Think After Earth is just about Will Smith reconnecting with his son on a dangerous future Earth? WRONG. There's a whole baffling alien backstory, that you don't even know about. It's just not in the trailers. Journey with us as we attempt to untangle M Night Shyamalan's ridiculously complicated movie. And meet the Skrels, who kill humans! For unknown reasons!
Thanks to the movie companion book the United Rangers Corps Survival Manual, we now (kind of) understand the wickedly overcomplicated plot behind After Earth. Turns out, there are aliens in this movie — lots of them. Different species, in fact, which sound infinitely more interesting than a boy with a spear in the woods.
But in order to fully explain it we're going to need to break down what leads up to the jungle adventure, year by year.
1908 - An alien ship crash lands in Russia. All collective world governments then keep this discovery a secret basically forever. (But they let smarties like Nikola Tesla and Albert Einstein play with the remains).
2012 - NASA announces that they've invented WARP ENGINES. By secretly tapping into the alien spaceships knowledge of the universe's "dark energy." Tah Dah!
2071 - 2072 - Earth is all GTFO, humans. No one can live here any more, because it's poison for us, so 750,000 survivors leave on ARKS (one is named the Asimov). The Arks were created thanks to additional information pulled (over the years) from the downed spacecraft.
32 AFTER EARTH - The Rangers (who are basically the super militarized government now) invent a religion while on board the Arks. Because you gotta have faith. It's called Primus, after the band. This backfires horribly.
67 AE - Primus makes its own religious army, because of course they do. And they also decide to rewrite their rules, to make the head of Primus (also called Primus) the ruler indefinitely, until death. A few of the remaining Arks (some die out) start adopting the office of Primus.
100 AE - Only three out of the six Arks survive. But the rest of the folks land on their new planet Nova Prime.
222 AE - A Primus leader starts speaking out against science and industrialization on their new planet, because that's what got them all in this mess in the first place. Of Course They Do. After "much debate" the role of Savant is created to oversee the science side of the human race on Nova Prime.
243 AE - The Skrel attack Nova Prime for reasons unknown. Nova Prime was allegedly uninhabited when they landed, so this is a big WTF. The Rangers manage to protect the civillians. The Primus zealots have a field day. Note these are NOT the same aliens that crash landed on Earth.
350 AE - The Skrel return with a new look (see picture). No one has actually seen a real Skrel body yet — just the ships and Skrel drones.
576 AE - The Skrel return again, but this time to drop off the Ursa, a genetically engineered creature who's designed to kill humans. How the people of Nova Prime know that, since they have never met or spoke to a Skrel and this is the only other alien they've met, remains to be seen. Anyway, this Ursa creature evolves into an a better killing machine with each new generation. Think Resident Evil monsters, only not as fast. Ursa can only see humans based on our secretions caused by fear. Because that's how the Skrel made them — without eyes. But they can smell our fear.
651 AE - More Ursa are dumped on Nova Prime. Once an Ursa "imprints" on a human, it will hunt them until its prey has been killed. Which is basically the same thing that happens in Twilight. They have secret a black venom that paralyses victims.
726, 876, 951, 997 AE - Even MORE Ursa are unleashed, now mutated into super-fast killing machines. The Rangers struggle to save what remains of humanity. The Rangers' best defense is "ghosting," in which a Ranger becomes fearless, and thus can fight the Ursa without being smelled. 980 AE Is the first "official" Ghosting.
OOOOOOH NOW those After Earth ads make sense!
1000 AE - Will Smith and his son are traveling somewhere with a Ursa who's been captured, in a big pod (pictured above). They crash land on Earth and NOW we are where the trailer starts. PHEW.
Apart from explaining this wildly detailed and yet pretty vague backstory, the Rangers Manual has a bunch of images of their tech and doo dadery. Most of it was your usual scifi gadgetry (hologram maps, hologram instructions, but the LUNG GEL jumped out at me the most. Here is a shot of the Universal Air Filtration Gel, which coats the lungs, so they can breathe on the now fairly toxic Earth. It looks like hair treatment.
And finally, here are a few shots of the more civilized parts of Nova Prime, a few decades after they first arrived. Along with a few shots of the Rangers' air base. It's actually pretty gorgeous.
So there you have it — the secret behind M. Night's new world has been revealed. Does it make you want to see the movie now? Is anyone surprised there's a overly complicated backstory tied to this? Hey at least it's not a twist, unless... WE ARE THE SKRELS!
Honestly we could be into a movie just about this backstory.