M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘After Earth’ Tackles Fear of the Unknown

Columbia Pictures’ “After Earth,” the new futuristic thriller starring Will Smith and Jaden Smith, examines the themes of courage and fear in telling an astounding story of survival. “I’m fascinated by the question of why human beings fear the unknown,” says writer-director M. Night Shyamalan.

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In the film, a crash landing leaves teenager Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) and his legendary father Cypher (Will Smith) stranded on Earth, 1,000 years after cataclysmic events forced humanity’s escape. With Cypher critically injured, Kitai must embark on a perilous journey to signal for help, facing uncharted terrain, evolved animal species that now rule the planet, and an unstoppable alien creature that escaped during the crash. Father and son must learn to work together and trust one another if they want any chance of returning home.

“In our earliest days as cave-people, fear of the unknown was really important – fear could keep us safe. Fear could keep you alive,” explains Shyamalan. “ But now, we’ll fear a new job or a new relationship, because we don’t know what’s going to happen – and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Playing with that in a movie is a fun thing, and in this movie, it’s about a father teaching a son how to overcome that. It’s a wonderful lesson, because if you can learn how to control your fear of the unknown, you can do anything.”

The concept of fear is expressed literally, as the alien planet has bred a dangerous species – the Ursa – that can sense humans’ fear and use that to track and kill its prey. The only way to kill the beasts is not to fear them, as Shyamalan explains. “It becomes very metaphorical,” says Shyamalan. “In the movie, we have a young man whose fear is chasing him – and when he can overcome his fear, he becomes invisible to the Ursa. The Ursa can be in the same room, but it’s no threat because it cannot sense his fear.”

After writing the story for “After Earth,” Will Smith – also a producer of the film – would turn over the screenwriting reins to Gary Whitta and Shyamalan. Smith called Shyamalan on the latter’s birthday, and Shyamalan told Smith how great Jaden Smith was in “The Karate Kid.” Will Smith said, “Well, we do have a movie idea in the works…” and they took off from there.

“Night is a master of building suspense and fear,” Will Smith says, explaining why Shyamalan was the perfect choice for “After Earth.” “If there were a single thing that I would say is clearly Night’s genius, it’s how to take a single, still image and terrify you with it. There can be no movement – nothing happening, really – and still, you’re riveted. He is so good at setting the shot, setting the lighting, and setting the moment.”

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“Night puts everything into the movie,” says Jaden Smith, noting that Shyamalan’s style of direction is, often, sleight of hand: “He’ll get you caught up in the story – you’ll be invested in the relationship between this father and his son – and then – bam! Something pops up. I love the way he shoots – the long shots, not too many cuts, capturing the emotion of the scene without saying what’s really going on, and leaving you in the audience time to wonder.”

Opening across the Philippines on June 5, “After Earth” is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International. Visit for trailers, exclusive content and free downloads. Like us at and join our fan contests.


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