Premise: Special Agent David Marsh is recruited by a shadowy corporation to test a new game-changing computer generated amusement park.
About: Amusements is an early script written by AICN contributor Drew McWeeny (aka Moriarty) and his writing partner Scott Swan. While the script didn’t sell, it did help McWeeny and his partner start their careers, which includes a couple of spec sales, as well as writing for the TV series “Masters Of Horror.”
Writer: Drew McWeeny & Scott Swan
Details: 109 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).
Like many of you, I always enjoyed reading Moriarity’s articles on AICN during the heyday of internet movie news. At a time when there wasn’t an extensive internet film community, he was basically the first (or second, after Harry) guy to give you a nice 20 minute distraction in the middle of the day. Sure, he was a little long-winded, but it’s only because he had a lot of information and passion and opinions packed into that digital cinephile brain of his. Naturally, I was excited to read one of his early screenplays.
First thing I noticed about Amusements? How appropriate the title was. All Amusements wants to do is amuse you. It wants you to have fun. It sounds like these guys sat down and said, “What can we do to make a great summer movie?” And while that approach helps Amusements in places, it hurts it in others. Because while this script is decked to the nines with exciting cinematic set pieces, it doesn’t seem to care about character or story. And that’s what confuses me the most. I know Moriarty cares about character because I’ve heard him preach about it non-stop in review after review. So either this was written early enough in his career where he wasn’t grasping character yet, or he and his partner made the decision early on: This is a fun action flick. Forget character development.
Special Agent David Marsh specializes in high-tech crime assessment technology. He goes into Matrix-like virtual computer environments, makes sure all the ones and zeroes are aligned properly, then gets out. So it shouldn’t be surprising that two mysterious figures approach him and want him to assess the granddaddy of all digital environments, “The Park,” an amusement park that makes Disney World look like a North Korean jungle gym.
The Park was founded by a mysterious man named Alex Parker (Parker’s current whereabouts are unknown), who had a dream to make the perfect amusement park, one that really could make all your dreams come true. Since it’s all digital, you could go anywhere, from turn of the 20th century South Africa to a nearby alien star. I’m still a little unclear on why David is called to The Park, but I think it’s to make sure the technology has no holes.
Anyway, David brings his wife to the park to add some pleasure to what would otherwise be business, and meets a group of other park members who will be joining them in their group. And from nearly the second they get there, the party begins.
At first they hop on a South African Safari train and within minutes are attacked by a silverback gorilla and some not so friendly British soldiers. From there, they visit a zero-G restaurant. Then head into the Bayou where they meet a high priestess and a lot of zombies. And finally head into space to kill off some aliens.
Somewhere along the way, David realizes that Parker has embedded himself into the mainframe of the Park’s computer, and is planning to live there forever. A spooky ass dude named Samuel who was killed in the park tries to tell David that there are more like him. That something sinister has been going on. And so the script ends up with David taking on Parker one on one, to eliminate him and end all this park madness.
I don’t know Moriarty. But I’m going to guess that if he re-read this today, he’d be a little embarrassed. I mean, the idea itself is pretty clever. He and his partner have created a premise that basically allows them to add whatever their imagination can come up with, and it will make sense! Aliens? No problem. Zombies. Check. Heaven? You got it.
The problem is that the story is so thin and the character development so non-existent, that it’s hard to get emotionally involved in any of it. These are two things that are most responsible for adding depth to a script – three-dimensional characters and a good story – but Drew and Scott seem more intent on stringing together a bunch of set pieces. I’ll say it again, the set pieces are fun. And we’ve definitely reached a point in movies where people don’t make interesting set pieces anymore, so I’m not going to short-change these additions. But I guess what’s so confusing to me is that they don’t even attempt to dig into the characters.
Actually, let me back up a little. They didn’t add any depth to our heroes. They did put some thought into our villain, Alex Parker. Parker, a sort of deranged version of Walt Disney, had a troubled childhood, lots of people doubted he could build this park, and he’s a self-made man. So there is some legitimate backstory there. The problem is we’ve seen this character before. In fact, the KFC Colonel ruined any chance of this character working when the Wachowskis made a joke of him in their final Matrix film. We have to keep in mind, of course, that this was written around 2002, and that it wasn’t AS cliché as it would be today. But still, there was something very non-threatening about Parker. I never feared him. In fact, he seemed quite honorable, making a deal with David about leaving the park. Compound this with the fact that I was never sure why he brought David there in the first place, and I just couldn’t get on board with the guy.
And while I liked the fact that Drew and Scott just flung us right into the story – I mean when we get to the park, we’re on that South African train within a few pages – I did think that the story needed a more gradual build-up to the park turning on them. Even though it would’ve taken longer, establishing the park as safe and secure and trustworthy would’ve made the moment when it turned on them all the more impactful. Take Jurassic Park for example. When we get there, we probably spend a good 20 minutes of feeling like everything is safe and trustworthy before it all starts to go bad.
Complicating this is the uncertainty behind the rules of the park. Can our heroes be hurt? Is the park trying to hurt them? This train ride with everyone attacking them seems really intense, but if all that happens when they die is they’re sent back to their room, then how exciting is it really? Having said that, this was the same issue I had with Avatar. If our hero gets killed in his Avatar body, nothing happens to him. He just wakes up back at the lab, which makes all his 5 mile high tree climbing and dragon-rousing a lot less exciting when you think about it. And that movie went on to gross 2 billion dollars, so what do I know?
What I get from Amusements is that these guys love writing action. You can smell it in every line. The problem is, it’s all fan-boy and no heart. I would’ve liked more character depth outside of the villain, and a story with a more clearly defined goal (I'm still not sure why they go to the park in the first place). And some clear stakes! If you liked movies like Westworld and the The Matrix, you may want to check this out (it can be found on the net). But all in all, there’s not enough meat on the bone here.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: A couple of things. When you try to please everybody, you please nobody. I think these guys were trying to please fanboys, studio execs, audiences, everyone, and in the process they forgot to please themselves – always the most important audience member to focus on when telling your story. Also, you have to have an interesting main character. David is way too stock. There’s nothing memorable or unique about him. Even when action is the real star of the movie (ID4), your main character has to have something going on with him that makes him memorable.