Monday, July 26, 2010

Peach Trees

Welcome to another week of Scriptshadow. This week, we have two mega-geek scripts we're reviewing. The first is Peach Trees, the Judge Dredd project, which Roger reviews today. The second is a reimagining/sequel to a popular franchise from the past, a script that's been around for a decade and is beloved by many. Well, I'll just say right now that I have no idea why anyone would love this script. I was bored out of my mind. I'll also be reviewing two low profile recent spec sales, both of which were quite good. And since it's the last Friday of the month, that means Amateur Friday Review! I just picked out the script this morning so we'll have to see if it's any good. Right now, here's ROGER with his review of the next Judge Dredd project.

Genre: Science-Fiction, Action
Premise: When Judge Dredd arrives with rookie Cassandra Anderson to investigate a trio of murders at high-rise called slum Peach Trees, a drug lord puts Peach Trees on nuclear lockdown and the Judges are trapped inside, hunted by the entire populace. The Judges must choose between escaping the building, or ascending two-hundred stories to prove the drug lord guilty and execute her.
About: Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later, Sunshine) writes this adaptation to the popular AD 2000 comic strip. Pete Travis (Vantage Point) is set to direct for DNA Films. Karl Urban will star. Judge Dredd was named the seventh greatest comic character by Empire Magazine, and in Britain, he's certainly the most well-known.
Writer: Alex Garland

"Peach Trees. This is Ma-Ma. Somewhere in this block are two Judges. I want them dead. And until I get what I want, the block is locked down. All Clan, every level, hunt the Judges down. Everyone else, clear the corridors and stay the fuck out of our way until the shooting stops. If I hear about anyone helping the Judges, I'll kill them and the next generation of their family."

Peach Trees is the high-rise Judge Dredd becomes trapped in, a mega-slum with a population of a hundred thousand people that are either trying to kill or hide from the iconic character as he ascends two-hundred stories to prove a drug lord guilty and execute her.

It's a plot stripped of any supercilious details that's less Hollywood and more 2000 AD, a simple framework that possesses the brilliance of taking a well-known comic book hero and placing him inside a contained thriller.

It's like taking Batman and putting him in Die Hard.

I remember the 1995 Judge Dredd movie.

While not a reader of the British comic strip, even I could tell that something was amiss. The tone was all over the place. Here was a simple character that was supposed to be a faceless personification of justice, but this personification has Rob Schneider as a sidekick and Sylvester Stallone as a face. Stallone is quoted as saying, "It didn't live up to what it could have been. It probably should have been much more comic, really humorous, and fun. What I learned out of that experience was that we shouldn't have tried to make it Hamlet; it's more Hamlet and Eggs..."

While I don't agree that it should have been more comic (Sorry, I can only stand one Rob Schneider in a movie), I do think Stallone had a point. The ambition and scale of the plot does not serve the character. A story that is supposed to be about a futuristic gunslinger whom possesses no sympathy for either criminal or victim is lost in a framework that somehow includes cloning, the Hero's Journey, the power struggles of a dysfunctional family, cannibals and Sly unintentionally but comically screaming, "I am the Law!"

There was plenty of humor, but not enough, I dunno, carnage.

It wasn't visceral.

I suppose the idea of a Judge trying to clear his name with the law can make for interesting conflict, but I don't want to watch court scenes.

I want to watch Judge Dredd shoot bad guys with his Lawgiver Gun.

Wait. I don't know anything about Judge Dredd or Mega City One. Does Alex Garland tell an origin story?


And, that's what makes "Peach Trees" so refreshing.

All you need to know is that it's the future, and that there's a guy who will shoot bullets through civilians (endangering them, but not killing them) to execute criminals.

Mega City One is the last outpost of civilization in post-apocalyptic America. It's a series of mega blocks, monolithic high-rises that serve as their own self-contained towns, stretching from Boston to Washington. Skyscrapers are the low-rise buildings peppered between them.

When we meet Dredd he's suiting up. We meet his Lawgiver Gun, which seems to be matched to his DNA. The whole time, the top half of his face is hidden by his visor, and we only see chin and mouth, "as if they have been carved from rock."

He chases a car full of Slo-Mo junkies on his motorbike. Slo-Mo is a drug administered via inhaler, and not only does it slow down time for its users, it causes the world to look beautiful, iridescent and bright. When the junkies steamroll some civilians trying to get away from the Judge, they start to die.

Presumably, Dredd has all the authority of police, judge, jury and executioner.

Especially executioner.

While they die, we learn that the Lawgiver is voice-activated and contains many different kinds of ammo. We also learn something about Dredd. He has phenomenal aim, even when he has to place a shot through a civilian, "Remain calm. The bullet missed all major organs, and a paramedic team will be with you shortly."

Does Dredd get a sidekick in this tale?

Rookie Cassandra Anderson is an orphan who was given a Judge aptitude test (as is standard for orphans) at age nine. Although her score was unsuitable, she was entered into the Academy upon special instruction. When we meet her, we learn that her final Academy score is three percentile points below a pass.

