reason they survived until the modern era - they were in a sheltered place.
    • Also the animals... most people seem to assume they are "newly evolved" animals rather than just fancifully rendered regular earth animals that are currently confined to nature programs about the few remaining scraps of wilderness on our planet.
  • Reclaimed by Nature: The movie takes place on Earth 1000 years after Humanity had to evacuate due to environmental mismanagement. It has since turned into a Death World where nature is doing just fine on its own.
  • Redshirt Army: Most of the crew of the transport ship is just there to be killed by either the crash or the Ursa.
  • Retirony: The mission that led to Cypher and his son crash-landing on Earth was supposed to be Cypher's last voyage before retirement. Subverted, as he is severely wounded but survives.
  • Rule of Drama: The only reason there is so much soul-searching and bickering about the past when the main characters should instead be focused on survival is because it's dramatic.
  • Scenery Porn:
    • When not being attacked by the extremely dangerous fauna, the landscapes of Earth are absolutely breathtaking.
    • Nova Prime is richly designed, particularly after building the human settlements.
  • Space Amish: The background material states that a new religion was founded which opposes industrialization. The Rangers seem to have a particular aversion to projectile weapons — the only weapon they are shown using are their shape-shifting "Cutlass" melee weapons.
  • Sense-Impaired Monster: The Ursa are alien Bioweapon Beasts that were engineered specifically to hunt and kill humans, having been granted the ability to locate their prey through the pheromones released as a product of fear. As such, they lack eyes due to relying exclusively on this function to track down humans. This weakness is exploited by the Ranger Corps, who employ a technique known as "ghosting" that involves suppressing one's fear to render them practically invisible to the Ursa, allowing them to fight back.
  • The Stoic: Cypher Raige has gotten so used to suppressing his emotions that he turns into this. He still has emotional outbursts from time to time, but he keeps emotions to a minimum for the most of the movie.
  • Super-Persistent Predator:
    • Subverted with regards to the giant bird. After Kitai attempts to protect the bird's chicks, she follows him, and ultimately sacrifices herself to keep him warm after he passes out from the freezing temperatures.
    • The Ursa impales some of the crew on the ship to cause fear in Kitai so it can sense where he is and chase after him during the lengthy climax.
    • Completely justified with regards to the Ursa in general, because the Ursas were created specifically to hunt and kill humans.
  • Tranquil Fury: What General Cypher and later Kitai display when taking on the Ursa. They are both eerily calm while there are giant monsters thrashing around them, and in the former's case, people being killed.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Smith was reportedly inspired by an episode of the Reality Television/documentary show I Shouldn't Be Alive. The episode in question featured a father-and-son duo who crashed their car in a remote area, with the son having to go for help alone. It's probably safe to say that no aliens were involved in that story.
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback: The film often cuts to scenes taking place in the past, all involving Ranger Senshi, Kitai's deceased elder sister.
  • Voice with an Internet Connection: Cypher is injured in the crash, requiring Kitai to venture out alone with a two-way communicator that lets his father see everything that's going on and remain in constant contact with Kitai.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The prologue describes how a race of unseen aliens drove humanity off of Earth and inspired their philosophy of controlling fear. These aliens disappear from the narrative after that prologue and have literally nothing to do with the rest of the movie.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: All the humans speak in a strange quasi-Boston affected accent that's supposed to be some sort of "future English." Depending on the actor, the accent sounds like a weird mix between General American, British RP, a hint of India, some influences from Ebonics, and a little kid's slurred speech. Of course, this might just make sense, since humans left Earth together.