Monday, March 1, 2010

The Land of Lost Things

Not too sure what to expect this week. On Saturday, I read "The Crazies," thinking I'd review it for its upcoming release next weekend, only to realize yesterday that it had been released *this* weekend. Nice. I'm totally on top of things (I blame "Rotten Tomatoes," who lazily updates their "opening next weekend" list). If anyone still cares, let me know and I'll throw a review up. I know Roger's going to write a cool article for us this Wednesday, so that should be fun. Otherwise, let uncertainty guide us. Here's Roger with a review of "The Land Of Lost Things" (not to be confused with "Land Of The Lost" I hope).

Genre: Fantasy, Action Adventure
Premise: A ten-year old boy, seemingly cursed, can't stop losing things, and not only that, but his parents are on the brink of divorce. When he finds a mysterious book, he's transported to a magical universe where all his lost items end up. It's there that he goes on a journey to not only retrieve the lost book, but to save his parent's relationship.

About: Set-up at Paramount's Nickelodeon Movies. Producers are Arnold and Anne Kopelson and Sherryl Clark of J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot. Dan Mazeau was enrolled in the MFA screenwriting program at UCLA when he began work on the script. In 2008, he was featured in Variety's
10 Screenwriters to Watch. Mazeau has gone on to write Johnny Quest and The Flash for Warner Brothers, and an untitled moon project for DreamWorks based on an original script by Doug Liman.
Writer: Dan Mazeau

