Monday, January 10, 2011

The Ark

Genre: Horror/Sci-Fi
Premise: Jurassic Park meets Michael Bay via Jerry Bruckheimer. A team of scientists study what could be Noah’s Ark, trapped underneath a mountain of ice. But this is not the same ark we’ve been told about in stories.
About: The 2005 sci-fi script “The Ark” is what got Holly Brix her agent. This later led to her selling her first spec, “Mile Zero,” about a young woman who takes a job on an Alaskan oil rig so she can prove her father's innocence in a series of murders (to star Milla Jovavich). Finally, last year, Brix got her first produced credit with “The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations.” Lucky for us, she’s made her first script available through the WGA website which I link to at the end of the review.
Writer: Holly Brix
Details: 125 pages - undated (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).

Hooray! A script all of you can participate in. We haven’t had much action oriented sci-fi stuff on the site lately, so I decided to change that. The Ark is one of those big idea scripts, the kind that Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin get all hot and bothered over. Something a younger Spielberg might have made. And make no mistake, The Ark has its influences steeped in Jurassic Park. The big question with these “big idea” scripts is always, does the execution live up to the idea? The answer is almost always no because a big idea only requires you to write 2 great lines. A script requires you to write 5000 great lines. Naturally, the odds aren’t in your favor. But hey, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it, right? Let’s hope Brix is one of the few who pulled it off.

Abby Archer, that rare breed of knockout archeologist you only find in movies, is approached by a man explaining to her that they’ve “found it.” Whatever “it” is, Abby seems to understand what he’s talking about, but doubts that it’s true. “It” is obviously something very rare.

Complicating matters is that Jeff, her ex-husband, is also being summoned to the "it" party. That’s good news for us readers (conflict!) but bad news for Abby. While it all seems like a lot of hassle for what will likely be nothing, in the end Abby agrees to participate because the scientific ramifications are just too large.

So it’s off to Iceland where Abby and an entire team are greeted by Allister Eckmann, a 56 year old Richard Branson times 20. Eckmann believes he’s found the Ark. Yes, the Ark as in that boat with all the animals on it. Well great, Abby says, let’s get the hell down there and check it out.

So they head down under stories and stories of ice and are shocked to see what doesn’t look like a boat at all. This looks more like a…giant space ship. Abby takes the group inside and they immediately come upon some frozen animals, but not like any animals you and I know. More like animal hybrids. Dog-bears and Emu-vultures. That kind of thing.

What this means, they beleive, is that Noah’s Ark is a ship that originated from another planet, and came here to populate the earth. Nobody’s quite sure why the ship then would be down here, with all the animals seemingly still entombed, but since they’re all scientists, they’re eager as hell to find out.

Unfortunately, while taking a stroll through the stadium sized ship, it TURNS ON, and all these animals start thawing out. These animals weren’t frozen after all. They were in cryogenic sleep! And since half of them seem to be the really nasty hunting type, our characters realize they’re playing the part of eggs and bacon in these animals' breakfast.

As is the norm in these movies, people start splitting up, and each group is hunted down by a set of nasty monsters. One group takes on a rhino…thing. Another takes on a room full of cougars, and no, not that kind of cougar (though I’m not sure which would be worse). And others still take on some kind of Yeti beast.

There’s a big storm that prevents them from getting up to the surface. There’s a bad guy who’s got his own motives for the Ark. And there’s plenty of hypotheses about what planet the ship is from and why it came to earth. But in the end, it’s just about getting the fuck off this thing alive.

So, does The Ark work? I’m afraid to say “not really.” It’s certainly a fun idea but the treatment of that idea is too simple and too obvious. If you’re a fan of these kinds of movies, you’re not going to find anything new here, and while that certainly isn’t required for these films to work, the lack of surprises leads to us being way ahead of the story, which is never a good thing.

One of the overlooked things in these genre, believe it or not, is character development. Outside of Abby’s past relationship with Jeff, there’s nothing linking any of these people together – no history, no secrets, no conflict, no problems. In other words, there’s no drama to get wrapped up in, and as a result, we lose interest in the characters.

Look at a movie like Pitch Black. Look at all the tension and secrets and history and conflict going on between the characters in that movie. Riddick and Johns have a past. Riddick is the only one who can save them, but is also the one who can hurt them the most. So half the people want to let him free and the other half don’t. This causes a divide between the group. Certain characters are building trust with other characters, some of them lying, some not, so that there’s this intricate web of drama and deceit going on underneath the story. This way, when all the exterior stuff happens (they’re attacked), the character moments become a lot more interesting. Is a person who hates another person going to save them or let them die? You need that kind of stuff to make these stories work and there just wasn’t any of that going on here. Even the stuff with Abby and Jeff gets forgotten, which leaves almost zero conflict to play with.

The stuff that happened topside with Eckmann and our bad guy, Joe, was kind of interesting. But it felt completely detached from the rest of the story, since the two plots had little to do with each other, so it was tough getting into it.  Plus, if you're going to have a bad guy, you want him to be a part of the party, right in the mix of everything, not safely upstairs in another subplot.  Imagine if Burke was still up on the main ship in Aliens

To be honest, I would’ve preferred they got rid of the topside plot altogether. Some of the stuff there was hard to buy anyway (Eckmann went down and set up cameras all over the ship ahead of time so he could watch the scientists expressions when they looked around). I think one of the reasons The Thing worked so well was that they were all alone, no way to call for help, stranded. I think this would’ve been more scary if our characters were experiencing that same kind of uncertainty.

This script actually feels more like a first draft, where the writer is getting the basic ideas down, with plans to flesh everything out later. If that’s the case, I think it has potential. Mutated animals hunting down humans is definitely movie material. But right now, too many aspects are only half-realized.

Script link: (This link is for the WGA’s server, where you can download the screenplay)

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Use a lingering mystery in your first act to take us through boring character introductions. In some scripts, you have to set up a lot of characters. This can be really boring for a reader to trudge through, but here’s a trick to make it more bearable. Set up a mystery ahead of time. In The Ark, we’ve been told that he’s found “it.” What’s “It?” We’re not sure but from everyone’s excitement, we sure as hell want to find out. For that reason, while we meet 8 characters in a row, the pages fly by, because we’re excited to find out what it is they’re all talking about. If you ONLY introduce 8 characters in a row, you’re probably going to put us to sleep.