LOS ANGELES -- It's a twist worthy of an M. Night Shyamalan film: Where is the prolific writer-director in the marketing of his latest work? "The Sixth Sense" filmmaker has seemingly been sidelined in the promotional efforts for "After Earth," his sci-fi film opening Friday starring Will and Jaden Smith as a father and son stranded on an untamed earth.
While Shyamalan's name is the first to pop up in the credits at the conclusion of the Sony Pictures film, it's been notably missing from trailers, TV commercials and marketing signage -- a stark contrast to his previous films like "Unbreakable" and "Lady in the Water," which were prominently billed as being "from writer-director M. Night Shyamalan."
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"Night is, without a doubt, a world-class filmmaker who we were thrilled to team up with on this project," said Jeff Blake, Sony's worldwide marketing and distribution chairman, in a statement. "Together, we decided to focus our campaign on both the action and Will and Jaden given that 'After Earth' is an adventure story of a father and son."
The film has so far amassed mostly bad reviews. Richard Corliss of Time called it "lifeless, eventless, humorless, virtually movieless," while Scott Foundas of Variety wrote that "nowhere in evidence is the gifted `Sixth Sense' director who once brought intricately crafted set pieces and cinematic sleight of hand to even the least of his own movies."
Despite his absence from the marketing some moviegoers are still aware it's a Shyamalan film. According to a survey of 1,000 "After Earth" ticket buyers by Fandango, 39 percent identified him as a key factor in wanting to see the film, while 80 percent said it was Will Smith who was the main reason they bought a ticket.
"He's a fine filmmaker, but there are more reasons not to feature him than to feature him," said Gene Del Vecchio, author of "Creating Blockbusters" and a marketing professor at University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business. "The most obvious is that his star power has faded since `The Sixth Sense,' both with critics and audiences."
Del Vecchio added that the other reasons it makes sense to downplay the 42-year-old filmmaker's involvement include his lack of cachet in the sci-fi and action genres, as well as the fact he's not the only writer of the film. (Will Smith is credited for creating the story, while Shyamalan shares screenwriting credit with "The Book of Eli" screenwriter Gary Whitta.)
Paul Dergarabedian, box office analyst for Hollywood.com, said he expects "After Earth" to launch this weekend with $30 million in second place behind "Fast & Furious 6," which debuted in the top position last week and has earned $130 million after six days of release in North America. "After Earth" reportedly cost $130 million to make.