A number of prominent critics have been savaging Will Smith’s post-apocalyptic film, “After Earth,” resulting in the movie garnering an abysmal 12 percent rating on the Rotten Tomatoes film critic website.
Smith is currently one of only a scant number of bona fide big-screen mega-draws, and while expectations for his latest movie had been quite high, ticket sales have so far proven to be a major disappointment.
Interestingly, the movie’s ultimate box-office outcome is a bit more personal this time around for Smith, who created the storyline and recruited M. Night Shyamalan to direct the project.
The “After Earth” plot has General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) and his 13-year-old son Kitai (Jaden Smith) crash landing on a future Earth, one in which the human race has long since left the planet.
In order to save his father, Kitai must make his way through various dangers and ultimately find the ship’s rescue beacon, all the while trying his best to avoid the aliens who feed on fear. Kitai learns to control his emotions and is successful in the end in his pursuits.
Aside from the general critiquing of the cinematic content, film reviewers have zeroed in on a couple of other unusual aspects of “After Earth.”
It is widely being noted that Smith’s character is absent from a substantial portion of the movie’s action scenes, which apparently allowed for Smith’s son Jaden to take center stage. Critics have suggested that a nepotistic component, which may have worked to the teenage son’s benefit, could have been in play.
Alonso Duralde wrote in The Wrap that the film “tells the story of an inexperienced boy trying desperately to please his father while making one mistake after another, and as such, it becomes an uncomfortable metaphor for itself.”
Manohla Dargis noted in The New York Times that “Mr. Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, are producers on ‘After Earth,’ which suggests that there was no one on the production who could really say no to him.”
Dana Stevens of Slate referenced the father-son aspects of the project, opining that “even with his charismatic dad in his earpiece calling the shots, Jaden can't turn himself into a movie star by sheer force of Will.”
What may be more important to the film’s public standing, though, is the fact that many critics have cited several similarities in the movie to the precepts of the Church of Scientology, and a possibility exists that it may be being perceived as a vehicle of propaganda for L. Ron Hubbard’s teachings.
The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern referred to “After Earth” as a “sermon” that “echoes a central theme of Scientology.” Through a line of pointed questioning, the critic ponders whether the focus on Scientology might explain why “humor and humanity have been essentially banished; why everyone looks pained; why the very notion of entertainment has been banished in favor of grinding didacticism, and why Mr. Smith, who has been such a brilliant entertainer over the years and decades, looks as if he has undergone a radical charisma-ectomy?”
Dargis in the New York Times wrote that “casual students of Scientology may find their ears pricking up . . . because fear and its overcoming receive a lot of play in "Dianetics," a foundational text by the creator of Scientology, the pulp science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.”
Marc Headley analyzed the film for The Hollywood Reporter and focused in particular on the dialogue. Headley quoted Smith’s character telling Kitai, “Fear is not real. It is a product of thoughts you create. Now do not misunderstand me: Danger is very real. But fear is a choice.”
The former Scientologist explained that L. Ron Hubbard viewed emotions and fear as “triggers” and “part of the reactive mind.” According to Headley, Scientology in its teachings stresses the need to “rid oneself of your fears.”
Headley surmised that “Smith’s character is pretty much devoid of all emotions for the entire movie” and pointed out that “in Scientology, one goes through great amounts of training and counseling to control one’s emotions and ‘mis-emotion’ as described by Hubbard.”
As the movie builds to a finish, an image of an erupting volcano appears, which is almost identical to an image that is displayed on the cover of Hubbard's book.
“The movie’s climax takes place on a volcano that could have been ripped right off the cover of 'Dianetics,'” Headley wrote, adding that “in Scientology, the volcano is a common thread through many different teachings.”
Although he denies having any formal affiliation with Scientology, in 2007 Smith donated $122,500 to church charities, and in 2009 he and wife Jada Pinkett Smith opened the New Village Leadership Academy, a private school based on Hubbard's teachings.
“After Earth” placed third over the weekend, with a disappointing $27 million, which is a particularly muted showing considering Sony shelled out $135 million for production and another $100 million for marketing. The possibility remains that Scientology-related content may have been a factor in the movie’s weak showing at the box office.
James Hirsen, J.D., M.A., in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor. Visit Newsmax.TV Hollywood. Read more reports from James Hirsen — Click Here Now.
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