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« Open Thread. Voices (& Comments) Carry | Main | 10 More Critics Prizes: "Argo" & "The Master" Fight For "Zero Dark" Scraps »
Wednesday
Dec192012

Yes, No, Maybe So: "After Earth"

Michael C here. The staggering failure of M. Night Shyamalan’s post-Signs career does not need another chronicling here. Suffice it to say that to approach a new film of his with high expectations would require insane, borderline Little Orphan Annie levels of optimism.

Not that you would know from the trailer that After Earth is the latest M. Night Shyamalan opus since his name appears in the preview exactly zero times. Clearly the studio got word of the peals of laughter the Devil trailer received with its “From the Mind of M. Night Shyamalan” title card.

No this trailer is all about top world box office star Will Smith and his transparent mission to anoint son Jaden heir to his box office throne. Also there seems to be some stuff about crash landing on a strange and dangerous planet in the distant future that turns out to be…wait for it…Earth! Twist!

Breakdown and trailer after the jump...

Yes

  • I’ll say this for Shyamalan: He has a patience that is increasingly rare among directors. Are there any other blockbusters willing to hold shots as long as his movies? This could lead to a sci-fi epic that is defiantly unlike anything in theaters.
  • It appears they took my advice and got Mr. Shyamalan a co-writer, namely Oscar winner Stephen Gaghan best known for writing such flicks as Traffic and Syriana. His script polishing will hopefully reign in many of M. Night’s writerly excesses.
  • Surely Will Smith Inc. wouldn’t risk the brand on yet another M. Night Shyamalan fiasco? Perhaps this could be the end of M. Night the laughingstock, and the start of M. Night, director of competent blockbusters. More impersonal perhaps, but also much less likely to sweep the Razzies.
  • At this point aren’t we obligated to support any blockbuster that is not a sequel, prequel, or remake?


No

  • You may have noticed that I have yet to mention anything in the trailer. I was determined to remain positive for at least part of this post.
  • It’s usually a good sign when Smith isn’t mugging horribly, but I get the impression it’s because Shyamalan bans all inflection from his sets. What is this man’s love affair with monotone line readings?
  • Last time M. Night left his gimmicky sub-Twilight Zone headspace we got Airbender. And cowriter aside the monologue that plays over the trailer still has an unmistakable Ed Wood ring to it. Sorry to go there, but how is self-serious claptrap like this…

Fear is not real. It is the product of thoughts you create. Now do not misunderstand. Danger is very real. But fear is a choice.

not supposed to remind me of this…

We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend; future events such as these will affect you in the future.

  • Will Smith has a perfect right to do whatever he wants with his power and money, including buy his son a film career. And for all I know Jaden Smith is a natural actor, overflowing with talent and charisma. Still, the transparent nepotism on display is a pretty tough pill to swallow. Plus, according to the synopsis, Jaden is the real star, handling the bulk of the action while his father is remains injured in the space shuttle, so the trailer may be guilty of misleading as to the size of Will's role.
  • You don’t hear it in the trailer but Will Smith’s character is named Cypher Raige. I repeat, Cypher Raige. Yeah.

Maybe So

  • It’s pretty clear that this is a not as godawful as Shyamalan’s last few films. Damning with faint praise to be sure, but absent are the glaring red flags that marked stuff like Lady in the Water as a looming disaster.
  • You can usually count on M. Night for some memorable visuals no matter how schlocky the material. The cinematographer is the brilliant Peter Suschitzky, collaborator on all of David Cronenberg’s movies. On the other hand, Airbender was shot by Oscar winner Andrew Lesnie (Babe, Lord of the Rings) and we know how that turned out.
  • Who are these characters? Why did they leave Earth? Why are they back? What are those ships and why are they shooting lasers? The trailer doesn’t say. Maybe there are cool, logical explanations to all those questions, but with Shyamalan I’d say the risk of an incoherent, convoluted mythology is high.
  • That base jumping gliding suit is kind of neat, I guess.

So mark me down as a solid no. Unless, hold on, could this be a covert sequel to Plan 9 From Outer Space, the same way Prometheus was a covert prequel to Alien? Maybe they had to leave Earth because the Earthlings destroyed it. Destroyed it with their stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!

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Reader Comments (22)

This was my reaction to a friend:

'Shyamalan is like an ex-lover:

Your first time was amazing, your second time was mind-blowing, your third time made you feel like you were going to be together forever.

