Premise: Merlin assembles a group of modern-day knights to battle a resurrected ancient evil, but all that’s available are an alcoholic ex-Olympian, a geriatric actor, a grumpy billionaire, and a nerdy scientist.
About: Brian K. Vaughn has quickly become an all star on the writing scene. When the comic book and Lost writer puts a spec on the market, all of Hollywood stops. A couple of years ago, Vaughn had a huge bidding war over this spec, which Dreamworks won. Pretty much everyone considers it to be the next Ghostbusters.
Writer: Brian K. Vaughn
Details: 99 pages – First Draft, May 2008 (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).
You know, it’s no wonder they’ve been desperately trying to make a third Ghostbusters for two decades now. There really is no other movie franchise like it. Every movie that has ever tried to be the next Ghostbusters has fallen flat on its ass with a big resounding THUD. The franchise found that elusive combination of comedy, mock horror and action that SEEMS like it should be easy to replicate, but in actuality, is damn near impossible. It’s like Coke or Kentucky Fried Chicken. You generally know what’s in there, but you don’t know how it’s all mixed together. Well, Brian K. Vaughn must have broken into the Ghostbuster labs and stolen the recipe, because he’s written the next Ghostbusters.
Roundtable starts out back in the olden days when Merlin was a badass and knights ruled the roost. An evil old witch named Morgana spent her time flying around killing people for fun. Luckily, Merlin and the knights of the round table are all about turning this bitch into a pop-tart, and eventually battle her down into the ground where she becomes trapped inside a tree. As long as there are knights to protect England, Merlin proclaims, their country will be safe from Morgana, and safe from evil.
Jump forward to modern day New York City.
Merlin now lives in a Brooklyn apartment (which he’s had for over 300 years) and spends the majority of his time scarfing down twinkies and playing World of Warcraft. Due to a Morgana curse, if Merlin were to ever leave England, he would never be able to come back. So Merlin popped over to this land England bought, thinking it would be a quick vacation, only to find himself stuck here once the United States declared their independence. This is a very big deal because he’s just gotten word that some numnuts back in England who wanted to build a mall, ran over the tree that was housing Morgana! This is officially a worst case scenario situation. Morgana is back in business and Merlin can’t go back to stop her!
Since the only other thing that can stop a witch are Knights, Merlin is forced to recruit four knights from the modern-day coffers. Of course, since these days they knight anyone with a pulse, the pickings are slim. He ends up with Simon, a dweeb who was knighted for his expertise in ecology, Ricky, a former Olympic javelin gold medalist who’s now a slobbering drunk, Edmund, a stuck up angry billionaire supermarket CEO, and Michael Caine. As Vaughn writes in the script, “Yeah, THAT Michael Caine.”
Merlin zaps these four to Brooklyn where he informs them of the task at hand, and they predictably tell him, in no uncertain terms, HELL NO. They don’t even have their own lives together. What makes them think they can take out a witch? So back to England they’re zapped, believing they’ll simply be able to watch Wimbledon, hang with Becks, and inhale strumpets. But they quickly learn that the situation is more grave than they considered. Morgana is turning everyone into ogres and quickly taking over England! These knighted men each look deep into their souls and somehow find the courage to step up and fight for their country. They’re not sure they can do this, but because they’re England’s only shot, they have to.
And thus begins the story of Roundtable.
In all the scripts I’ve ever read, I don’t think I’ve ever read a screenplay as FUN as this one. The Hangover was close, but this beats it. It’s just a blast from page 1 to page 100. It all, of course, starts with the characters, who are hilarious. A lot of the script has them squabbling with one another other and it’s some of the funniest squabbling you’ll ever read. For example, they only remember Michael Cain for his bad movies like Jaws 3-D and The Muppet Christmas Carol. None of them have any idea that he was in iconic successful films like Alfie or The Italian Job, and it pisses the shit out of Caine.
Just look at how the script opens: “A crowd of SCREAMING PEASANTS charges over the rolling green hills of sixth-century Britain. But just when you start to worry that this is going to be a shitty historical drama, we push in close on one of these moaning peasants to reveal WORMS crawling through the flesh of its reanimated corpse-face. Oh, okay, neat. These marauding farmhands are actually an ARMY OF THE UNDEAD.”
Vaughn even throws out casting suggestions on the fly, informing us that Merlin shouldn’t be old and boring, but should probably be played by Jack Black.
I’ll be honest with you, I can’t fathom how this movie hasn’t been fast-tracked into production. It’s easily one of the best spec script ideas in the last decade and there isn’t a single character in the script that wouldn’t be a blast to play. Why hasn’t Jack Black committed to this? Why hasn’t Ricky Gervais committed to this? There’s a scene in a celebrity wax museum that would easily be one of the greatest scenes of all time, right up there with the Stay Puff Marshmellow Man. This has “classic” potential written all over it.
Having said that, this draft isn’t perfect. Not everything has been fleshed out yet, and the second half of the screenplay, in particular, seems to go too fast. The final battle also kind of comes out of nowhere and after it was over, I felt like I hadn’t gotten to know these characters well enough. It’s rare when I say a screenplay has to slow down, but I think Vaughn may have underestimated just how lovable this team of misfits was. We needed some drawn out moments towards the end of that second act, and I think if they'd done that, the finale would've played out better.
Very enjoyable read. I’m left with only one question. When the hell are they going to make this movie???
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: In a screenplay, near the end of the first act, there is usually something that’s fancily referred to as the “Refusal of the call.” What it is is your hero initially refusing to accept the challenge that’s been put forth before him. Obi-Wan asks Luke if he’ll come with him to Alderran. Luke says no way. He can’t leave. He has to help his Uncle on the farm. In The Matrix, Morpheus is guiding Neo to safety out on a building ledge when Neo finally says, “Screw this shit, this is too dangerous,” and allows himself to be captured. The Refusal Of The Call actually makes sense when you think about it. The challenge set forth in the movie is usually so above and beyond what your protagonist is capable of, that it wouldn't make sense if they DID accept it right away. You need that transition moment where the hero says, “I can't do it,” because, hey, it's the same way we'd all react, and it sets up your character for the change they'll have to make later in order to arc. When our four heroes are tasked to take out the killer witch here, they all say, “No friggin way dude. We're not committing suicide.” And they walk away. It's only when the witch begins her path of destruction that they realize, "Hey, we don't really have a choice here. We have to do this." ---- Note, however, that a refusal of the call is not always necessary. In the film this script was inspired by, Ghostbusters, the technique was never used.
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