Hall of Fame Speech #19: After Earth

Brief note before we start: last July we got together yet again and worked out a fourth class to be inducted into the Smaddies Baddies BMT Hall of Fame. It has been nearly a decade since we started BMT and as usual the films from more than five years ago might just deserve a rewatch, a reassessment, and a recap. The previews and speeches will be released leading up to the seventh (ninth?) Smaddies Baddies for the five films chosen. After Earth is this generation’s Battlefield Earth… you know if John Travolta had used Battlefield Earth as a way to insult his children. Enjoy!

Hall of Fame Induction Speech for After Earth

I wasn’t so sure about After Earth going into the Hall of Fame. Sure I had a grand old time watching Jaden Smith bumble around a CGI forest mumbling his insane futuristic dialogue and making friends with a giant bird, but was that all this was? Just a vehicle for me and Patrick to say “Bird Friend” to each other? While this has brought great joy to our bad movie addled minds, I’m not sure it means the film has proven significant in the history of BMT. But boy howdy was I wrong. Buckle up, cause this is some Operating Thetan Level 8 kind of shit. The truth was revealed. Let’s go!

It has been five years since we watched the film. But what do I remember?

  • Bird Friend, duh. Jaden Smith (aka Kitai Raige) is nearly eaten by a bird, but then tries to help it defend its nest. At the time I remember thinking “it would be hilarious if this bird now comes back and saves Jaden like some Bird Friend”… and then it does!
  • There are a couple super intense Monosklogs in the middle of the film where Will Smith speaks for approximately an hour and then Jaden says some stuff before screaming a line directly into the camera. I remember being startled when Jaden screamed in my face and it was bad.
  • Speaking of bad things, pretty much everything Jaden mumbles throughout the film. He is not only saying futuristic nonsense, but at times it’s like he’s reading a cue card or something. Or like if I was acting in a film, but the film was in French.

So which do I think is the most important? I swear, I thought Bird Friend was the most important coming into the rewatch, which made me wary. I think if I had to choose from the three things after the rewatch I would say that the Monosklogs in the middle are probably the defining feature. They are, no joke, four hours long… fine, that is a joke, but between Will Smith’s and Jaden’s monologues they stretch over five minutes long. That’s not just long, that’s super long. It’s top 100 for most hilarious monologues to perform at an audition. And it would be top 2 if the top 99 places didn’t all go to Vin Diesel’s monologue in The Fast and the Furious. But really, that’s not the most important aspect of the film. The most important aspect wasn’t even one I remembered from the first time I watched the film. So…

How did the rewatch go? This film really surprised me. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by all of the Hall of Fame entries this year, as they’ve all been unique and interesting, but I really did think this one could have dropped off the ballot after rewatching it and finding it lacking. Instead I was stunned at how the story seemed to play with real life in a way that is somewhat uncomfortable. I could talk about Bird Friend (still hilarious). I could talk about the monologue (and I already did). I could talk about Jaden saying the line “my suit turned black. I like it but I think it’s something bad,” like he’s an alien pretending to be a human (he might be). But I can’t stop thinking about the fact that Will Smith got a writing credit on a film whose plot is basically: “You think you’re as good as me, Jaden? Prove it.”

What seemed to have occurred here is that Will Smith wrote a little fable about him and his son. It was about how his son idolizes him and wants to be him, but that they disagree on whether he’s ready to take on that challenge. The moral is supposed to be that they are both proven right: Jaden wasn’t ready, but is able to grow and learn to save the day by taking on that challenge. Satisfied with his writing skillz, Will Smith took off his glasses and said what every parent would, “now we will make this for $130 million.” What’s funny is that if it was a success it would be like “Woah, Will Smith kinda magically willed his son into being a movie star.” But instead it seems like a giant dig at Jaden. The whole beginning comes across as a meta commentary on the film itself: they are on their way to some fun father-son experience but instead disaster strikes and Will Smith breaks his (physical, but also metaphorical) legs and it’s all on Jaden to save the day (i.e. the film). So by being a total disaster, the film comes across like the moral of the story is that Jaden is simply not Will Smith. Oooooooooof.

I think this works nicely with Battlefield Earth in the way that it exemplifies what can happen when an actor who has accumulated a lot of power in Hollywood decides to make something purely for himself. This is a perfect example of a vanity project, where even though the film is ostensibly not about Will Smith… it’s still all about Will Smith. It’s certainly not as ridiculous as Battlefield Earth, but it’s more tragic, I think. Battlefield Earth is just a disaster. After Earth is a psychologically damaging disaster. Welcome to the Hall of Fame After Earth.

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