Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Genre: Space thriller
Premise: A female astronaut must find a way to survive in space when her crew and space shuttle are destroyed.
About: Alfonso Cuaron wowed us with Children of Men, which many consider to be their favorite sci-fi movie of the decade. Inspired by the 3-D theatrics of James Cameron (both behind the camera and in front of the world), Cuaron and his team have decided to set their next flick in the three-dimensional universe. 3-D may be getting some flack but one of the things Cameron keeps harping on is true. Visionary filmmakers will push the 3-D medium forward and create interesting 3-D films. And who’s more visionary than Alfonso Freaking Cuaron? Blake Lively, Robert Downey Jr., and Scarlett Johansson have all been rumored to play parts in Gravity. This is what I’ll say about that. There’s no way Johansson and Lively are going to be in this movie (assuming they’re both up for the part of Ryan). Everything depends on the actress playing the part of Ryan, since the whole movie is her, and while both Johansson and Lively have had nice moments here and there in their films, neither has anything approaching what is needed to play this part. Not in a million years. This character needs someone with some serious acting chops.
Writers: Alfonso Cuaron & Jonas Cuaron & Rodrigo Garcia
Details: November 2nd, 2009 draft (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).

Truth? This draft of Gravity – whichever draft it is – is pretty average. Despite that, I still think this is one of the microscopic sampling of subpar screenplays that can actually make a great film. Why? Well, I’ll save that surprise for later (and believe me, it’s a big surprise). For right now, let’s talk about what this story is about.

Ryan Stone is a young medical engineer who, it’s implied, never planned on becoming an astronaut. In fact, she had a job as a regular engineer down on earth as little as eight months ago. But now – right now – she’s up on the space shuttle, fixing one of the many “panels” that always seem to need fixing up in space. There are a few other astronauts drifting around at the time, the most important of whom is Matt Kowalski, as veteran an astronaut as Ryan is a newbie. He’s bummed out because this might be his last mission.

I got news for you Matt. Ain’t no “might be” here. It *is* your last mission.

That’s because the next most abundant thing in space besides panels are satellites, and the stupid Russians just blew up one of theirs. The aftermath creates a chain reaction of spraying debris that hits multiple satellites, which also end up exploding, and all of a sudden thousands of pieces of debris are heading straight towards the space shuttle.

Before the group can react, the debris destroys the shuttle and everyone on it except for Ryan and Matt. The two must then make their way down to the International Space Station – in their space suits only - before they run out of air and before this debris field destroys the space station as well. Along the way, poor Matt has to sacrifice himself to keep Ryan alive and the next thing you know, this girl who didn’t know the first thing about space eight months ago is drifting through it with no communication and next-to-no experience, desperately trying to find a way to survive this.

Everything that can go wrong does go wrong as the movie becomes a series of near death experiences. Ryan must jump from point to point – whether it be to a vessel, a station, or an oxygen tank – and survive long enough to make the journey to the next point after that (and so on). Each destination is accompanied by dangerous debris, dropping oxygen, and the strong chance that whatever she’s trying to get to might not be there. Think Apollo 13, but with the odds stacked 1 million times higher against you, if that’s possible.

Despite the heart-stopping non-stop pace of the script, it wasn’t a very good read. The problem is it’s so repetitive. Ryan bounces around from location to location, trying to get to that next “life boat,” as it were, so she can last a few more hours in order to jump to the following safety area. Ryan is always running out of air, dodging that damn debris, or unsuccessfully trying to communicate with Houston. While I know this is going to play out much more excitingly on screen, on paper it’s like watching Groundhog Day – without Bill Murray to make you laugh. The same thing happens over and over again. Regardless of how Cuaron addresses this on film, the goals and obstacles definitely need more variety.

My other huge beef is with Ryan. We don’t know this woman. AT ALL. All we’re told about her is that she had a job before this and has a daughter. She also has ZERO PERSONALITY, which doesn’t help. I’d venture to say that this is the least I’ve known about any main character in any script I’ve read this year. It’s that thin. I’m not sure why they chose to do this either. I mean obviously, the scenario is not conducive to character exploration. It’s one woman stuck out in space all alone trying to survive. But, you know, neither was Cast Away with Tom Hanks, yet we knew/learned a ton about that character (which was subsequently why we wanted him to get back). I think that script really benefited from it’s opening 15 minutes where it introduced us to Hanks in the real world. Gravity doesn’t have that and it clearly doesn’t want that. So it’ll be interesting to see how they’re going to solve this problem. If we don’t know or like this woman, then who the hell cares if she survives or not? I mean at least make her funny or something. This girl was invisible onscreen.

Now despite all that, this project has a big surprise revealed in the script. You wanna know what it is? Why I’m predicting awesomeness for the film? Well first, everything takes place in real-time. There isn’t a single time cut in the film. In fact, what I’m about to say is so shocking if it’s true, movie geeks might spontaneously combust when they hear it. So I need you to go find your spontaneous combustion prevention kit, put it on, and sit down. Now I have NO PROOF of this. It does not say it anywhere in the script. So this still just a GUESS. But two things have led me to this conclusion. First, we know Cuaron likes shooting long continuous shots. He did it numerous times in Children of Men. Combining that knowledge with the way this script is written, I think Cuaron plans to shoot Gravity in a single shot. Yes, I think this guy is going to give us a 3-D movie set in space filmed in one continuous shot.

Is that even possible?? Well, read the script. Even when we get pulled away from Ryan, it always seems like the camera is flying away and then coming back. If that’s true, this could seriously be one of the coolest fucking movies ever made.

edit: Yes, I know this isn't actually going to be shot IN SPACE and that it'll be (if I'm right) a single shot which will be partially generated via the help of special effects.

Now once I realized this, everything became a lot clearer. The reason some of this script drags and is repetitive is because Cuaron doesn’t have the luxury of cutting away. I mean just think about how difficult it is writing a screenplay when we DO get to cut out all of the boring parts. Here, he doesn’t get to cut out any, which forces him (and the rest of the writers) to come up with ways to speed through the more mundane aspects of the story. He tries to limit them as much as he can, but they inevitably creep in there.

Cool enough for you? I hope so. Not a great script by any means, but the surprise of a director attempting the holy grail of filmmaking (I know it’s been done before but never successfully imo) – the single shot film – makes this worth the read easily.

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

What I learned: You run into a lot of trouble when you err on the side of “mysterious” for your main character. The reason for this is there’s a real thin line between “mysterious” and “boring.” Since there’s so little information about Ryan here, she starts to disappear quicker than Marty’s picture in Back to The Future. I think it’s okay to withhold information to make your villain mysterious. I think it’s okay to withhold information to make one of your supporting characters mysterious. But I don’t think you should withhold too much information when it comes to your hero – especially in a case like this when they’re the only person onscreen. We have to know this person, have to love them on some level, if we’re going to root for them for two hours.