M. Night Shyamalan's last two films - The Last Airbender and The Happening - were misfires that would have landed any other filmmaker in director jail almost indefinitely. He hasn't been able to capture the magic of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, but one of the unwritten constants of Hollywood applies to Shyamalan: if you make one massive hit, you'll have a career forever.
Thus, while audiences may approach the upcoming After Earth with a good amount of caution, we've still listed the film as one of our Most Anticipated Films for May, 2013 - since the initial trailers are promising. For the first time ever, Shyamalan is not listed as the sole writer, as Book of Eli scribe Gary Whitta and Stephen Gaghan (Candy Store) are also listed (along with a story credit for Will Smith). The closest Shyamalan has come to being this hands-off with a story was when he produced and developed the plot for 2010's horror yarn Devil - then handed over directorial duties to John Erick Dowdle.
New After Earth clips showcase Jaden Smith's Kitai Raige, who must brave a post-apocalyptic Earth teeming with the lethally evolved animals which now rule the planet. The most arresting glimpse is easily the third clip, with Jaden's father Will Smith offering up a surprisingly commanding performance as Kitai's father Cypher, a space ranger who is seriously injured after their spacecraft crash lands on the now-abandoned planet. Smith Sr. calls the plays as his son battles killer monkeys, mutated tigers and the vicious landscape.
Check out the clips above and below for yourself:
After the most recent, rather exciting TV spot, these expanded views of some of the CGI-heavy set-pieces don't exactly get the blood pumping. For now, we're reserving judgment, as this could be due to a lack of context - since Shyamalan is a stylish director and there seems to be a definite vision for this production: as evidenced by this behind-the-scenes featurette - which provides a very interesting glimpse into the making of the sci-fi adventure:
Highlights include Will Smith striding manfully across a future battlefield (likely a flashback or a scene from early in the film) and the complete lack of stand-ins for the CGI aliens and creatures.
All of the footage is from actual location shooting - while there was green-screen involved in the finished product, it really looks like the filmmakers dropped Jaden Smith into a significant amount of natural settings and coached him on how to react to the added-in-post beasties. This accounts for the success of the trailers - there is something more organic going on in the world of this story than in many of the other effects-laden blockbusters of the season. It opens soon, and we'll have more as the date approaches.
Now for a 180-degree shift in tone. The new TV spot for director Robert Schwentke’s action-comedy R.I.P.D. streamlines the story we've seen in the trailer but focusing a bit more on the comic elements of the plot - recently slain cop Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) is recruited to join the Rest In Peace Department, who track down "bad souls" daring to leave the afterlife and wreak havoc on earth. In particular, the dynamic between Reynolds and his new partner, tough old cowboy Roy Powell (Jeff Bridges, who appears to be channeling Rooster Cogburn via Wild Bill Hickock):
There's not much here we haven't seen and while the movie (based on the graphic novel by Peter M. Lenkov) can be summed up as a mix of Ghostbusters and Men In Black, we're still excited to check it out (even if Reynolds looks to be taking thing a little too seriously at times).
After Earth bows on May 31, 2013, and R.I.P.D. opens on July 19th, 2013.