Adam Markovitz
April 12, 2013 AT 04:00 AM EDT

In their first onscreen team-up since 2006’s The Pursuit of Happyness, Will and Jaden Smith star in a sci-fi epic about an interplanetary ranger (Smith the elder) who has to rely on his ranger-in-training son (Smith the younger) when their vessel crashes on a savage, inhospitable planet…called Earth. After coming up with the original idea for the movie, Will Smith hired Gary Whitta (The Book of Eli) to pen a script, and comics gurus Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman, and Robert Greenberger to write a 350-page ”history” chronicling what might happen if our planet became a human-free wildland full of fearsome animals. (Smith hopes to develop After Earth into a cross-platform brand with a TV show and books.)

Finding a director, though, required a stroke of luck.”I was calling [M. Night Shyamalan] to wish him a happy birthday, and he said, ‘Man, I don’t want your birthday wishes — I want to make a movie with you,”’ says Smith. ”I sent him the screenplay, and he sent back ideas that were absolutely genius.” But a signature Shyamalan surprise ending wasn’t one of them. ”There’s a dramatic center to this movie that doesn’t rely on gimmicks,” says Smith. ”It relies on the power of the love between a father and son.” Of course, a Shyamalan movie without a twist could be the biggest twist of all.

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