Then they get cocky.
And sloppy.
Lose focus.
Stop trying.

And after giving them one too many chances, you just have to cut them off.

Because no matter how good it was, it can't make up for how poorly it ended.

M. Night Shyamalan is Bad Sex.'

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

Beau, you're such a blurb whore. YOU KNOW THAT NEEDS TO BE ON POSTERS

"M Night Shyamalan is Bad Sex"
- Beau McCoy, The Film Experience

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commenternathanielr

Beau, you're such a blurb whore. YOU KNOW THAT NEEDS TO BE ON POSTERS

"M Night Shyamalan is Bad Sex"
- Beau McCoy, The Film Experience

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Wow, Beau. That description of M. Night is DEAD ON.

Which makes me a solid Maybe So. Because I do love adventure/survival flicks when done well, and I like Will Smith, and Shaymalan has been so good in the past. If he somehow, miraculously, finds his talent again, and the reviews are good, then I will see this. If the reviews are sucky, I will shake my head in disappointment and avoid this like the plague.

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Don't let IMDb fool you, Shyamalan had nothing to do with writing this movie. He did a re-draft early in pre-production that was subsequently thrown-out once Gaghan was hired, so if the monologue has the ring of Ed Wood, then it's all on the head of Oscar winner Stephen Gaghan (who adapted the script) and Oscar winner Mark Boal (who did the re-writes). If the plot is nonsense, then blame Gary Whitta (who wrote the original script based on an outline by Will Smith). As much as fanboys love tearing M. Night a new one, this isn't really the project to do it. I'm sure his only role on the movie was making the images look nice.

Shyamalan hasn't made a proper "Shyamalan film" since The Happening, and even that felt like a self-conscious attempt to recapture the magic of Signs (right down to the characters becoming progressively more isolated). The fact is, any ambition this guy had died with the hostile reception to Lady in the Water. He doesn't care anymore. He's just releasing product for the $$$. His next project is a modern-day adaptation of Moby Dick by the writer of Eagle Eye, produced by NBC. None of this stuff looks anything like the movies he produced from 1998-to-2006. It's just anonymous studio fare. A.E. might as well have been directed by Francis Lawrence.

As for the Will Smith character being called 'Cypher Raige', is the name really any more silly than 'Han Solo' or 'Luke Skywalker'? What about the characters from Pacific Rim? Raleigh Antrobus? Stacker Pentecost? Child? Hannibal Chow? C'mon, play fair. It's not like 'Loki', 'Pepper Potts' and 'Nick Fury' don't sound dumb as hell when removed from their Marvel context.

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJacob

Jacob -

Interesting to read that breakdown of the writing credits because that trailer monologue feels so consistent with M Night's style. Flat monotone delivery? Check. Portentous dread? Check. Air of deep truth that doesn't hold up to scrutiny? Check. It's possible that M. Night could be limited to capable journeyman status, but I'd be surprised if he didn't manage to work some of his signature touches into the movie. Perhaps to a much milder degree than past films, but I can still feel his influence in this trailer.

And this is purely a judgment call, but I'd say that Cypher Raige is worse than all those names you listed. It's the thick layer of pretension that makes it such a groaner.

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

I love M. Night and those line readings are perfect. He is the new Bresson and I mean it, since the main theme of his work is faith.

Hey guys, we're looking at a major arthouse auteur and not your usual blockbuster helmer.

THIS COMMENT IS IRONY-FREE

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Jacob: A character's name helps communicate the mood of the setting, as well as what the character's personality is. This name bizarrely tells us an important character is supposed to be a blank slate. And "Raige"? That's a good last name for the secret identity of a 90s superhero, not for the main character of the film that's supposed to repair a formerly respected director's battered career.

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I know.

I'm the Peter Travers of Snark Snippets.

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

Sorry. "This *first* name..."

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Cal - I would love to read an in depth defense of his work. As I touched upon in the post, he almost deserves support just for bringing such a unique voice to blockbuster filmmaking. For that he deserves credit.

Nevertheless, I don't think his sincerity absolves him of the abysmal quality of his last 4 films. I think it makes them fascinating messes.

