M. Night Shyamalan is not a popular director right now, as evidenced by the boos as soon as his name appeared on screen, but the world writer Gary Whitta (The Book of Eli) is building in After Earth might be enough to overcome that. In Room 6A today a lively panel ensued discussing the film and the heights they hope to reach. While sometimes they like to usher out big names for these panels, this was strictly the creative talent. Joining Whitta on stage was cinematographer Peter Suschitzky and writers Robert Greenberger and Michael Freedman. Also on stage was author and After Earth bible co-creator Peter David and Dynamite comic book illustrator Beni Lobel. While what was shown might not convince someone, it was enough to shift my interest level to elevated. Hit the jump to find out more about the reveals and all the work the crew did to give us a fully realized story that isn’t written on the fly.
Hitting theaters on June 7th, 2013, After Earth follows Cypher Raige (Will Smith) and his son Kitai (Jaden Smith), who, 1000 years after everyone has left Earth, crash land. Cypher is injured and has to guide Kitai using navigation as he battles the elements of a very hostile planet. They started the panel off by showing a lot of concept art alongside a mini documentary about the making of the film. Some highlights were all the preparation Jaden Smith went through including parkour training and double-blade weapons combat and the concept art. The scale and size of the film looks impressive, but the depth and detail is what was everyone was really enthusiastic about.
The inspiration partly came from the I Shouldn’t Be Alive TV series, according to Whitta. How these people survived horrendous circumstances and go to their body’s limits. Initially it was just a crash in the mountain with a father and son team, but Will Smith came up with the idea of setting it 1000 years into the future. He mentioned how they really “geeked out with the world building” and they would watch shows like Life After People and noting “it’s actually great for the planet.” The planet really has become an enemy to human life in general. Whitta also mentioned how cool it was that Will Smith would be helping to give them ideas and would suddenly jump up and start acting out scenes—implying that it helps having a truly talented actor on hand in the pre-production stage.
The film will be shot on digital according to Suschitzky. Part of that decision was based on the rainy areas of jungle and forest they filmed. He had to convince Shyamalan but the cinematographer of The Empire Strikes Back likely didn’t have to do much arm twisting. Also shown off was a history of After Earth montage going back to 1908 to the present of the film. The long-form sci-fi TV shows bug Peter David, “Because you can tell they are making it up as they go. *Cough* LOST *Cough* X-FILES *”.
The After Earth bible:
- Instead of starting at just 1908, the actually went all the way back to 1 billion B.C.
- 300 pages long. “Single spaced,” quipped David.
- Freedman mentioned that they actually worked backwards in time to build it up.
The Raige family has a lot of interesting background, including starting out as a Polish family. Justification for the Raige name, which is decidedly un-Polish, comes from a story of an Ellis Island immigrant receiving the name of Izzie Hornet after the immigration official didn’t understand the Polish phrase “I can’t hear you.” Peter David also mentioned how their ideas have started to turn into a reality, “I read a science report. If things don’t change, by the year 2050, Earth will be on a downhill slide. Bob, Michael and I were all high fiving.”
- The aliens are known as “Skrell”. They have witnessed the humans destroy Earth and aren’t happy that we landed in their neck of the woods on Nova Prime.
- They were originally called NIMBYs according to Whitta. “Not In My Back Yard.”
- There will be a prequel novel published by Random House set in a different time. The Skrell reveal their ultimate weapon here after many failed attempts to scare the humans away.
- They are also working on six novellas that will be published online.
As the panel began to gear up towards the Q&A, they announced a special prize as fans left after the panel; an exclusive 32-page Comic-Con comic book set around 2037 A.E. In true Comic-Con fashion, they also decided to entice the fans to ask great questions with… CUPCAKES! “Totally sucky question, no cupcake for you,” joked Peter David.
- “Are we going to meet other people after crash landing?” “At one point, there were treasure hunters. But they went away from that. Will didn’t like that idea,” says Whitta.
- Another fan asked whether we would see how the planet devolved after the humans left. Not really, “Because they left earth,” says Peter David. “The idea is that earth has been condemned. The first time anyone has been back,” says Whitta.
- “Are there any other civilizations besides the Skrell?” “We do not see them in the first film,” says Peter David. But maybe in the novels, he added. They wrote them into the bible a bit.
- After a small fan with a platypus hat on asked a question, Peter David asks how many fans of Phineas and Ferb there were and a bunch of cheers broke out. “Phineas and Ferb will be doing a guest appearance in the fifth movie,” joked David.
- One question asked how much work they put into the production. “You don’t have to do much production in Utah to make it look like an alien planet,” says Whitta. A lot of fabric and canopy tents. Looks very colonial. It also makes a positive ecological statement. They’ve chosen to have what they have instead of incredibly advanced technology killing the planet again, according to Freedman.
- “Did M. Night choose y’all? And will there be a twist?” Night came on after Greg wrote the first draft, then they wrote together. Will and Night were friends for a while because of their Philly connection.
- “Is there an overlord a bit who oversees the entire universe to keep from continuity stuff.” Yes, there is, says Peter David. Overbrook is the head. Robert, Peter David, and Michael are the big writers of the world.
- There is another family that is in opposition with the Raiges. Will and Kaleb really wanted that aspect, according to Peter David.
- “Will the movie sequel be the prequel?” “We could make lots of prequels. The reason is all that stuff is going to be prequels is because the movie hasn’t come out yet. The movie is the intro to Will and Jaden’s characters,” responded Peter David.
- Will Smith didn’t really want to play the father at first. But Jaden was always the son. Will eventually was convinced by the script after lots of drafts. “It wasn’t right in the first draft,” added Whitta.
- “What makes this film different in the visuals? Because we’ve seen aliens, planets, and others.” “Everything has been done before. But the difference? It will be up on the screen,” says Peter David. “I’ve never seen a cockpit that looks like this,” says Whitta. Greg also mentions how they shot it on locations versus Avatar, because that was CG, and this is not.
- Right before the fan retrieved his final cupcake, Whitta chimed in; “But you’ve seen cupcakes like this before. Why would you want one?” The crowd went wild with laughter.
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