Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Future Perfect

Genre: Thriller/Sci-Fi/Action
Premise: A genetically modified super-soldier who escaped from a secret project years ago, must find and save the daughter he's never known before the organization that created him gets to her first.
About: This script sold earlier this year. The writers do not have a produced credit yet but have worked on the most recent Zorro project in development, Zorro Reborn. Alex Proyas has moved in to produce the film. Shane Abbess, who helmed 2007’s Gabriel, will direct.
Writers: Lee Shipman & Brian McGreevy
Details: 108 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).

Tom Hardy for Sean would be a dream come true for the production. 

There's a very specific reason I chose this script. Unfortunately, I can't get into it right now. I'll just say this. A couple of years ago, I reviewed a script that I thought sucked. I'm asked all the time if I’ve ever read a terrible script that became a good movie, and the answer is always no. Even if the script’s going to be rewritten, you can tell a dud when you see it. But this is one of the few times where a bad script turned into an amazing movie. You'll be able to hear more about that in my end of the year Top 10 list. But for the time being, you guys will have to guess which film I'm talking about (it shouldn't be that hard once you read the review).

Future Perfect starts off 44 years in the future when private military companies have taken over the bulk of fighting in the world. Several of these companies are battling it out to win a contract with the United States, one of the last nations to adopt a privatized military. The dark horse contender, Sparta, is doing everything in its power to become the leading candidate.

Paul Hartley, 39, is your basic Joe Sixpack. If by basic you mean superhuman. You see, Paul works as a mall cop, but he's got all sorts of secrets going on. One of them is that his hand trembles a lot. The second is that he escaped from a super-secret organization. But I'm getting ahead of myself. While at his job, Paul's attacked by a group of motorcyclists, who he spins and flips and kicks and saut├ęs into a bloody pulp.

Unfortunately, they eventually catch Paul, and he's brought back to a man named James Blaylock, who may or may not be related to Professor X, as he too, is in a wheelchair. James is a high ranking official for Sparta and he's been trying to find Paul ever since he escaped from the facility 15 years ago. The reason he needed to find him was to ask him where Maggie was. It turns out Maggie and one of the other Sparta employees, Sean, were part of the same project as Paul (adding superhuman qualities to human beings to make them ultimate soldiers), and Sean kind of fell in love with her before she and Paul escaped.

Stay with me. I'm getting to the point. Sean and Maggie had a child together who’s now 15 years old (or maybe it was Paul and Maggie - still a little confused on this aspect). Her name is Anna. Since Anna is the only child in the world who has been born to two genetically modified superhumans, she's basically the perfect human being, kind of like Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element. So she's like, the sixth element.

Paul, who we thought was our hero, gets killed.  So now Sean has to go to Maggie to warn her what's going on (or try to capture her - not sure which).  He ends up revealing himself to Anna as the father she never knew, and when Maggie gets pasted by the bad guys, Sean and Anna must escape and find refuge together, not an easy task since Anna holds a lot of animosity towards her deadbeat dad.

So basically we have an on the run film with a lot of kicks and punches and superhuman moves. These kinds of things always play better on screen than on the page because I don't care how well you describe somebody kicking somebody else's ass, it's not going to be the same as if I'm seeing it. But even as I tried to imagine the best potential onscreen version of this, I couldn't get past the fact that it all felt so familiar.

The writers have the right idea though. One of the things I preach is that when you put two characters together who have to achieve a common goal, it's best to make them as resistant to one another as possible (or at least give them some sort of issues to work through), because then you're going to have conflict, and conflict leads to drama. We definitely have that here. Anna’s frustration with her father makes every moment between them tense. And when you add the outside conflict of being chased, there's never a dull moment.

I think the reason it didn't work for me though was twofold. Like I said, everything feels so familiar! It's kind of like going on a roller coaster for the 20th time. It's sort of fun but you know every turn before it's coming. Whenever you jump into a well-traveled genre, it's your job to look for any way to make it different. Because if you make too many decisions that are the same decisions that everybody else before you made, your movie feels like a generic ripoff of a bunch of more memorable movies.

I think that's something we have to remember. Most stories are familiar because they follow the same basic construct of a beginning, a middle, and an end (first, second and third acts). For that reason, there's only so many ways you can make a story fresh. But it's the choices you make within that construct and the details you populate that world with, that separate your story from everything else. I'm trying to think of one unique choice that was used here, and I can't. We have the on the run stuff. That's obviously been done before. We have the young superhuman girl. That’s been done recently (I think I'm revealing a little too much about my secret movie here). We have the superhuman fighting, which was obviously popularized in The Matrix.

Then you had the characters. I liked that there was conflict between them, but I didn't feel any conflict within them. I didn't get the sense there was any depth there. I suppose Sean had this complicated past with Maggie, which did add some context to the relationship with his daughter. But again, it all felt so familiar, like we were hitting the beats all the screenwriting books tell us to. As a result, the characters didn't feel like real people. They felt like screenplay creations.

I don't know. The audience for films like this - I'm not sure they care as much about story and characters as I do. Maybe they just like seeing a bunch of flying kicks and punches. But I crave writers who look for ways to make their scripts stand out, who are willing to try different things here and there so that their movie is their own, and not just an amalgam of all of their favorite films from the past. I didn't see that here.

The script has some weird developments as well. For example, it seems like everybody here is related to each other. I thought they went a little bit overboard with that. When things start to feel contrived, the audience is taken out of the story.

Then there was the changing of the main character.  Paul is the main character.  Then Sean is the main character.  What the hell is going on here?

And I was also wondering what the point of the story was. After all that running, I realized that I had no idea what the goal was. Was it to just keep running? I think it may have been to escape, but then go back and kill the bad guys, but that goal wasn't made clear so I was confused about the characters’ motivations half the time. Once the reader is confused about your characters’ motivations, your script is in a heap of trouble.

So why did it sell? I don't know. It might be a direct to video action film, where the criteria for originality isn't as high. A producer who knew another company wanted a film like this could've developed the story with the writers. And since these movies can be sold overseas easily, they knew if they could shoot it for a price, they could make an easy profit. My guess is it’s something like that.

I fully admit that I’m not the audience for this kind of movie so reviewing it is a little like dragging a kid to the Opera. Chances are, he's gonna be bored out of his mind. But, I felt the same way going into that mysterious script I keep alluding to, and that movie turned out to be awesome. Who knows? Maybe they'll do the same here. But in script form, there was nothing original enough here for me to get excited about.

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

What I learned: Just ask yourself a simple question after you've come up with your movie idea: What's different about my story? It's a scary question to ask, but an important one. If you can't find a single thing that makes your story different/fresh, chances are you're in trouble. Because those are the things that the person who reads your script is going to be selling to the next person they try to get to read it. "You gotta read this script. It's kind of like James Bond, but the main character has amnesia and it takes itself way more seriously." (The Bourne Identity). Nobody's ever excitedly said to somebody else - "You gotta read this script. It's just like everything else out there!"