After Earth seemingly has a lot of things going for it that would get me to buy a ticket. I love science fiction, in particular post-apocalyptic stories (which is why I continued watching Revolution, despite the downturn in quality). I’m a big fan of Will Smith; I had a poster of him from Independence Day on my wall when I was young, I still think Men in Black is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, and his performance in Ali is spectacular. I’m also a big M. Night Shyamalan fan, even enjoying Lady in the Water and The Village. And while I was more enthusiastic about Oblivion than I was about After Earth, I still planned on seeing both.
At this point, though, I think it’s safe to say that I no longer have any enthusiasm to see it. That’s not to say that I won’t. On a hot, Arizona Saturday, it might be a good movie to go cool off in, but I would only see it if it were the only thing showing at the correct time. So what changed my mind? Well, it starts with the trailers. After Earth never was the sort of movie that catches your attention right from the first time you hear of it. It feels like it’s been advertised forever, and every new clip or commercial just feels like more of the same. The clips of Will Smith’s performance couldn’t make him look any stiffer or less interesting, which with someone as charismatic as him is just a crime. Jaden Smith, who I generally enjoyed in The Pursuit of Happyness, doesn’t fare much better acting against a green screen.
It doesn’t help that while Shyamalan did some work on the screenplay, the story is still based off an idea from Will Smith. I don’t have a problem with vanity projects, or nepotism in Hollywood, except that the $130 million that was spent on this film could probably have been better spent elsewhere. While Shyamalan has a shaky record, I’ve always found his films to be interesting at the least. However, After Earth isn’t his film, he’s just basically operating the camera (yes I know directors do more than this, but it’s different from a film that he wrote, directed and starred in).
Will Smith’s off-screen antics don’t bother me. There has been a lot of talk about how the behavior of him and his son on the various talk shows has been off putting to people, which may be true, but it’s not something that affects my desire to see a film. The same goes for the accusations that it’s secretly a vehicle for Scientology, which doesn’t bother me. I’ve read Battlefield Earth and seen the film, and while it’s easy to spot the attributes influenced by the “religion” it’s not something that will greatly sway my enjoyment of the story.
Also to be considered are the seriously annoying “Survival Tips” commercials that have been playing during the preshow at my local theater. I’ve never been a huge fan of movie-tie-in advertising, but these alternate between unintentionally hilarious and mind-numbingly dumb, and have brought the movie way down in my view. I get that one of the big aspects of the movie is “mastering your fear,” but that’s not particularly compelling to me, especially considering how it’s being presented.
Then, of course, there are the reviews. I’ll be the first to admit that reviews aren’t everything. Speed Racer got trashed by the critics but I love it, and my favorite film, Hook, doesn’t have a stellar reputation either. There are also plenty of critical darlings that I absolutely hate. However, when something gets as universally panned as After Earth it does give me pause. A 12% on Rottentomatoes.com is tough to overcome (for reference, Speed Racer has a 39%). When I combine that with the reactions from audiences around the country, it would have to be a movie that is really appealing to get me to still want to see it.
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?), After Earth just isn’t that appealing. I could have mustered up the enthusiasm to go see it had it gotten solid reviews, despite the rather blah impression it’s given me, but that’s just not the case. By contrast, Now You See Me, which didn’t exactly get stellar reviews either, was intriguing enough in trailers and clips to pique my curiosity. I’m not saying that I’ll never see After Earth, so don’t be surprised some day if you see a review on this site. I may have stumbled across it while channel surfing, or maybe I’ll go in the next couple of weeks for a lack of anything better to do. But I doubt it.
What do you think? Did you see After Earth, and if so, what did you think? Has the film’s advertising campaign hurt its chances for success? What other movies that you might normally see have you talked yourself out of? Let me know in the comments!