After Earth is a big-budget ($130 million) science-fiction adventure film starring Will Smith and his son Jayden as a father & son who crash-land on Earth a thousand years after man has abandoned it, and the adventure they have trying to escape the dangerous wild habitat the Earth has become. Smith himself came up with the basic story, and worked with screenwriter Gary Whitta to carry the idea further. Due for release on May 31, 2013, it is expected to be a blockbuster.
Will Smith, acting as producer, hired director M. Night Shyamalan (Unbreakable, The Sixth Sense, Signs) for the film. This was the first time in twenty years that Shyamalan accepted a project based on someone else’s screenplay (the final screenplay was done by Stephen Gaghan). This would also be Shyamalan’s first digital film.
Science-fiction adventure stories come and go, but what makes After Earth a unique film is the backstory. Normally, a film is scripted, filmed, and then if it is successful, writers are hired to create backstory, a “Bible” from which movie tie-ins, novels, short stories, and future scripts can draw material to make a unified vision of that world. After Earth is the first film to flesh out its backstory before the scripting was even finished. Three expert writers were hired for that task: Peter David, Robert Greenberger, and Michael Jan Friedman, all of whom were well-versed in writing not only successful science-fiction and comics, but media tie-ins as well. All three collaborated in creating the “universe” in which the story takes place, the what, why, where, when and how, working on set with Smith, Shyamalan, and the scriptwriters to make the story as cohesive and believable as possible.
As told to me by Bob Greenberger, the three authors worked from the original Whitta script, taking tiny open references and creating minute details that would answer any questions the production team might have as to what cataclysms sent man from Earth, why Nova Prime, and what happened in the intervening years. Over a period of two years, this background encyclopedia grew to more than four hundred pages! If you’ve seen anything about the film in print, on the internet, or in film references, you can pretty much guarantee that information came from their work.
Of course, such detail and planning spawns stories on its own. Several novels centering around the movie are poised for release: After Earth, the novelization of the film by Peter David, The Perfect Beast (After Earth: Ghost Stories) by Peter David, Robert Greenberger, and Michael Jan Friedman, and After Earth: United Ranger Corps Survival Manual by Robert Greenberger, as well as several short e-stories available for Kindle Purchase, with more to come in the ensuing months.
With a top-notch cast and writing crew like that, how can After Earth be anything but a hit? Check out these other books by these great authors, (or meet them in person at the Shoreleave Science Fiction Convention in Baltimore this August).