Luke Y. Thompson is contributing to Deadline’s coverage of Comic-Con.
Despite there being no Will or Jaden Smith and no M. Night Shyamalan, Sony’s panel on After Earth was packed to capacity in Room 6A. Without that key talent, attendance likely would have seemed sparse in the larger Hall H usually reserved for event movies. Set 1,000 years after Earth has become uninhabitable and humans live on a world called Nova Prime, the movie deals with a father and son – with dad being one of the best rangers ever – who crash land on the inhospitable future Earth where nature has taken over again. Screenwriter Gary Whitta referred to it as “Jurassic Planet … we were evicted by nature because we were no longer welcome there … every single thing on this planet will kill you.” Air, plants and creatures are all hostile to humans because nature has developed defense mechanisms to keep people from coming back. Jungles, forest (the Redwood forests up north where Return of the Jedi was filmed) and desert are the main environments of the story.
Still, we got a glimpse via a behind-the-scenes video that revealed Jaden Smith doing heavy martial arts training (mostly stick-fighting and parkour) and director Shyamalan saying he views the movie as a documentary about Earth’s future. Future earth in the production design actually looked a whole lot like the Comic-Con Sails Pavilion (glass buildings under big billowy white sails) – and then there were some monsters, large albino-looking critters including one giant land creature and a crab-thing. One of Jaden’s key costumes is textured and colored like the kind of camouflage that would work on a wooded planet.
The story begins with Jaden’s character in ranger (essentially police) academy, having to pass an oral history test which is a device to set up the backstory for the audience. A video was shown of a Facebook-style timeline of the world-building, which originates with the Tunguska explosion in 1908 – described as an alien spacecraft crash here, and the source of our technology acceleration in the 20th century. The rangers are established to set up martial law, and escort humans offworld to another planet as resource crises grow. The Raige family are described as the most influential family of the future, as their patriarch was the first ranger – Will Smith plays Cypher Raige, the latest in the line. There have also been run-ins with an alien race called the Skrell, whose technology will be part of the story.
Writer Peter David, who helped come up with the world-building, says the storyline was so fleshed out that their “bible” for the movie and the tie-in books begins a billion years ago. David said he can’t stand when storylines are clearly being made up as they go along despite comments about an overall plan, citing Lost and The X-Files as examples. One detail is that in the future, there are no nations, and so the Smiths worked with a dialect coach to develop “neutral” accents.