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'After Earth' as Scientology Propaganda: What Critics Are Saying

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After Earth Jaden Smith in Front of Volcano - H 2013
Columbia Pictures

Desolate planets, bubbling volcanoes and all that talk about overcoming fear: Is Will Smith's new movie trying to sell us something more than a good time?

Prospects look grim for After Earth, Sony's $130 million sci-fi feature from director M. Night Shyamalan, starring arguably the biggest star on the planet, Will Smith, acting opposite his progeny, Jaden Smith.

FILM REVIEW: After Earth

The film has grossed a meager $1 million in opening-night screenings, and reviews have been as lethal as the beasts that wander its CGI landscape. And many of those reviews have suggested that the film traffics heavily in the theology of Scientology.

"Casual students of Scientology may find their ears pricking up at those maxims because fear and its overcoming receive a lot of play in Dianetics, a foundational text by the creator of Scientology, the pulp science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard," writes the New York Times' Manohla Dargis in her review. " 'There are five ways in which a human being reacts toward a source of danger,' he wrote in Dianetics. 'These are also the five courses he can take on any given problem.' These options are attack, flee, avoid, neglect or succumb."

Writing for Vulture, Matt Patches breaks down After Earth as nothing more than an elaborate homage to Scientology. The movie's villain is "emotion," for example, while the father character "audits" his son throughout the film. "The bulk of After Earth is essentially that [auditing] scene from The Master on a blockbuster scale," Patches argues.

STORY: Box Office Report: 'Now You See Me' Beats Will Smith's 'After Earth' Thursday Night

In his review for The Wall Street Journal, Joe Morgenstern begins by asking, "Is After Earth the worst movie ever made?" He then follows, "Maybe not; there's always Battlefield Earth to remind us how low the bar can go."

Morgenstern then goes on to say that the film is less a movie than it is a protracted, mind-numbing sermon.

"The sermon echoes a central theme of Scientology," he writes. "Is that the production's subtext, or are there reasons yet to be uncovered why humor and humanity have been essentially banished; why everyone looks pained; why the very notion of entertainment has been banished in favor of grinding didacticism, and why Mr. Smith, who has been such a brilliant entertainer over the years and decades, looks as if he has undergone a radical charismaectomy?"