M. Night Shyamalan is back, with a new post-apocalyptic film called After Earth, starring Will Smith and Jaden Smith. And it sounds like Shyamalan and Smith have joined forces to concoct their most fiendishly complicated mythos yet — judging from the tidbits of worldbuilding we gleaned from the film's Comic Con panel.
In After Earth, Will Smith plays a battle worn general attempting to reconnect with his son. During a journey with his son, an asteroid storm destroys the craft Cypher Raige (Will Smith) and Katai Raige (Jaden Smith) are traveling in, leaving Cypher near dead and Kitai scavenging a hostile and primordal Earth. Cypher talks his son Katai through a 100-click journey, with the hope of finding a rescue beacon that could save their lives. Earth, however, is not as we know it, because the planet has been left abandoned for a one thousand years, following a mass evacuation.
By the end of the 21st Century, global warming has affected the core of the Earth — and the core then affected the magnetic fields that protect humanity from solar radiation. This is the scientific reasoning as to why humanity performs a mass exodus around 2060 A.D. — embarking on a century long journey to Nova Prime. Earth is a shell of itself, with the colonists of Nova Prime living their lives on the colony for 900 years and placing perimeter beacons in orbit of Earth to warn those who might come across the abandoned planet. In the movie, the history of humanity on Nova Prime will be told through the eyes of Kitai Raige as the boy tries to live up to the image of his warrior father.
Building the Raige Family Mythology
While After Earth will feature Will guiding Jaden Smith through an altogether unknown and toxic Earth, the back story begins in 1908 with one of Cyper and Kitai Raige's distant ancestors. The patriarch of the Raige family is a Polish scientist by the name of Radoslav who witnessed the Tunguska event.
Radoslav and the Raige family harnessed lightstream technology over the course of the 20th and 21st Century, making the Raiges the most prominent family in human history. In addition to the Raige family, Peter David and other writers helming the expanded universe created a second family to butt heads with the Raiges over the millennium.
Along the way, the Raiges take on several different incarnations as the nations of humanity break apart. The 20th and 21st Century Raiges are of European descent — while their descendants in the comic series, After Earth: Innocence, are Asian colonists of Nova Prime who come across the first evidence of dangerous alien life on the planet, the Skrells. The decision to make the family multiple races over time is intentional — to show the natural blending that would occur over the centuries within a family as nation states degrade and humanity evolves.
Too much Smith?
After Earth definitely has the hands of Will Smith all over it, as the panelists told us they deferred to Smith's judgment and decision-making at every step of the way. Can Will Smith successfully pull off the trifecta conversion from rapper to actor to world-builder? Or could this be a very costly problem? We'll have to wait until the Summer of 2013 to find out.
After Earth also marks the first time director M. Night Shyamalan is shooting from a script he did not conceive, with the director working from a revised draft of an original script by Gary Whitta (The Book of Eli). When asked whether there was an example of the usual Shyamalan plot-twist in the final act, the panelists did not deny its presence in After Earth.