Monday, July 9, 2012

Screenplay Review - Invertigo

Genre: Sci-Fi
Premise: A unique meteorite crashes into earth, causing a slow and steady destabilization of the planet's gravity.  
About: Today's script was co-written by Ehren Kruger, one of the alpha dogs of the Hollywood screenwriting industry.  When you bring Kruger in to work on something, you're usually paying upwards of a million bucks.  Kruger has written such movies as The Ring and a couple of the Transformers flicks.  He also wrote one of my Top 25 scripts, The Keep. Co-Writer Bradley Camp has worked mainly as a producer, collaborating closely with Andrew Niccol on his films S1mone and Lord Of War.  The Invertigo spec sold to Sony a couple of months ago.  
Writer: Ehren Kruger and Bradley Camp
Details: 129 pages (Nov. 1 2009 draft)

I don't know if Roland Emmerich is directing this, but if not, he will be soon.  Mark my words.  Invertigo's opening act reads like an Emmerich wet dream.  We have a meteorite splitting up in the atmosphere, pieces shooting off in all different direction. We see the fragments land in a bunch of different countries.  We have the dopey but good-natured scientist character baffled by the development and demanding to talk to somebody about it (but nobody will listen!).  

And then, of course, we have the anti-gravity.  Now here's the thing - I've run up against this anti-gravity idea before in screenplays.  It's one of those ideas where you can instantly see the movie.  I mean people floating around in New York City!?  That's probably going to make a studio some money.  But basing an entire movie around that image?  Is that going to be enough?  I mean, how many times can you show things floating in the air before an audience goes, "Okay, what else ya got??"

Kruger and Camp believe they have the answer.  And you know what?  They just might.  These two come up with some pretty nifty ways to keep a one-trick-pony entertaining.  

So like I said, our main character is 40 year old scientist, Tom Riley.  Tom is an astro-somethingist whose specialty is tracking meteorites.  In fact, Tom's been tracking one particular meteorite that's been zipping through the universe for 11 billion years.  

Well, Tom yanks his daughters out of bed on the morning this meteorite is supposed to dissolve into the earth's atmosphere, but is shocked when it actually splits up into five pieces!  That wasn't part of the plan and leaves Tom baffled.  

These tiny baseball-sized fragments land all over the world (Japan, the Amazon, Central Park) and it would appear that - just like any other meteorite that's landed on earth - that that would be all she wrote.  But apparently Mother Universe had another chapter in mind.  Soon after one of the fragments crashes into a Central Park lake, the surrounding area becomes...unstable.  First leaves start floating.  Then water goblets.  Then people!

The police freak out, contain the area, and the military are notified.  It becomes clear that they've never dealt with something like this before, so they contact the one man who seems to know something about this meteorite - Tom Riley.  

Tom informs them that not only is the anti-gravity bubble growing, but it's feeding off the power in the city.  They need to SHUT THE CITY DOWN to stop this thing.  Well THAT suggestion doesn't go over well.  The army would rather do things the American way - blow some shit up - which Tom points out again will only make it stronger (didn't any of these guys see The Fifth Element???).  

In the meantime, the army locates renegade physicist Rodrigo Del Toro, who had to go on the run after building a mini hadron collider that nearly blew up MIT.  To their (and our) surprise, however, Rodrigo seems more interested in cracking end-of-the-world jokes than he does stopping shit from floating.

After bombing the meteorite does exactly what Tom said it would (make it worse), they realize that a last ditch effort is using Rodrigo's mini-collider to go in there and zap Ground Zero into non-existence.  But it's going to be tough.  Not only is the anti-gravity bubble spreading, but it's intensifying as well.  If you're out on the street, you're getting zapped up into the sky.  As are cars and buildings and sidewalks and everything.  New York is literally being pulled into the sky.  Can our guys Collider-kill that motherf%cker before Earth itself becomes a victim of this gravity monster?  

I'd say just from a reading standpoint I was entertained by Invertigo.  The characters were all pretty stock, but the story itself was fun.  My biggest worry was that they wouldn't be able to sustain the idea over a full movie, but there were some solid choices made to stave off that pitfall.

For example, I like how the gravity problem kept escalating.  It wasn't just like everybody flew up into the air in Act 1 and we just kept repeating that image.  Every 15 pages or so, something happened to intensify the gravity, which created new unique challenges.  

So at first, it's just a matter of holding onto things so you don't float away.  But pretty soon, that won't suffice  The pull is too strong.  So the group has to walk in the sewers upside-down (so they're actually walking on the ceilings) in order to get to the center of the city to unleash the collider. 

There were also some cool set-pieces.  A favorite was having to walk across a New York City bridge that a floating Staten Island Ferry had plunged into, forcing them to actually traverse through the awkwardly positioned boat to get to the other side of the bridge.  There was a great scene of them getting stuck inside a subway with a never-ending field of rats.  There was also a great scene where a fighter jet had to navigate through a New York City skyline with people and cars and busses all around it.  

So I feel like Kruger and Camp really sat down and thought this premise through.  They clearly wanted to exploit the idea as much as possible.  Of course, there were some missteps. The script often felt like an episode of Sciency McScience.  There's so much science talk here that at times I thought the target demographic of the film was electrons.  I'd say I understood about 1/3 of what everyone was talking about.

There're also some lame characters.  Rodrigo, the MIT dude, is  He's annoying.  Unlikable.  Sits around mumbling jokes all day.  But the most baffling thing about him is that the government sent one of their top units out to get him, and then when they brought him back, NOBODY ASKED HIM WHAT TO DO!  Rodrigo even says later, "Why hasn't anybody asked me anything?"  And I knew why: writer convenience.  If someone would've asked, we would've had to move further into the story than the writer's would've liked.  So they just, conveniently, made sure no one asked, even though it made no sense.

Then there was Annoying Firefighter Single Mom and her angry 17 year old son.  There's some backstory about how his dad died a hero firefighter, but he still hates him because by being a hero to others, he left him without a father  But then, of course, in the end, the kid decides to risk his own life (and be a hero too!) to help Tom and Rodrigo reach Central Park.  

I don't know.  Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in these character arcs that we can't see the bullshit through the horns.  Yeah, the character arcs, but it's so cheesy you'd have been better off not arcing him at all.  It's a tough line to walk because you wanna try and develop characters in these big films.  But you can't be too obvious about it or you're going to find yourself in the middle of an Eye-Rolling parade.  

Anyway, this was pretty good.  The spectacle factor made up for a lot of the script's shortcomings.  I could see this becoming a fun movie.

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

What I learned:  Most of the amateur Disaster Genre scripts I read have predictable set pieces that we've seen a million times before.  If you want your disaster script to stand out, you're going to need three VERY UNIQUE set pieces.  Or else, why would someone want to spend 200 million dollars to make your film?  So they can give people exactly what they've seen before?  I don't think 2012 was a good movie, but driving a car through a city where the world behind you is dissolving into nothing...I'd never seen that before.  So make sure the set-piece scenes in your disaster script (or ANY big budget script you're writing) are unique.  If there's any area where you can show off your creativity in screenwriting, this is it.