Manoj Night Shyamalan’s new film, Will Smith and Jaden Smith starrer After Earth released in India a week after its international release.
If you felt you’ve had a tough week, consider this: In the span of a single week, After Earth managed the infamy of being one of the worst reviewed movies of 2013 (with Wall Street Journal raising the question of whether it was the “worst film ever”), opening to some of the worst box office numbers for a massive summer flick in the last decade, and garnering the worst opening figures for a Will Smith starrer in the last 20 years.
Let’s just say that if Shyamalan still manages to resurrect his career after this debacle – his fourth straight critical disaster in 7 years – he may as well have been the inspiration for his Bruce Willis-Samuel Jackson starrer, Unbreakable (2000).
It’s tough to objectively write about a movie these days with all the buzz that’s thrust in our faces wherever we look. But when the internet that’s best known for cat videos and baby noises takes a movie so personally that it goes out of its way to unleash a hate campaign against it (After Earth got cumulative ratings worse than the Twilight movies and has websites lining up to write about Will Smith’s downfall), the movie really starts turning into a special event in your head. After all, it’s not every day you get to see ‘the worst film ever’!
You cannot even fathom my disappointment on finally seeing After Earth. My popcorn turned bland and my soft drink fizzled out as I sat in front of the big screen looking for a clue, a design – a ‘Sign’, if you will – in what I was seeing. Where was the worst film I was promised? Where was the inimitable movie that managed to will critics into writing insults about the elder Smith, who some people love more than their own privates? Where was the nepotistic, egotistic, anomalistic, propagandistic, fatalistic vanity project that was supposed to an insult to everything from father-son relationships to multiplex pocorn?
Because, hold your breaths, far from being a horrible film, After Earth isn’t even a bad film. It is merely a marginally boring film that could have been a decent film had it been less lazily written. In fact, you may even go as far as to say that the film – about a 14-year-old who has to journey across a forest to save his father after their ship crashes onto a hostile planet – is perhaps Shyamalan’s best film in years (considering what he’s puked onto the cinema screens in his last few outings).
I’m not going to go into why or how Shyamalan went from being a critics darling after Sixth Sense to being one of the most despised filmmakers of his generation, or specifically what it is was about After Earth that made critics the world over want to stab their eyes. The only reason I gave context to this piece is because the negativity around the movie made me wonder if some movies or filmmakers face so much prejudice that no matter what the outcome, they will be universally hated. Or worse, not even given a chance?
It isn’t that After Earth deserves a chance purely for the surprisingly vile reactions it has generated (for no fair reason), but for the fact that at the end of the day, it’s a movie that’s got a strong emotional core to it. Shyamalan does seem to be trying hard to make a mess of the father-son relationship in the story, but it’s salvaged by some pretty solid acting by both the Smiths, especially Jaden, who is probably going to better his father at half the age that Smith Sr broke out .
Yes, the film falters in that it doesn’t have enough CGI monsters or thrills to justify its ‘summer’ tag; the screenplay has enough clichés to warrant a 101 book, and there are times it slows down enough for you to count seconds pass by. But no matter how you look at it, there’s something inexplicably sweet about a young boy trying to fight off monsters to save his father, and coming of age amidst a resounding background score and some pretty cool stunts. Go with no expectations, and you may even come out liking the film.