Is "The Land Of Lost Things" the next "The Neverending Story?"
Sometimes people write stories that remind you that magic is real.
Dan Mazeau, with "The Land of Lost Things", has written one of those stories.
I. The Ordinary World
Lowell A. Leavitt is born to lose.
We meet Lowell A. Leavitt at Age 0. As storm clouds brew outside his window, we are told he is a special boy. But because "special" can mean many things, it is immediately clear that Lowell A. Leavitt is cursed.
You see, anything Lowell touches, he's destined to lose. It begins small. His parent's keys. His pacifier. Toys. And as he grows older, so does his problem. Not only is he losing stuff like that new bike that was given to him as a gift, but even his beloved pets.
At age ten, Lowell is informed by his teacher at Amelia Earhart Elementary that if he can't turn in a book report, he's not going to pass fourth grade. He's already lost twenty-eight homework assignments and now it looks like he's going to lose a whole year.
But how is he supposed to do a book report when the library has a mug-shot of him that says, "Do Not Lend To This Boy"?
That's easy. His parents, extremely concerned about their son and his potential failure of fourth grade, take him to a rare book store called "Famous Lost Words".
II. The Call to Adventure
Famous Last Words is kinda creepy, and with tell-tale rat droppings everywhere, it's certainly dirty. When an old stitched together book falls of a shelf and tumbles into Lowell's arms, seemingly choosing him, a Mr. Koreander-like bookseller tells him, "Ah, but that's a very special book."
The old man won't let Lowell's parents pay for the book. He tells them that Lowell can borrow it, ominously telling the boy, "Perhaps someday you'll return the favor."
Back at home, Lowell physically wrestles with the book as he tries to write his book report. In a moment that lets us know Lowell's world will never be the same, he overhears his parents talking about divorce.
"We tell him we lost our love, Charles. Somewhere, somehow, we just lost it."
Back in his room, he breaks some things. Discovers that the title of the mysterious book is called The Land of Lost Things.
But soon enough, Lowell loses hold of the book again, chases it out his window into the storm and watches it disappear into a sewer.
So what does he do?
He takes one last look at his house, then drops into the sewer after his book.
Except, you know, he ends up in a rain forest.
Where a half-ape, half-man thing called the Missing Link exchanges some very educated words (for a half ape, half-man thing) with Lowell and swings off into the trees with his book.
III. Refusal of the Call, Meeting with the Mentor & Crossing the Threshold
Lowell is soon being pursued through the jungle by evil, giant rats. From above, claws grab him and he's lifted into the air.
He's been saved by three giant birds. Six-feet tall knight-errant pigeons to be exact.
Parcival is their leader. In true Campbellian Parsifal (the Holy Fool in European mythology who goes on a quest for the Holy Grail to break a curse) fashion, he tells Lowell that he is the "Champion Knight of the Lost Cause!"
The pigeons are surprised to learn who the little boy is, and they quickly whisk him off to Pigeon Parliament, where the Pigeon Elders ruffle their feathers, dreadfully concerned that Lowell's presence in their abode spells doom.
They're terrified of a figure known as the Finder-Keeper, and they are anxious to send Lowell on his way.
But Parcival delivers a speech, saying that they are homing pigeons and that it is their duty to return lost things.
But before he can convince them, giant rats invade Pigeon Parliament (it seems there is war between the rats and pigeons) and Lowell tries to run away, caught in the middle. He wants nothing to do with either of them.
But Parcival is determined to protect Lowell, so he and his men battle the rats and we're treated to a cool aerial battle with cannonballs, nets and rat-on-pigeon warfare.
In mid-flight, a rat sniper shoots Parcival out of the air with a harpoon gun and they crash in a mysterious desert.
IV. Tests, Allies, Enemies
They're in a nautical graveyard, and Parcival can no longer fly because his wing was wounded by the harpoon. To make matters worse, Lowell finds his lost dog Buster, except he's feral. And soon he's being attacked by all his feral lost pets.
In a dark keep, on a glimmering throne made out of lost keys, we meet the Finder-Keeper. He's a shadowy figure with yellow, spiraled fingernails, and he sends out of a team of bounty hunters, led by Ratsputin, to capture Lowell.
Out of the nautical graveyard, Parcival leads Lowell to the Samsonite Mountains, which is, you guessed it, a mountain range made out of all of Lowell's lost luggage. Along the way, Parcival gives Lowell a history lesson about the pigeons and the land, telling him that they're guided by a holy object known as The Beacon.
It should be noted that whenever Lowell finds something that belonged to him, he tries to carry it with him, even against Parcival's wishes.
V. Approach to Inmost Cave, Supreme Ordeal & Seizing the Sword
In the Cave of Lost Voices, Lowell is attacked by Ratsputin and his hunters, and Parcival rescues him once again and they go on the run. Perhaps even Lowell causes a Samsonite avalanche to help with their escape to The Forgotten Fields.
The Forgotten Fields seem like they're covered in snow, but it's all of Lowell's lost knowledge, including sheets of homework and his mail.
Lowell and Parcival jump on a train to escape Ratsputin, and it's here where they get into an argument. There's a funny, poignant outburst from Lowell, "You! You listen! You don't know what it's like to be a loser your whole life! Some nights I still get lost between my room and the bathroom! I have to pee in Dad's ficus." Lowell sees this as his chance to make up for everything he's lost by bringing things back.
And Parcival, the wise mentor he is, tells the boy, "At some point, you're going to have to learn to let go of this, and realize what's really important."
And next there's a delightful, charming and inventive action sequence as Ratsputin and his rats board the train and pursue and fight with our heroes. Except it turns out to be quite an ordeal for everyone involved, because this is no ordinary train.
This is The Train of Lost Thought.
Everyone suffers from short-term memory loss. So as everyone battles and comes up with plans, the fight going from car to car, underneath and above, they all keep forgetting what the heck they're doing in the first place. Action-packed and funny!
They manage to get away and find themselves in The Lost Refuge, an ancient redwood forest where they rescue a female pigeon, Gertrude. She's enamored with Parcival and she manages to talk Parcival into taking Lowell to The Keep.
Yep, it's where the villain is, but there lies a place within The Keep where Lowell can return back to his world. And because they're homing pigeons, it's their job to return lost things. And since Lowell is lost, the next step is a no-brainer.
But to get there, they have to venture through The Neverglades ("For never has a soul ventured within, and returned with his mind intact.) and make their way through the Rat Slums and infiltrate The Black Spire.
To do so, they just might have to disguise themselves as rats.
VI. The Road Back, Resurrection & Return with the Elixir
Okay, I'm not going to spoil the brilliance of the 3rd act, but it involves the nefarious Finder-Keeper, his master plan and why he needs Lowell.
And Lowell's ordeal might just involve finding the lost love of his parents and returning it back to his world.
It's at this point where the script goes into a dark place. Even for a children's tale, there was a moment concerning Parcival's fate that surprised me. I told a friend, "I can't believe the writer took it to that point."
To which my friend replied, "Children need to be scared in stories. It's good for them. It's our way of easing them into our harsh world."
So what's the verdict, Rog?
Man, this is my new favorite script. It's just so inventive and charming, and it's told with the assuredness of a talented writer (such a pleasing voice to find on the page) who knows he's telling a tale rich with metaphor.
It moves you.
"The Land of Lost Things" is a children's adventure story in the vein of The Neverending Story and The Princess Bride, a powerful and poignant fable that can share the same shelf with The Phantom Tollbooth and the L. Frank Baum Oz books.
But that's not all.
If you're an adult, this is a story that transports you back to childhood again. It reunites you with awe and wonder, it reminds you that imagination is a sacred thing. In that sense, its sensibility is very Spielbergian. And I like that. If I were a parent, "The Land of Lost Things" is the type of movie I would take my child and family to see. Simply put, it's the type of story kids should be raised on.

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

What I learned: To reference Christopher Vogler, Jungian archetypes are masks, and the characters in "The Land of Lost Things" wear them with an assuredness that makes you think twice about the power of archetype. What are these masks? Hero. Mentor. Herald. Shapeshifter. Shadow. Trickster. They're all here in some form (Lowell, Parcival, Old Man, Gertrude, Finder-Keeper and Missing Link, respectively) and, just as they should, the characters take turns wearing these masks. Especially for those who write fantasy or action adventure, it can help immensely to anchor your characters in archetype and to be aware of what role your characters are playing in every scene. Make the Jungian archetypes, along with the Campbellian monomyth, part of your writer's toolbox (to use a Stephen King analogy) and see what happens.