After Earth is not THAT bad
Manoj ‘Night’ Shyamalan’s new film, Will Smith and Jaden Smith starrer After Earth has released in India a week after its international release. If at all you’ve felt that you had a tough week, consider this: In the span of this one week, After Earth has managed the infamy of being one of the worst reviewed movies of 2013 (with Wall Street Journal even questioning if it was the ‘worst film ever’), of opening to some of the worst box office numbers for a massive summer flick in the last decade, and of 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 into your faces wherever you 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 (it’s got cumulative ratings worse than the Twilight movies and has websites lining up to write about Will Smith’s downfall), it really starts turning into a special event in your head that you really long to witness. 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 unfold. 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 may have even 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 in 1999 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 can really be so fiercely prejudiced against that no matter what the outcome, they will be universally hated. Or worse, not even given a chance?
Let me clarify in saying that it isn’t that After Earth deserves a chance purely for the surprisingly vile reactions it has generated for, what seems to me, no fair reason, but for the fact that at the end of the day, it’s a movie that’s got a beautiful emotional core to it. The relationship between fathers and sons is hardly ever explored on screen and though Shyamalan does seem to be trying hard to make a mess of it, 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 he 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 enough 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.
Note: This review first appeared on Firstpost.com on June 12, 2013
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