As she stands before the Chief Judge, Dredd wonders why she's in uniform. When Anderson is able to point out how many people are in the next room observing her, without seeing them mind you, we realize that she's a psychic, a power she possibly developed as a child because she lived one hundred meters from a radiation boundary wall. While the fall-out proximity made her a mutant, it also killed her parents.

Although she's failed the Academy, the Chief Judge is giving her one more chance. She's to spend a day out in the field with Dredd, and he's to assess whether she makes the grade or not, "Sink or swim. Chuck her in the deep end."

"It's all the deep end."

Dredd informs of her what to expect out there. If she sentences someone incorrectly, she automatically fails. If she doesn't obey a direct order from him, she automatically fails. If she loses her primary weapon, or if it's taken from her, she automatically fails.

That's all the stuff she knows.

What she doesn't know is that she's in for the most fucked-up day of her life.

She gets trapped inside of Peach Trees with Dredd?


The Judges only respond to six percent of the seventeen thousand serious crimes reported per day, and a slum like Peach Trees, which has a ninety-six percent employment rate, is rarely visited by a Judge.

Because it's rarely seen a Judge, someone like Madeline Madrigal has risen to power.

A character possibly inspired by real-life bandit queen, Phoolan Devi, Ma-Ma is a former prostitute who supposedly feminized a pimp with her teeth and took over his syndicate. More violent than all of the other crime lords and clans, she runs Peach Tree from her Dolce & Gabbana crack den-esque penthouse on the top floor of the two-hundred story building. She is responsible for the distribution of Slow-Mo in Mega City One.

As a testament to her ultraviolent nature, she has her lieutenants, Caleb, Kay and Sy, murder a trio of dealers who were caught selling a competitor's product. They pump the dealers full of Slo-Mo, skin them alive (and because the brain moves at one-percent of normal speed while on the narcotic, this must seem to last an eternity) and toss them off the balcony of the atrium that rises through the center of the building as a message.

Of course, Dredd and Anderson arrive to find the bodies, and thanks to a helpful paramedic, they're told how things work under Ma-Ma's rule and he tips them off to the Slo-Mo distribution headquarters on Level 39. The Judges shoot up the joint, and we're treated to our first gun fight which should blow people's minds in the cinema thanks to the combo of the Slow-Mo point-of-view and the 3D. They manage to capture Kay, who has a tattoo of Judge Death on his chest (undead Judges?) and they get in an elevator to take him out Peach Trees.

Their goal is to interrogate him, learn everything he knows, which will give them enough evidence to return and arrest Ma-Ma. Only problem is, Ma-Ma can't have this happen, so she has her Clan Techie, a dude who has robotic eye implants like a chameleon lizard, takes control of the building's computers and he socially hacks Sector Control to run a systems test.

Peach Trees' system control goes into a nuclear war testing drill and the building is suddenly encased in lead-lined shutters, blast doors that can withstand nuclear attack. Not only does this trap the Judges and the population inside, but it cuts off Dredd's communication link with Control.

So, Ma-Ma announces to Peach Trees that she wants the Judges dead?

Pretty much. It's a sequence that sort of took my breath away. I couldn't help but be glued to the page as Dredd and Anderson are standing in the middle of the atrium, looking up at two-hundred stories of balconies as the clans and warlords begin to organize to collect the bounty on their heads.

You can't help but wonder how much ammo those Lawgiver guns of theirs have.

As Dredd and Anderson struggle between avoiding detection and their duty as people that embody justice, they have to ultimately decide if they should just escape, or if they should ascend all two-hundred stories to prove Ma-Ma guilty and execute her.

To get the evidence, they have to get Kay to talk. But to get Kay to talk, they have to survive an entire population that is trying to murder them so they can get a quiet moment with him. While things are simple for Dredd, it's a moral dilemma for Anderson. As a telepath, she is empathetic to some of the people who are caught in the cross-fire, and she really has to decide if all this is worth being a Judge.

How is the action?

Very satisfying.

This thing has fucking micro-genocides in it.

Ma-Ma is willing to kill entire floors full of people to stop the Judges, and she pulls out every weapon and trick and soldier she has to achieve her goal, which may include a quartet of dirty Judges as her ace in the hole.

It's enthralling and because this is the type of shoot-em-up I love, and because Dredd never takes off his helmet, even when facing his worst fear, I give this an...

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

What I learned: I'm still impressed that someone is making a comicbook movie that isn't an origin story. This isn't about the creation of a hero or antihero, this is about the character being put in a worst case scenario and seeing if he can just make it out alive. It's a new formula. Take a popular character and put them in a situation that is basically the worst series of obstacles ever. Or take a superhero and put him inside a contained thriller. In a climate where it seems like Hollywood will never tire of making comicbook movies, this script proves that these tales can be told without telling their back story as the movie. Secondly, as a shoot-em-up, Garland has created a pretty cool cinematic device with the drug Slow-Mo. Although it makes the world slow down for its users, it doesn't give them super-speed. However, there are lots of POV shots, especially in the middle of the action, and it gives those action sequences more of an edge than just a straight shoot-out.