MOTW: Will and Jaden Smith's On-Screen Connection

May 28th, 2013

MOTW: Will and Jaden Smith's On-Screen Connection

It's round two in the battle of man versus Earth. A thousand years ago, Earth cast off the last of humanity, forcing the relocation of survivors to the planet known as Nova Prime. This time around, a crash landing on post-apocalyptic Earth pits father and son Cypher and Kitai Raige against the fearsome animal species who now rule the planet. An M. Night Shyamalan movie, "After Earth" is chock full of twists, epic scenes, and delicately interwoven relationships. And how better to focus on a father-son connection than to cast Will Smith and son Jaden in the two lead roles?

Fans of the "Fresh Prince" need only see Jaden Smith once to realize that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. After starring in 2010's remake of "The Karate Kid," Jaden came into his own as a performer. He'd already performed alongside dad Will in "The Pursuit of Happyness" (2006) and costarred with Keanu Reeves in yet another remake, this time the 2008 version of "The Day the Earth Stood Still," but his 2010 lead role, opposite Jackie Chan, showed that Jaden is more than the kid of two movie stars and has enough of his own chops to capture attention and appeal to an audience.

A trend in movies this year is portraying what happens when Earth and humans divorce. Tom Cruise's "Oblivion" tackles the topic of defending the planet after an alien invasion has already fundamentally destroyed the planet as it was. "Oblivion" opened in mid-April 2013 to critical acclaim and large box office receipts. Opening in late May, "After Earth" tackles a planet similarly distressed but for far different reasons. Tom Cruise and Will Smith are arguably two of Hollywood's premier leading men. The challenge between the movies, then, is one of subtle differentiation paired with the proper amount of homage paid to rabid fans of science fiction.

In this regard, Will Smith may have an advantage. While "Oblivion" is based on previously written graphic novels, "After Earth" is based on an original premise developed, co-written and produced by the elder Smith. After connecting with screenwriter Gary Whitta, director M. Night Shyamalan also came aboard. Smith originally posed son Jaden in the movie, but didn't intend to fill the father role until Shyamalan convinced him that the film could build upon the existing Smith family dynamic and past experience working together. But before he could commit to his own movie concept, Smith had to step aside from a prior attachment to the Hurricane Katrina film, "The American Can," where he was replaced by Denzel Washington.

Since 2011, Will Smith has been active in nearly all aspects of developing the film, including scouting locations in Utah, California, Costa Rica and Pennsylvania. Shyamalan additionally performed research at the Valley Forge Military Academy, known for its setting in "Taps"(another Tom Cruise film), working to prepare the younger Smith as a military cadet of the future.

The lead-up to the release of "After Earth" was bolstered by a strong social media campaign on Facebook and Google+, along with a dynamic movie website that helps fans get inside the setting and premise of the movie. Along the way, teaser trailers have been released since early 2012, sometimes pitted directly against "Oblivion" sneak peeks. With the catchy tag line "Danger is real, fear is a choice," the early looks of "After Earth" were meant to speak to fans of sci-fi, action, military and suspense films.

Jaden, born in 2008, also follows in his father's footsteps as a rapper. Having semi-seriously sought emancipation from his parents in the past, Jaden gets a chance to grow up fast in the filming of "After Earth," where he underwent intense survival training. The Smith duo also get the opportunity to explore both sides of family relationships, undergoing both contentious and bonding opportunities in both the filming of the movie and the movie premise itself. When the pair's crash landing on Earth leaves the father injured, the son must also step up to do what's necessary to get back home, while also learning to realize the wisdom of the elder's guidance.

Back in Will Smith's world, the actor gets the chance to meld his near-epic career with the legendary past of lead character Cypher Raige. All of the relationship intricacies, fictitious storylines blended with real-life scenarios, and the Shyamalan touch of just-believable-but-still-incredible twists means that "After Earth" is sure to captivate, thrill, and catch moviegoers off guard. The film opens May 29, 2013, comes in at just 100 minutes, and is rated PG-13.