MOTW: Will "After Earth" Return M. Night Shyamalan to Critical Success?

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures
May 29th, 2013

MOTW: Will "After Earth" Return M. Night Shyamalan to Critical Success?

M. Night Shyamalan has endured both worldwide success and devastating losses over the course of his career. While Shyamalan has been the driving force behind box office hits such as "The Sixth Sense" and "Signs," many of his movies, especially those from the last decade, have been considered flops. Unfortunately, they've not flopped due to Shyamalan's abilities as a director, but because it's notoriously difficult to stretch a unique, fanciful concept into a full-length feature film. It's challenging to maintain an audience's attention without traditional filmmaking techniques, which are rarely good fits for Shyamalan's fairy tales.

"After Earth" might be just what Shyamalan needs to return to the spotlight. Because several writers have worked on "After Earth," it will have the freshness it needs to be a successful science-fiction film while still benefiting from Shyamalan's unique imagination. Many modern science-fiction movies are full of predictable clichés, which leaves audiences bored and unsatisfied when a good science-fiction film should accomplish the exact opposite. Fortunately, Shyamalan is known for avoiding clichés by creating surprising plot twists that sneak up on even the most observant moviegoer, which is sure to make "After Earth" an entertaining movie.

However, many of Shyamalan's films don't have mass appeal, and some moviegoers see Shyamalan's involvement in a movie as a negative rather than a positive. Audiences who didn't enjoy some of his weaker films might not be excited about another Shyamalan movie after being disappointed by others that went over their heads. Fortunately, the minds behind "After Earth" have found a way around this problem by casting Will and Jaden Smith as the main characters in "After Earth" and focusing on the cast rather than Shyamalan's role, which is the opposite of how most of Shyamalan's films have been marketed. By keeping Will and Jaden Smith in the spotlight, Sony has managed to get "After Earth" a massive amount of attention without drawing negative feedback from moviegoers who aren't Shyamalan fans.

Casting Will and Jaden Smith as a fictional father and son duo was one of the best things that could happen to "After Earth." While Jaden Smith's acting career is still blooming, Will Smith is an established actor with a gigantic fanbase who'll see every film he stars in. Having the Smiths in a movie is a huge marketing move that's sure to be one of the biggest reasons "After Earth" is getting worldwide attention. Will Smith is known for his fantastic roles in science-fiction movies, including "I Am Legend," a critically acclaimed film that's similar in some aspects to "After Earth." Above all, Will Smith is known for his movie and television roles as a family man, making him the obvious choice for a science-fiction movie that's, at the end of the day, a story about the relationship between a father and son.

Casting a father and son as the lead roles in a film about that same relationship was a brilliant decision. There aren't many father and son duos in the world of modern actors, but the public still loves to see the chemistry behind a family played out on the big screen. While the basic concept of "After Earth" is nothing new, it's a tried and true storyline, and not many films that star a father and son take place in a science-fiction setting. For this reason alone, "After Earth" is likely slated for success.

With Will and Jaden Smith as the driving force behind "After Earth," Shyamalan has been able to focus on the story instead of how to market the movie to the general public. One of the reasons Shyamalan's recent films haven't been widely successful is Shyamalan has had to attempt to find ways to appeal to the average moviegoer while still trying to keep his stories unique and fresh. Because the movie already appeals to the general public due to Will and Jaden Smith, Shyamalan has the freedom to do whatever he wants with the story.

Whether or not "After Earth" brings Shyamalan's career back to life will depend on the general public's willingness to see another film by a writer and director it's largely fallen out of love with. Fortunately, the involvement of the Smith power duo ensures the Smith fanbase will come through even if Shyamalan's small but loyal fanbase isn't enough to make the film a success. If the public is willing to give "After Earth" the chance it deserves, this unique, compelling science-fiction film could be just what Shyamalan needs to enjoy the success he had after "The Sixth Sense."