Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Screenplay Review - Ray Gunn

Genre: Animation/Film Noir
Premise: In a futuristic world co-habitated by aliens and humans, the last human private eye is hired to investigate the fidelity of a well-known pop star.
About: Ray Gunn is an old project that writer-director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) wrote.  He's gone on record as saying he'd like to revive the project, and might even do so after his next film, the earthquake pic, 1906.  Co-writer Matthew Robbins has had a long and interesting career, writing Spielberg's first movie, The Sugarland Express, then later writing such films as Dragonslayer, Mimic, and Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark.  He's currently working on the Guillermo Del Toro big screen adaptation of Pinocchio.
Writers: Brad Bird and Matthew Robbins (story by Brad Bird)
Details: 112 pages - June 28, 1996 draft

For those of you who've been told that you're bad spellers or bad grammarists or bad at, you know, writing the right "their," there is hope!  In 1996, Superstar director Brad Bird apparently didn't know the difference between "it's" and "its."  For those of you wondering (and there should be a lot of you wondering - since I see this mistake ALL the time), "it's" means "it is."  If you're writing "it's" and it doesn't mean "it is," then you're using it wrong.

And speaking of "it's," it's a bad idea to write an animation spec!  Why?  Because animation specs never get purchased!  Those wily egotistical studios like to develop their animation ideas in-house.  Bastards!  However, if you're really really into animation and want to write animation films someday, then writing a sample animation spec may be a good idea.  Just know that you probably ain't going to sell it!

Okay, now that I've depressed you to pieces, let's pick up those pieces and see if we can't re-discover an amazing forgotten screenplay.

Raymund Gunn is a private eye in a future world where the private eye business has gone blind.  Or in other words, people don't hire dicks anymore.  It's much easier to get a spybot to do the job for you.  They're cheaper and way better at the job.  So I guess you could say Ray is the last of a dying breed.

One day, the eccentric and very rich Arnold Dom pops into Ray's office and offers him a much needed job.  He believes his wife, the ubiquitous pop star, Venus Envy, is cheating on him with another man.  So Ray goes off to do what he does best, and finds that Arnold is right.  Venus is intimately involved with a dude.  But not just any dude - an alien.

However, when Ray hands the photo proof over, he notices something odd.  Venus - or the woman he thought was Venus - is missing a tattoo on her hand.  Ray's been had.  This is Venus' body double in the salacious pics, not Venus.  And Arnold chose Ray (instead of a spybot) specifically because he knew he'd miss that detail.  Now, armed with this "proof," he can clean up in the divorce settlement.

Feeling used, Ray stumbles around town all depressed-like, eventually running into Venus, who likes to sneak around town in disguise and sing her own songs under her alter-ego, Red.  The two start to fall for each other, but when Venus' body double is murdered, Venus becomes the main suspect, and Ray will have to prove she's innocent or lose the woman he's fallen for forever.

Let's start with the obvious.  Bird and co-writer Robbins have written an animation film about people cheating on each other and having sex with one another.  A PG-13 animation film is box office suicide.  So I'm confused as to why these two ever thought this was a viable project.

But even without that, there's something very cliche and predictable about this story.  I suppose you have to play by the genre's conventions to a certain extent but that doesn't mean you should make every obvious choice in the book.  Private Eye.  Hired to prove a woman is cheating.  Ends up falling for the woman.  It all just felt so...familiar.  Even the whole alien-futuristic setting felt "been there-done that."

If I'm being completely honest though, I'm not the best judge of film noir material.  I've said this before, but I need to feel emotionally connected to the characters to care about them and their story.  Film Noir seems to be more about the world to me - about the "cool" factor.  About the dirt and the grime and the double-crossing and the dialogue.  To me, all that stuff is icing on the cake, not the cake itself.  I'd rather explore a person's flaws, their relationships, the overcoming of their past.  This just doesn't seem to be the genre to explore that, so I'm typically bored.

And to heap even more honesty onto this review, these scripts are REALLY HARD to read.  You're digging through miles and miles of world-building (describing your big unique sci-fi world) just to find the occasional dramatic moment, or read the rare entertaining scene.  Tack onto that an overly-complicated quadruple-crossing plot, and it becomes more like work to read Ray Gunn than fun.   Once that happens, it's check-out time.

So the lack of an original story, the lack of excitement over this genre, and the messiness of this narrative just didn't endear me to it.  Will be interesting to hear what you guys think though, especially you film noir fans!

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

What I learned: A screenplay should never feel like work to the reader.  The second it feels like work, you've failed.