All words: Paul Pavlich
Why I’m Not Looking Forward to M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth
M. Night Shyamalan really peaked my interest at the beginning of his career and I continued to view the majority of his work over the past 15 years regardless of plot, theme, cast or critical acclaim. For some reason, I wait for each M. Night work to be that masterpiece I’ve been yearning for. But sometime between 1999 (The Sixth Sense, y’all) and today, right now specifically, I have made sense of the white noise and can finally view the situation with a clear perspective.
I, like many a movie viewer, allowed Shyamalan’s first few promising films to affect me in such a way that I suffered through an uninspired and hefty load of dump movies, chasing the dragon throughout the greater part of his film reel for a movie that I now realize— and accept— will never be made by this man.
His latest, After Earth, is a post-apocalyptic film starring none other than the Fresh Prince himself, Will Smith. I do not look forward to this film as I once looked forward to MNS’s initially promising but ultimately disappointing filmography. This filmography is easily categorized into three types of movies: decent, forgettable, and just plain bad.
Decent MNS Cinema
I will now tell you why the few enjoyable Shyamalan films are significant: he is a gigantic, vacuous shithole that hovers over Hollywood and dumps out turd movies, starting with The Sixth Sense (1999). It was a film in which everyone told you Bruce Willis is dead way before you saw the movie (oh, I meant to say “spoiler alert”). It was an eerie, well-shot movie that was captivating and engaging, with a natural plot curve that revealed Willis’ ghostly nature in a great way. In Shyamalan’s mind, this movie solidified that the “twist” was his thing and so it became the plot device that he would ride into the ground for decades to come. I consider The Sixth Sense his most important film because it allowed people to trust him to bring them quality storytelling and to tickle them in the brain…trust is the pillar of every relationship and those you trust can destroy you the easiest.
Unbreakable (2000), another Willis/Shyamalan titty twister, was a realistic take on the super hero genre, set in a non-glamorous Philly-area suburban world. This dude (Willis) realizes he never gets hurt, can read minds and can lift waaaaay more paint cans at a time than the Average Joe, only to realize that the crotchety black dude who has been helping him hone his superpowers HAS BEEN SEEKING WILLIS HIS WHOLE LIFE (if you are very quiet, you can actually hear the twist). The crotchety black dude, excellently cast as Samuel L. Jackson, is the opposite of Willis (always gets hurt, can’t read minds, lifts normal amounts of paint cans) and has been searching for the hero to his super villain persona, aptly called “Mr. Glass” because of Jackson’s brittle bone syndrome. This movie was good and reaffirmed M. night’s uncanny penchant for the twist.
The last movie I enjoyed was The Village (2004), because the movie didn’t allow one to see the twist coming at all. In this movie— with the best twist— the protagonist is a blind girl who seeks help in the dangerous woods outside of her Salem Witch Trial-era village, only to find…Philadelphia! I did not see that one coming, but I should have.
At this point, I believe MNS thought he had solidified his status as a Hollywood director, and was well on his way to making people actually know where Philadelphia is on a map since HE SETS ALL HIS FUCKING MOVIES THERE. But, the sad reality was that he had used his three wishes on these movies, so there would be no more magic to cover up the “creative” things in his brain and make them tolerable to the general public.
The Forgettable M. Night Dump Films
Allow me to preface this category by stating first and foremost, I have not seen these films. The internet told me that 1998’s Wide Awake stars Rosie O’Donnell. I doubt my heart, mind or body could handle the cosmic forces that present themselves when MNS and O’Donnell make art sex with their creative parts, so I have decided to not view this movie for health reasons.
As for the 1992 “sleeper hit,” Praying with Anger, I do not believe that anyone of us had any prior knowledge that this movie even existed. This film has continued to exist for over two decades and, as far as I am concerned, has not impacted a single human. This film is a cough in the background noise of life. Therefore, I strike it from the record for the sake that I have already wasted more time than I wanted talking about it.
Lastly, I have not seen 2010’s The Last Air Bender. I will not even justify this with an explanation any more involved than the fact that I am an adult male and I waste my time on dick and fart jokes as opposed to tomfoolery, like an M. Night children’s movie.
The Just Plain Bad Movies
This category of M. Night movies includes Signs (2002), Lady in the Water (2006), and Devil (2010), quite possibly one of the most neurotic and uncomfortable movies to sit through because it takes place entirely on an elevator. First, Signs. The twist: it was not an alien movie, but a born-again-Christian movie in disguise – should have guessed it with Mel Gibson in the lead role. This was the worst M. Night twist by far, and to this day, I hate when people tell me I look like Joaquin Phoenix (I’m Still Here Phoenix, not Walk The Line) because he was in this film.
With Lady in the Water, MNS decided to turn the bedtime story he told his kids into a film starring Paul Giamatti, who is typically in decent cinema. Giamatti decided to make one really bad movie and this was it. It is about a lady who can breathe under water and lives in the deep end of a pool in a Philly (blah) apartment complex. Paul Giamatti tries to help her do something that involves getting out of the pool, a wolf monster appears, and then fireworks are shot off. The twist? There wasn’t one! It never came, and the movie never made sense. Although it was inventive to leave out a twist and deviate from familiar territory, this is the one MNS films that desperately necessitated a twist.
Now, last and certainly least, Devil. Six-to-10 dumbasses get on an elevator. The elevator gets stuck, the lights go off, someone gets killed, rinse and repeat. Meanwhile, there is this Hispanic guy working in the surveillance room who— being a good Christian like all Hispanics are raised to be—recognizes in two to three seconds that this is something he has heard of. Sometimes, you see, the devil will possess some asshole in an elevator to have a demonic killing spree. (Yes, I too was surprised when the dude looked at the surveillance tape for a minute and said, “I have heard of this before. Someone in that elevator is the devil.”)
As I was watching Devil, I felt my brain telling me that I had thoroughly been fooled. I was but one of the thrilled millions with MNS at the beginning of the century, and his wealth and success can, on some level, be attributed to me and those in my same role, as the movie patron who accounts for a ticket sale.
What it all Means
At this point, I see through the guise. M. Night Shyamalan is never to create a mindblowing movie like I had dreamed. He is merely a dude who quite possibly made a few good films by accident, and possesses such wealth that he is able to keep making these abortions of cinema. Longevity is a telltale thing, and the length of his body of work is disappointing from a storytelling standpoint. I actively went to the theater to see seven of his movies. This may be the only director that I can say this for. I don’t want my money back. I consider the knowledge gleaned through my disappointment and resentment as payback.
Now that’s off my chest, I return to the MNS Will Smith/Jaden Smith circle jerk slated to come out this week. From the Wikipedia summary, this movie sounds like a combination of I am Legend, Hancock and the Karate Kid re-hash with Signs spiritual undertones, and it’s too easy to put “Just the Two of Us” on the soundtrack.
Just a speculation, but I bet this movie is going to be a big-budget waste of time, unless the twist is that Will Smith is actually the alien that crash lands on earth in the movie Independence Day and the final scene is him fighting himself from 15 years ago in front of young Jeff Goldblum and President Bill Pullman in the middle of a desert.
To be completely honest, I probably will view this film. But this time, I’ll pirate it from the internet instead of my traditional disappointing movie theater experience. MNS already has enough of my money.