He may be one of the finest examples of a filmmaker totally destroying their career and reputation in a very short period of time.
Back in 2002 was the hottest filmmaker in Hollywood. He was a writer/director with a clear vision for his films. His latest film SIGNS starred Mel Gibson, at the time an A-list star, but the marketing didn't focus on the star. The focus was on creative force behind the film, M. Night. It was his third hit in a row.
M. Night was on such a role that Newsweek declared him, "The Next Spielberg." As a huge fan of those three films, I personally believed it.
Jump forward 11 years...
A new movie called After Earth opens today starring Will Smith and his son Jaden. It looks like a generic sci-fi adventure, and it currently holds a Tomato Rating of 13%. It's most of interest simply as Will Smith's latest nepotism project.
What's even a bit more curious is that the trailer doesn't tell us anything about the director.
The answer is simple, the film was directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
After the release of Signs, the quality of Shyamalan's films took a serious nose-dive, and so did his reputation.
Consider his film's Tomato Rating:
The Sixth Sense - 85%
Unbreakable - 68%
Signs - 74%
The Village - 43%
Lady in the Water - 24%
They Happening - 17%
The Last Airbender - 6%
After Earth - 13%
It's been over a decade since he's directed a film which received positive reviews. His last five films have received dismal reviews. The last film he directed, The Last Airbender, was so poorly received that After Earth's 13% is a significant improvement.
It's not just the quality of his films that's disappeared. His style has disappeared. He's become just another journeyman director. His biggest distinctive is how consistently bad his films are.
We'll likely never fully understand what happened, but I think comparing his career to that of Steven Spielberg reveals some obvious problems.
Ego ManiacI don't know if he was always full of himself or if fame and acclaim boosted his self-image to absurd levels. But by all accounts, at some point in time his ego completely took control.
Steven Spielber found himself on a hot-streak in the 70's. His first major film, Jaws, was a major critical and financial success. It's follow up, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, was also a huge critical and financial success. Then 1941 happened. His ambitious train wreck of a film. 30 years later, it remains one of his poorest reviewed films. For his next project he didn't go at it alone. He decided to work on a project with his best friend George Lucas. The end result...Raider's of the Lost Ark. That film was followed up with E.T. If you've ever seen an interview with Spielberg, you'll instantly notice how unassuming he is. He has ever right to act and behave better than everyone else, but instead he comes off like an unassuming lover of film.
What about M. Night? What did he do when his career started to look shaky?
After the mixed reaction to The Village, a more humble director would pause to re-evaluate his career and talent. That's what Spielberg did. Not so much for Shyamalan. After The Village he started work on Lady in the Water. Originally the film was supposed to be made by Disney. They read his script and quickly rejected it. Buying his own hype, he assumed they didn't know what they were talking about and took the film to another studio. Upon release the film sank at the box-office, and pulled in his first truly awful reviews. Just to showcase his ego, he cast himself in the film as a writer poised to write a great novel.
At some point in time, he stopped listening to people, and he started to desperately chase what previously came naturally.
One Trick PonyHis three great films all followed a similar formula. They're slow moving, atmospheric films with a big twist at the end. This approach was universally praised in The Sixth Sense, mostly praise in Unbreakable, and distinctly mixed with Signs. By the time The Village rolled around, many people watched the film simply waiting for the twist. When it arrived, they were greatly disappointed.
By the time he moved away from his one trick, he'd ruined his reputation so much he started getting stuck with genre films.
Delayed Sophomore SlumpI once read an interview with a musician who was working on his second album. He was describing how incredibly stressful and difficult the process was for his band. He had this to say about it (I'm paraphrasing of course).
You have your entire life to write your first album. It's a greatest hits collection of everything you've written up to that point in your life. Once it's released, you hit the road and tour. When the tour ends, the studio gives you two months to write your follow up album. That's when you learn if you have what it takes to succeed.
Upon hearing that quote it instantly made sense why so many sophomore albums are terrible. Likewise, it explains the existence of so many one hit wonders. That song is the best song they have written in their life. Some people stay at that level of quality, and others only have a couple of good ideas in them.
Shyamalan had 29 years of life before he made The Sixth Sense. In those years he most likely thought about all kinds of different stories and twists. After his three film greatest hits streak ran out, he was put to the test, and unfortunately he failed.
I think at this point in time, the only M. Night project I would be interested in would be him completing his proposed Unbreakable trilogy. That would get my attention.
What do you think happened to M. Night?