Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The End Of History

Genre: Sci-Fi
Premise: A group of time-travellers jump back to 12th Century China in search of a rare gene that will save mankind. Problems arise when they find themselves in the direct path of Genghis Khan’s army.
About: Details are scarce about this one, but it was acquired by Sony earlier in the year. David Gleeson is an Irish writer-director who wrote and directed a couple of small features in his home country.
Writer: David Gleeson
Details: 116 pages – Feb 10th 2010 draft (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time of the film's release. 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).

When trying to find out more about this low-key project, I made a call out to my Facebook peeps for more information. A Scriptshadow reader chimed back, “This sold?!! I thought this was going to be the Amateur Week special on Friday. It is so f**kin' bad!”

To you, Mike, I say….I couldn’t disagree more!

The End Of History starts out much like the sci-fi darling “Children Of Men.” It’s the near future and less than 5000 women in the world are pregnant. Something is preventing the human race from procreating, and if it continues, in about 90 years, earth will look like downtown Pyongyang.

Cool-headed Nathan Scott, however, is going to make sure that doesn’t happen. No place should look like Pyongyang dammit. The Colonel is leading a combination military/scientist team back to 12th Century China, where they’ve located a band of warriors that contain the extinct gene which can reverse the procreation problem.

Scott has a vested interest in the mission. His baby daughter is fighting the killer disease, and won’t live without a gene transplant.

The mission is supposed to be simple. The clan they’re targeting is militarily formidable for the 12th Century, but their weapons might as well be toothpicks compared to what the Americans are packing. Actually, there’s a specific reason the Americans chose this clan. In 100 years, Genghis Khan will wipe every single one of them out on his march through China, permanently erasing any historic influence their presence may have had.

Indeed, when they jump, the sailing is smooth. They infiltrate the fortress without much resistence and the sci-tech team quickly goes to work extracting the gene. But after sending up a quick satellite to get a lay of the land, a horrifying video plays back. An army of 100,000 soldiers is marching DIRECTLY TOWARDS THEM.

Genghis Khan’s army.

There was a malfunction in the jump. They jumped back 100 years LATER than they were supposed to. Which means they’re right in the path of that Ghegis Khan massacre that was the whole reason they chose this location in the first place. Ahh, the irony.

To make matters worse, the hastily scrapped together tech starts malfunctioning in bunches, and after a major explosion, their time travel apparatus is all but toast. The group realizes they can salvage a small piece of the flux-capacitor, but only enough to send a message into the future, not to jump. Their plan is to fix it as fast as possible and send out an SOS. But even under the most optimistic time frame, Genghis Khan is going to arrive before they finish. And that means the unthinkable. A group of rag-tag 21st Century American soldiers is going to have to hold off the most ruthless army in history.

Will they be able to do it?

I have to give it to Glesson. This script straddles the line between ridiculous and awesome so finely that at first I wasn’t sure which side it would land on. But after it got going, I decided on awesome. Usually, in these sci-fi/historic hybrids, either the sci-fi is shoddy and the history is exceptional, or the history looks like it was researched by an 8 year old and the sci-fi is brilliant. Rarely do you find a script where both are handled well, but that’s exactly what happens here, and why I liked the script so much.

And believe me, this isn’t easy to do. One only needs to “travel back” a few years to the abombination that was Timeline to see how to royally fuck up an idea like this. I don’t think I’ve ever heard, read, or seen a time travel story as bad as that monstrosity. There were two castles. People were running back and forth between them for no reason. The time travel had 16,814 rules you had to remember. It was embarrasingly bad.

What The End of History wisely does is it keeps the time-travel plot simple. There’s never a moment where you don’t know exactly what the portagonists’ goals are, and that’s important in a script like this.

I also loved the technology of the war. Oh, I’m not talking about the 21st century technology. I’m talking about all the wacky weapons Khan had in his arsenal. This guy had rudimentary Napalm at his disposal. He had early versions of dirty bombs. He even had an ancient version of the damn Predator (the pilot-less airplane). Watching him unleash these toys on a shell-shocked 21st century army was, in a word, sweet.

However, there were things that kept this from becoming the next Source Code. First, I’m getting tired of these serviceable but ultimately unimaginative motivations for main characters. Yes, Scott has a daughter affected by the killer disease, and that makes his mission personal, but it’s such a derivative motivation that it doesn’t resonate with us. We’ve seen it so many times before. Contrast that with Leo’s character in Inception. Sure there were some problems with the kids storyline, but I have to admit, I don’t remember seeing a character with that particular motivation before, which made it original and therefore powerful.

Also, to echo my sentiments on Layover, there needed to be more dissention inside the group! There’s a troublemaker here, Decker, who adds about as much conflict as an agitated Abe Vigoda. There was so much potential for his character to stir things up, but instead he observes Scott pull off a couple of neat military maneuvers and becomes his BFF. Dissention inside the group – conflict – always makes a mission/goal more interesting, because there’s more for the hero to overcome. If you want to see it how this can help a screenplay, read The Grey.

I also thought Gleeson missed a couple of opportunities. One thing he doesn’t adequately address is what happens if they destroy Khan’s army. Obviously, all of history would change. If they had to fight off this army, but only enough to keep from getting killed, and not enough to become a part of the history books – that’s the kind of unique obstacle that could’ve introduced some interesting challenges. There’s also a female character on Scott’s team who’s half-Asian. What if she were a direct descendent of someone in Genghis Khan’s army? What if killing them wiped her out of existence? Even better, what if she was the romantic lead (a surprisingly absent piece of this puzzle). That would create quite a dilemma as well.

But hey, that’s neither here nor there. Sure the script has some problems (like all time travel stories – there are some holes) but it’s a great spec premise. Contained area. Contained time frame. High concept. These are the kind of scripts that sell when written well, so I’m not surprised that it did.

Still needs to be developed, but overall, enjoyable.

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

What I learned: Whenever you write a time travel flick, you have to deal with one specific problem: “Why can’t they just go back and do it again?” The End of History, unfortunately, doesn’t deal with this question satisfactorily. But this is exactly why a franchise like The Terminator is dying. If they fail in killing Sarah Connor or her son, they can just send back another Terminator a few weeks later (or earlier). There’s no end to how many times they can try to assassinate our heroes.

The recommended solution to this isn’t as difficult as you might think. You simply have to make clear that this is a one-shot deal. Maybe the technology is unproven. Maybe the time machine is so expensive that if it breaks, that’s it. Maybe there’s something in your own time travel design that simply doesn’t allow them to jump more than once. If you do it this way, the mission actually means something. Because everyone knows that there are no second chances here. Ignore that rule, and you have a bunch of sophisticated fanboys (the core fanbase for this kind of film) in the audience thinking, “None of this matters cause they can just do it again.”