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

Shyamalan is indefensible after The Last Airbender. And even if this somehow ends up being a quality film (highly unlikely, given both the trailer and a team that thought CYPHER RAIGE was an acceptable name for a character), people are going to be reticent to ascribe any amount of that success to him in the first place. His failures are infinitely more visible than his long-gone triumphs at this point, as you mentioned, and audience praise for someone who's blown as many chances as him is begrudging at best.

It's a long hard climb for him from here on out, and this is either the first precipitous step or just a further plummet down.

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDrew

Not since Bogdanovich has a Hollywood Golden Boy fallen so hard and so fast. I still hold out hope Shyamalan can find a way to be more collaborative and resist his more goofy, half-assed impulses. At Long Last Love is still better than Lady in the Water.

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I don't have the words to defend him in depth, but I just love the way he plays with time, they he delirately makes us feel every second of any situation for more time than is cinematically usual and acceptable in Hollywood standards. It is all about time: people usually talk about the cheesy concept and plot, but the way he directed The Happening made me truly meditate about the horror of an apocalyptical situation, and more than that, to experience it in a very deep way.
When I saw The Happening, his most radical and maybe his best movie, I wondered : is this a Sokurov movie or something? Because he evocated a pitch perfect metaphysical feeling that suits his basic concern as a filmmaker, to put people against things they can't understand, things that are beyond the natural world. It is not really about being close to fantastic. He uses fantasy as a way to approach the supernatural in way that doesn't assume we're seeing fiction, but a true extraordinary event we can't explain, maybe even in a religious or spiritual dimension (see Signs for a more open approach on this subject, or Lady on The Water, for a metaphore on belief told in a more secular way).

Of course these things would never work in Hollywood, with Hollywood expectations, but his movie are way more powerful if we face them with different eyes and expectations.

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

'The Happening' featured a scene where Mark Wahlberg pleaded for his life with a ficus.

No thanks.

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

Beau, what the ficus was up with that?! Nightster was smoking something, and it werean't ficus.

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Will Smith has a perfect right to do whatever he wants with his power and money, including buy his son a film career. And for all I know Jaden Smith is a natural actor, overflowing with talent and charisma. Still, the transparent nepotism on display is a pretty tough pill to swallow.

Anjelica Huston

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Huston and Smith share the same birthday.

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVince Smetana

From a scientific perspective this movie premise is absolute horseshit. There is no way in hell (or on Earth) that we would let anything evolve to kill us (besides viruses and bacteria)......not gonna happen.....the moment anything kills a human our kneejerk reaction is to kill all of them (sharks, wolves, etc) evolution is slow, our ability to kill is nearly instantaneous.

Even in a next to impossible scenario in which plants and animals "evolve" to eat humans, the moment we are gone from the planet, they go extinct. Megafauna is not suited to this world, they are susceptible to changes and their calorie requirements are too high.

Next lets suppose the impossibility of things evolving to eat humans happens, and they persist long enough to still exist when these two hapless idiots arrive back on Earth.......the population that could be supported is probably so dispersed that they don't run into a "human-eater" the entire time they are there. How many people who hike in Alaska run into bears? not that many.....cause as a large carnivore, their population density is much lower than say....plants, or herbivores. simple trophic level stuff here.

bad sci fi premise regardless how "cool" the scenery is

December 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Martino

It's probably promising that the trailer tells us the Shyamalanian twist up front "This is Earth!" Especially since it was literally the first thing that popped into my head when the trailer started even though I knew nothing about the movie ("Oh, this is probably Earth.") Although it also has the earmarks of a Shyamalan conceit that doesn't stand up to the least bit of thought. Will Smith says "everything on this planet evolved to kill humans." Wait, but this is in the future and yet in the present most things have evolved to avoid or co-exist with humans, and the ones that tried to kill us are the ones we wiped out. Was a space-faring human civilization chased off the planet by wolves? Or did we leave and then the animals decided to get tough so we wouldn't come back? And if it's so dangerous, why are they just casually walking through forests and swamps without harm? Do trees and fish not evolve? Aren't the trees dangerous like in The Happening?

But it looks like "humans abandon Earth which is not what it seems" is the new Volcano/Dante's Peak of this movie season.

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChris Fredda

I've read the script. Unfortunately, and i say this a s a neutral, it is fairly dire. Those hoping for a 'death world' scenario are going to be disappointed.

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMr Bingley

I can't wait to see this movie! It seems so interesting.. and its starring jaden and will smith so it will absolutely be GREAT!!! :D

February 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommentertopSpot

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