Friday, August 5, 2011

First Man On Earth

Genre: Sci-Fi
Premise: When a male skeleton holding a gun is found inside the fossilized remains of a T-Rex, a young paleontologist must get to the bottom of how it happened.
HOW TO SUBMIT: Every Friday, I review a script from the readers of the site. If you’re interested in submitting your script for an Amateur Review, send it in PDF form, along with your title, genre, logline, and why I should read your script to Keep in mind your script will be posted in the review (feel free to keep your identity and script title private by providing an alias and fake title).
Writer: Darren Howell
Details: 115 pages (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).

Finally! We get some high concept action up in this joint!

Strap on your jetpacks tadpoles. This is about to get loopy.

Paleontologist or fossil-seeker (whatever you call them) Dr. Rosy Kean, has just made a major discovery. An entire T-Rex fossil buried in the ground. But that’s not all. This T-Rex has inside of its “stomach” a skeleton – a skeleton of a man. A skeleton of a man with a GUN. Uh-huh. Yeah. Things just got interesting.

So Rosy calls up her old flame - used to be FBI agent, now a security guard - Danny Wallace, to get a match on the gun. Danny looks up the serial number and guess what? It’s the same serial number as HIS CURRENT GUN. Naturally, Danny thinks this is all a joke and doesn’t really pay attention to it. Especially because there are other things going on in the world. Like in Iran where a 9.2 earthquake just rocked one of their nuclear facilities.

Anyway, Rosy gets a call from her old friend Cassandra Wallace, the richest woman in the world (who also happens to be Danny’s mother) who wants her to come back to the U.S. ASAP. She’s got something she wants to tell her.

Rosy does, but in the meantime, all over the world, there are these strange “gravity bumps” where everything jolts out of place. Certainly there’s gotta be something going on here. And Danny wants to get to the bottom of it. But when an oil tanker falls out of the sky into the middle of New York, that’s when it gets really bad. People need answers now.

Danny does some digging and eventually finds out that the government has some sort of secret new weapon they’re working on that creates controllable black holes. I mean, screw nuclear weapons. That’s old school. If you can control black holes, you could decimate anything. Then afterwards you just close them back up. The question is, where do these black holes end? Where are they sending this stuff back to?

Eventually Rosy, Danny, and Cassandra all meet up and – and this is where my understanding of what happens gets a little shaky – decide that Danny’s going to go back in time where these black holes are sending all this stuff to. He does (spoilers), which is where he meets his fate with the dinosaur. We then jump forward to 1960, where we find out the truth behind who Cassandra really is, and the mystery behind her tremendous wealth.

Whoa. First Man On Earth indeed.

Initial thoughts on this one? Intriguing. Exciting. But messy. I mean, this script explores a TON of ideas. But it makes a mistake a lot of writers make early on. Trying to throw everything and the kitchen sink into their story. A looming world war isn’t enough. It has to be a world war with wormholes and time travel and ships falling out of the sky. I actually liked some of this stuff because it was unique. But the truth is, there was too much going on.

I’m reminded of what happened with Good Will Hunting’s development. The original script for that had Will Hunting on the run with the government chasing him and a bunch of thriller craziness. But the producers told them, “Whoa, let’s slow this down. It looks like you have some better characters here than you’re giving yourself credit for.” Subsequent drafts concentrated more on the relationships between the characters and the movie went on to win a screenwriting Oscar.

I would suggest some of that here, but maybe not to the degree that they did it. I think the time travel stuff is intriguing and reveals an interesting final twist. But I’m not sure I like all the wormhole this and wormhole that and quantum physics breakdown and boats falling out of skies and Russia and China joining forces and U.S. secret weapons. That stuff is cool if you’re making a Roland Emmerich movie, but I think this has the potential to be more. The strange triangle relationship between Danny, Rosy, and Cassandra can be mined for more drama. Then build a simpler story around that. You don’t lose much because you still have your high concept (time travel). Yet now your story doesn’t seem like it’s cluttered or trying too hard. I mean, I’m still not sure why the hell we started this movie in Iran.

I’m also not sure the FBI angle works. I would stay consistent with the movie’s hook. Make Danny some kind of scientist, like Rosy.

This script had other issues as well. Sometimes we can be so focused on giving our characters problems and flaws, that we just throw something in there cause it checks the box. Danny hating his mother because she gives him “too much love” may be the dumbest reason for a relationship disconnect ever. Even if it were realistic, the fact that Danny’s droning on about how difficult it is to have someone love him so much is not only stupid, but it makes him look like a total asshole. I can somewhat understand why this was used after the twist was revealed, but it creates too much frustration for the reader in the 90-some pages leading up to the twist to justify its use.

I also thought the Mallinson storyline (Mallinson is a character who tries to take credit for the T-Rex discovery) was too on-the-nose, had no story value, and crumbled under the weight of how “cliché bad guy” Mallinson was. I couldn’t understand why we were spending so much time with him. Our villains needed to be direct adversaries of Rosy and Danny. Not 10,000 miles away.

Speaking of, the fact that the T-Rex discovery was off in a different place than was the rest of the story gave me the uncomfortablies. Almost like the writer wanted to get the dinosaur hook in, then get to the U.S. as soon as possible. If there’s any way to keep the story more centralized, I’d recommend that. For example, if Danny and Cassandra were flown over there as opposed to the other way around, and everything took place in a nearby foreign city, sort of like how the bulk of Raiders takes place in Cairo, I’d recommend that. I just don’t like jumping all over the world unless it’s absolutely necessary. And these characters didn’t absolutely need to be in the U.S. Especially if you get rid of all that FBI stuff.

Another big issue here is over-information. And this often happens when you’re throwing everything and the kitchen sink at your story. At a certain point, there’s just too much to explain. And that this script felt part Quantum Physics course was not a good omen for a story that already had to explain the connection between current black holes and the extinction of the dinosaurs, as well as why China and Russia were turning into one big super-country.

Here’s the thing. Sometimes we feel like we have to “prove” to the reader that we’ve researched this or know what we’re talking about, so we dedicate pages upon pages of characters spouting out boring exposition as to how the whole thing works. It’s good to do research, but always remember that you’re entertaining your audience first. Tell them what they need to know but nothing more – ESPECIALLY if you already have a ton of other crazy shit you have to explain.

I can’t give this script a “worth the read” because it’s too sloppy and there’s too much going on and I’m not sure all the parts fit together. But I will say this is a great concept to be working with for a spec script. It’s going to get the writer reads. And if Darren can find the story somewhere inside of all this madness, First Man On Earth has a chance of becoming something really good. I believe that.

Script link: First Man On Earth

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me (very close to worth the read)
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Beware of the residual effects of an exposition heavy movie. You become so satisfied with making everything make sense, that you don’t realize you’re having to jam character backstory in all the way down on page 84 (with Rosy). This is a direct result of not having anywhere to put this stuff earlier, where it should be. This is the same reason why we know nothing about any of the characters in Inception besides Cobb, and thus why they feel so empty. So much time needed to be spent on explaining the never-ending rules of dream-navigation that there wasn’t any time left for character development. Only give us the information/explanation we need and nothing more.