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    husband, dad, teacher, filmmaker, writer, film geek, musician, DIYer, vegetarian, Bulldog, Buckeye, Nighthawk

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About After Earth Being Called the Worst Movie Ever…

ImageThe critical reaction to After Earth is a lesson in how much external factors can influence a film’s reception. Numerous critics are calling it one of the worst movies ever made, many comparing it to Battlefield Earth. Some are speculating about the grave damage this will do to the Smith Brand, especially after the movie’s wretched $27 million debut weekend. (Gotta give a nod to Jonathan Hickman for first bringing this up. I shrugged off his suggestion that this might do lingering harm to Will Smith’s bankability, but I know now he had a point.) I gave the movie a modest seal of approval, mostly for the restraint shown by its director, M. Night Shyamalan.

But then, I had the benefit of naivete when I saw it.

First, I didn’t even know Shyamalan directed it until I arrived at the cinema. His name does not appear in the U.S. trailer, and I hadn’t had time to do the usual recon before the screening. (And really, does it usually matter who directs a blockbuster? Unless it’s Joss Whedon or Christopher Nolan, the movie is going to follow a template provided by the producers anyway.) A fellow reviewer mentioned Shyamalan’s involvement as we were waiting to be let in. So I didn’t endure the week of dread that precedes every Shyamalan release since his movies went from pretty good to embarrassing to unbearable.

By the time I walked into the theatre, I had extremely modest expectations – especially since I have yet to see a really good blockbuster this summer. Iron Man 3 was horribly written, Fast and Furious 6 was horrible in every possible way, and I missed Star Trek Into Darkness, about which I hear good things (although it troubles me that the STID screenplay apparently just riffs on setups the franchise has used before). I wasn’t asking for much from After Earth beyond uncomplicated entertainment.

Second, I know almost nothing about Scientology. I simply don’t care about it as a belief system, I am not fascinated by cults, and gossip bores me to death. That pretty much eliminates any reason for me to know the least bit about Scientology.

But if I had known something about Scientology prior to seeing After Earth, I’m fairly certain I would have responded totally differently. Jump over to The Hollywood Reporter and read this convincing guest column by former Scientologist Marc Headley. It seems that each key piece of advice that Will Smith’s father character gives to Jaden Smith’s son character comes straight from Scientology. That constitutes a lot of the film’s dialogue. Much of the film’s imagery and symbolism apparently have roots in Scientology, too.

In hindsight, it’s impossible to regard the movie in the same way I did when writing my review. I simply missed all of the propaganda. I now know this is a much shallower, disingenuous movie than I thought.

So, do I now think this is one of the worst movies ever? No, absolutely not.

Movies worthy of being put in the Worst Ever category are marked by incoherent stories and incompetent craft. Neither can be said about After Earth. Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender is a better candidate for worst movie ever, especially given the outstanding source material he had to work with. Few animated series have ever been written as well as Avatar, yet Shyamalan and his crew completely bungled it.

Another recent candidate for Worst Movie Ever is Fast and Furious 6. Several scenes could be removed from that movie and the story wouldn’t change. That story is forced and contrived to begin with, and its MacGuffin makes no sense. If you have yet to watch it, I’ll bet by the beginning of the third act you can’t even remember what this “Nightshade” thing even is, nor will you understand how it is driving the story – nor will you care. It is incoherent storytelling. And oh, how ridiculous the chase scenes are.

Yet, Fast and Furious 6 currently has a 72% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while After Earth has a 12%. Neither movie deserves its rating. The former isn’t that good, and the latter isn’t that bad.

But in the case of After Earth, we can clearly see the effects of three things. 1) Piling on the disdain for Shyamalan. Let’s face it, lots of people were never going to give this movie a chance because Shyamalan’s stock has fallen so low. I can’t say I blame those people. Shyamalan has been given every opportunity to become one of the most successful directors in Hollywood, but he has blown it. The only difference between me and them is that I had the chance to temporarily forget all of that. 2) The Scientology angle. 3) A lot of people seem to resent how Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith are using their industry clout to construct a career for their son.

It seems clear at this point that After Earth never had a chance, at least in the US. Perhaps it will recover a bit overseas, where it might not be saddled with the same baggage. Here, though, it was as doomed as the Earth-dwelling humanity which the movie represents.

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