How do you go from “the next Spielberg” to a critical joke in the span of a single decade? How, exactly, do you squander all the cinematic goodwill you’ve built up over the course of some stellar motion pictures to produce what many consider to be back-to-back-to-back bombs? It’s an intriguing set of questions, one that the subject would probably scoff at as nothing more than the irrational ‘hating’ of a fetishized fanboy nation. But the fact remains that M Night Shyamalan is considered the owner of one aesthetic flop after another. While The Last Airbender made enough money to see Paramount past its obvious critical drubbing (it was based on a wildly popular animated kids show, after all), what’s clear is that said film, and the nearly three films in between his latest, After Earth, showcases a director no longer in control of his muse.
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There’s an age old maxim that goes a little something like this: “you can pick your friends…you can’t pick your family” - and while that sentiment is indeed accurate, it’s still a bit specious. As a matter of fact, you can make a conscious decision to leave your legally linked biological others, and the only repercussion may be an innate sense of sadness (unless you really, really hate them) and the occasional odd look from those who don’t understand such distance. There’s also the instance where you “run out for cigarettes” and recreate a new communal brood out of the remnants of such an unexpected “break-up.” We ‘step’ through life like this all the time. So, in truth, you can pick your family—not in the literal sense (unless you have some sort of cosmic control on procreation)—but in the more flawed, figurative sense.
The premise of the original Neverending Story (both book and film) represents the coming of a plague dubbed as the ‘Nothing’, where the world is coming to an end because people lack the imagination to keep it stable. Most movies dealing with the apocalypse have adults running about to stop it from happening, yet the Neverending Story is the exact opposite. The Neverending Story presents a world where children are allowed to make choices without adult interference; how a child goddess goes to great lengths in acting as a guide to stop the ‘Nothing’ from destroying a world imbued with creativity and imagination; and how misconceptions of juvenile daydreaming breaks down to teach us how gifted children carry the imagination to actually bring about change.
Bad movies are nothing new. Surely they date as far back as cinema itself; as soon as you have more than one of anything, you run the risk of one being “better” than the other.
And certainly early American film history is littered with some pretty pungent cinema stinkers—the hyperbolic Reefer Madness came out in 1938; the notorious flop I Take This Woman, with Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr, emerged in 1940; and the nadir of Bette Davis’s career, Beyond the Forest, was unleashed in 1949.
From the moment it (finally) ended, fans frothed over the idea of Peter Jackson taking on the rest of Tolkien’s literary world. The New Zealand auteur, previously best known for his outrageous horror films, had successfully translated the mammoth Lord of the Rings into a trio of terrific films, earning billions of dollars, numerous accolades, and several Oscars in the process. So why wouldn’t Jackson want to take on The Hobbit, the famed “kiddie novel” that started it all? Well, for one thing, he didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as a fantasy filmmaker solely. Also, the idea of taking on another massive moviemaking project just didn’t appeal to the director. He was tired. So he handed over the challenge to friend Guillermo Del Toro - and the countdown to the Mexican geek maverick’s take on Bilbo Baggins and his trek through Middle Earth began…
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