Can After Earth bring M Night Shyamalan back?

Will Smith is a big science fiction fan, and it’s pretty evident from two of his biggest roles, ID4 and I Am Legend.

And when you see the trailer for After Earth, which is coming on June 7, 2013, it’s got all the hallmarks of a Will Smith sci-fi epic. 

In After Earth, which was originally called One Thousand AE, Smith and son Jaden crash land on our planet a thousand years after it was abandoned by mankind. Papa Smith is injured in the crash, and Jaden has to travel through our world to live in to try and save his father.

While the trailer shows you this is quintessential Smith sci-fi, there’s no mention of the film’s director, M Night Shyamalan. It shouldn’t be a surprise, because after exploding onto the scene with The Sixth Sense, and being declared the next Spielberg on the cover of Newsweek, the guy became a punch-line when his ego grew to the size of Texas, and each ponderous, self-important film he made did worse and worse at the box-office. 

So it’s no surprise that with Shyamalan’s next film you don’t see his name on the trailer, because it could be a liability at this point. He’s also not the primary writer on After Earth, which shows that maybe he’s willing to swallow some of his pride, and let someone else craft a different story than his usual weird goings on in Philadelphia. 

The writing credits for After Earth include Stephen Gaghan, who wrote Traffic, Gary Whitta, who penned The Book of Eli, and Michael Soccio, who wrote for Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Where Shyamalan wrote a very clever script with The Sixth Sense, his subsequent screenplays have set up wobbly story premises that don’t pay off, with awful, tin-ear dialogue.

While it’s clear that After Earth is definitely aping Avatar, and Will Smith’s speech about not giving in to fear gets ponderous after a while, the story is indeed a very intriguing premise, and in the right hands it could really pay off. The question is can Shyamalan not let his ego get in the way of what could be a crowd pleasing sci-fi adventure? 

Will Smith apparently trusts Shyamalan enough to direct his next big potential blockbuster, and Will’s also trusting Night to direct his kid Jaden while his career’s on the rise.  It’s nice to see a director come back after being in the wilderness for a while, and if Shyamalan is willing to listen to outside advice and keep his hubris in check, maybe he can indeed reinvent himself and revive his career.