With the summer movie season winding down, I thought I’d take the opportunity to reflect on it. There were a good number of box office hits (some of which were surprise hits, such as James Wan’s The Conjuring). There were a large number of flops, with the biggest probably being Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger. And yet, that’s not the biggest disappointment of the summer (I can’t think of anyone I know who thought that The Lone Ranger was going to be good). For me, one of the biggest disappointments of the summer is M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth. No, it isn’t because it’s similar to the much superior Joseph Kosinski film Oblivion, which came out roughly a month-and-a-half before After Earth. It’s because it stars Will Smith and is directed by Shyamalan.
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Will Smith and science fiction cinema were once a winning combination at the box office. I remember a time when you could go see a sci-fi film featuring Mr. Smith and come out of that film entertained and proud to have seen a good film (which occurred as recently as last summer in 2012). Unfortunately, that changed this past summer. Here’s a glimpse of Will Smith’s history with science fiction:
1996’s Independence Day, 1997’s Men In Black, 2002’s Men In Black II, 2004’s I, Robot, 2007’s I Am Legend (the unrated version with the original ending), and 2012’s Men In Black 3: These are six terrific films that Smith has every reason to be proud of. That’s largely what makes After Earth so disappointing; that he actually made a terrible sci-fi film. Then of course there’s Shyamalan’s involvement, which no doubt contributed to the film’s awfulness. It was hoped by many that After Earth would mark Shyamalan’s return to grace after a string of stinkers (2006’s Lady In the Water, 2008’s The Happening, and 2010’s The Last Airbender), but once the first trailers for After Earth appeared, doom was the film’s only destiny. Sony thought that keeping Shyamalan’s name off of the majority of the marketing materials (including the trailers) might give the film a chance, but they were very wrong. The story didn’t seem very interesting (there were rumors about it being inspired or influenced by Scientology, which might explain a few things), and it seemed like Will was trying to give his son Jaden his own summer blockbuster franchise. As weird as Will’s accent was, the fact that he spends most of the film sitting in a chair due to an injury was even weirder (again, he largely has Shyamalan to blame for this).
I would’ve found the film more interesting if Will’s character had actually died but transferred his consciousness to a holographic program contained in some small device. Jaden could then take it with him and use it to help him guide his way through the challenges that lay ahead. Is it a little similar to Superman and a holographic Jor-El: yes, I admit that. But at least it would be more interesting and would potentially make a fascinating character study for Jaden’s character. Perhaps that would’ve gotten me to actually go see it (maybe). But I didn’t, and that’s all thanks to Mr. M. Night Shyamalan, who ruined Will Smith’s perfect streak with sci-fi cinema. Whatever happened to the M. Night Shyamalan who made 1999’s The Sixth Sense, 2000’s Unbreakable, 2002’s Signs, and 2004’s The Village? I miss that guy. Anyway, rumor has it that M. Night is going to bring John Cazale back from the dead and force him to appear in a movie that doesn’t get an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, thus ruining Cazale’s perfect streak of having appeared only in Best Picture nominees.
Also, kudos to everyone who understood the reference of this post’s title (if you didn’t get it, check out Will Smith’s discography as a hint).