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This past weekend drove yet another theoretical nail into the coffin of M. Night Shyamalan’s career, as his sci-fi adventure After Earth drew the ire of critics everywhere and took in only $27 million, which is the lowest opening for a Will Smith summer blockbuster in 20 years. There’s no doubt Shyamalan will keep on making movies, but I have serious doubts that his budgets are going to remain above $100 million. Unless of course the Scientologists are paying for it.
The Hollywood Reporter is responsible for one of the strangest film reviews I’ve seen in a while, allowing former Scientologist Mark Headley to give his take on After Earth. And guess what, you guys? He found a lot of Scientology in it! Holy shit! Now, I’ve read some of Headley’s stuff in the past, and he’s a highly intelligent guy who got roped into a strange group of believers, and he’s admirably spent his post-Scientology life trying to inform others of its bullshittiness. That said, why is this guy writing a movie review for a major publication that shouldn’t have any agendas behind anything it puts out to the public? Moreover, does what he says even matter?
I ask because headlines are ablaze with admonishment and certainty that Will Smith oozed his Scientology mindset all over After Earth audiences, all because of this one article from a guy who is already known to be hellbent against the quasi-religion. Headley admits the film’s visuals don’t have much to do with L. Ron Hubbard’s teachings — beyond the Dianetics volcano — but much of the dialogue does, offering quotes like “Be in the present moment,” and “Fear is a choice” as examples. Did Hubbard want his followers to be free of fear and to live in the now? Sure, but everyone wants to live like that anyway, and have been trying to do so for thousands of years.
Here’s the thing. If After Earth was a truly amazing cinematic experience, and it wasn’t, then barely anyone would pay attention to what could have possibly inspired it. But it’s just another shitty movie from an increasingly shitty director, with Will Smith, an actor whose shining star is constantly dimming, regardless of his religious ties. But it cost way too much money to just be a bad flick.
Was Battlefield Earth ruined by its Scientology roots? Well, yes, because the entire thing was created for that specific purpose, and it’s impossible to view it in any other context. But After Earth needs only live on a surface level to prove its worth, or lack thereof. I kind of hope someone makes a really amazing box office smash one day, and then admits that it was inspired by Scientology, Nazis, rape, and puppy murder. And even then, it won’t matter, because a movie can exist in a vacuum, where its inherent quality cannot be tainted.