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WHAT HAPPENED to M. Night Shyamalan? He struck gold with The Sixth Sense in 1999 and he followed that up with the brilliant Unbreakable and the underrated Signs. These early films had a distinct otherworldly quality to them. They were assured, beautifully crafted and contained a trademark twist. He was on top of the world and was even was dubbed “the next Spielberg”.

Director M. Night Shyamalan

Director M. Night Shyamalan

Then it all started going horribly wrong…

The Village. Lady in the Water. The Happening (see it just for the laugh). The Last Airbender.

And now, After Earth.

After-Earth

Welcome to After Earth…

 

But, to be fair, I don’t even know if this fully qualifies as a Shyamalan film. It’s more of a Smith family affair. Will Smith, as well as playing one of the lead roles, gets a story credit and is also a producer. As is his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. And their son, Jaden, plays the lead role. Shyamalan is very much a director for hire and has little opportunity to put his personal stamp on this film. It even feels as if his name has been kept suspiciously low-key on much of the promotional material in the run-up to its release.

After Earth seems like it was specifically engineered by Smith to be an action vehicle for his son, Jaden. Nothing more.

 

INT. THE SMITH FAMILY’S PALATIAL HOLLYWOOD MANSION.

WILL SMITH sits alone at the breakfast table. He is eating a healthy, balanced meal and reading Variety. His son, JADEN SMITH, enters.

JADEN
Hey, dad.

WILL
Hey, son.

JADEN
Dad, I want to make a movie with you.

WILL
But we already made one, son. Why do want to be making another movie with your old man?

WILL laughs, heartily.

JADEN
Yeah, I know. But this time, I want to make a fun, adventure movie! Something really, really cool that all my friends in school will be jealous of!

WILL
Hmmm. Well, how about a science fiction movie? My friend Tom gave me some great books recently and I think I might have an idea…

JADEN
That sounds so COOL, dad.

M. Night Shyamalan

Will Smith is not exactly a barrel of laughs in After Earth

WILL
Okay. How about a story where the earth has been evacuated due to man’s environmental  recklessness? All of humanity has relocated to a new planet, where life is perfect, except for the odd attack by unconvincing CGI beasts. And I could play a humorless, po-faced Space Ranger who doesn’t feel fear and kills these CGI beasts with a double-ended blade.

JADEN
Wow! Yeah, dad! And I could play his humorless, po-faced son, who is desperately seeking his father’s approval and wants to be an emotionless Space Ranger too!

WILL
And what if my character realizes that he hasn’t spent enough time with his family and decides to retire? But before doing so, he agrees to go on ONE FINAL MISSION, and for no reason whatsoever takes his son along with him.

JADEN
And then our ship could be damaged in, like, an asteroid storm or something, and could then conveniently crash-land on planet earth, which is now only inhabited by an assortment of unconvincing CGI beasts!

WILL
Great idea son! And maybe we could have been carrying a highly dangerous CGI beast on board our own ship too and we don’t know if it has escaped or not!

JADEN
And we could amazingly be the sole survivors of the crash! But you have broken both your legs in the impact so I have to set off alone on a dangerous quest to retrieve the distress beacon which has been deposited about 100 kilometers away and is our only hope of being rescued!

WILL
Great idea, son. And I could use the technology available to track and guide you on your journey and warn you of any incoming unconvincing CGI beasts.

JADEN
Yeah! And I could wear a really cool suit and fight off the unconvincing CGI beasts with a double-ended blade in an effort to be just like my dad! And I’d take up most of the screen time even though I have none my father’s charm, presence or charisma.

after-earth-super

Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) wielding his double-ended blade to fight off CGI beasts

 

WILL
That sounds great, son. Maybe I could get that guy, M. Night Shamalamadingdong to direct. He made the hit movies The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs and he has a great track record when it comes to working with child actors.

JADEN
But didn’t he also make Lady in the Water, The Happening and The Last Airbender?

WILL
Let’s focus on the positives, son.

JADEN
Okay, dad.

after-earth-jaden-smith-volcano

Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) “taking a knee”

 

WILL
And once the film is made, we can do the talk show circuit together and show everyone how cool we are and what a great father-son team we make. So then when we tell people how great our movie is and they should see it – they’ll believe us!

JADEN
But…dad…what if the movie is no good and it bombs at the box office?

WILL
That’s doesn’t matter son…we get paid anyway!

They high five each other.

JADEN
I love you, dad.

WILL
I love you too, son.

Avoid.

After Earth opens in Ireland on the 7th of June.

James Halford

About James Halford

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