Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Screenplay Review - Invasion

Genre: Sci-fi
Premise: A group of survivors search for answers in an ash-fallen Los Angeles after an alien invasion.
About: Ben Magid first gained traction in Hollywood with his dark take on Peter Pan, which reimagined Pan as a serial killer. He sold this script, Invasion, a couple years later to Summit.
Writer: Ben Magid
Details: 8/11/09 Draft – 98 pages

I was able to escape the Cambodian village I was being held captive in last night, hitch a ride from a local one-eyed chicken farmer, and make it to Phnom Penh Airport, all before the screenwriting terrorist organization known as “Eat The Cat” knew I was gone. However, I did manage to secure a producer credit should their reboot of “The Adventures Of Pluto Nash” make it to theaters. I also hold the rights to my story, which will be the focus of a primetime special on 60 Minutes. More on that before Thanksgiving.

It all seems rather serendipitous, seeing as there was that big debate on TV last night, what with the presidential election and all. I expect screenwriting terrorism to be a hot topic moving forward, and I want to make sure my story is known. For those of you wondering which way I’m leaning, I’ll just say that there’s nothing more annoying than political junkies arguing about politics. It’s almost creepy in fact, and sorta makes me not want to vote. By the way, when the heck are they going to make it so you can vote online??? Voter turnout would go up 500%!!! But nooooo. They have to make us go OUT and vote. You wanna know what that is? That’s bias against lazy people. If the lazy people in this nation were allowed to vote, I promise you things would be a LOT different.

Don’t I have to review a script today? I guess so. Except today’s script is so….average. How is one supposed to get excited about an average script? And it shouldn’t be that way. I like invasion scripts. Well, I like the IDEA of invasion scripts. But they need that little Sunkist twist so that they stand out, and I’m not sure Invasion has that. With that said, surprisingly enough, I believe Invasion could be a cool movie. But it’s going to need some characters and it’s going to need a pulse – two things it’s lacking at the moment.

Invasion starts out sharply enough, with a group of commuters travelling through Los Angeles via subway (L.A. has a subway?) when they hear a giant BOOM from above. Their train goes haywire in a way that would scare even Chris Pine and Denzel Washington. It accordions into a wall and the survivors, after checking to make sure all their limbs are intact, make their way up top.

They’re greeted with a Los Angeles awash in what looks like snow, but it quickly becomes apparent that this is ash. LA has been nuked, and not by your friendly neighborhood North Koreans either. But by aliens! The only reason our crew survived is because they were in some lead-lined portion of the subway tunnel.

But that hardly means they’re out of trouble. This ash limits visibility to about 30 feet, which means they’re walking blind in this battleground, with strange alien forms always looming just beyond your field of vision. That and the GOOP. What’s the “goop” you say? Well, the goop would be the big puddles of sticky gooey goo that seem to be everywhere. Our survivors realize that this goo used to be PEOPLE! And if you touch it, the goo contaminates you, turning you into fellow goo.

Like most group survivor movies, the goal is to get to the survivor rendezvous point, which our guys make a guess is at the Federal Building in Westwood. But when they get there, there’s no one around. They do find a radio transmission, however, that states the Navy is sending ships over to Santa Monica to save all the survivors. So away they go again, this time encountering some heavy casualties. For those who manage to survive, they’re met with quite the shocker, a big surprise that’ll have them wishing they were K.O.’d back at that subway crash along with the rest of the commuters.

Before I get into my problems with the script, I have to admit Invasion's kind of a clever idea for a movie. When you take on these giant cataclysmic events, it’s a smart idea to localize things. But that usually means putting your characters in an ordinary location, such as a house (i.e. the way “Signs” did it). In this case, we’re actually in the middle of the chaos, however it plays like a contained thriller, since we can never really see beyond 30 feet. We’re watching things play out, but only within this tiny fog-limited bubble. I thought that was cool. Remember, our imaginations are always worse than reality, and wondering what was just outside that bubble made for some nice suspense.

However here’s the problem. I didn’t care. You’ll notice that I didn’t mention any characters in my review and that’s because I don’t remember any. Oh sure, there was the tough former army type and the annoyed businessman type. But there wasn’t a single character who had anything unique or interesting going on. Even Magid seemed unsure about his characters, as he didn’t really decide who to focus on until the third act, where I guess this dad and his daughter became the de facto protagonists with a broken relationship that all of a sudden needed mending.

I seem to say this until I’m blue in the face but you gotta spend more time on your characters people! You gotta give everyone AT LEAST ONE unique trait, something (or a combination of somethings) that make them unlike anybody else we’ve ever seen before. Because if a character doesn’t feel real, then we’re bored by them, and if you have a script like this with 7-8 generic stereotypes running around, it doesn’t matter how cool your plot is, you’ve written a script without a pulse.

But some of you are probably saying, “But wait a minute, Carson. This sold!” True true, it did sell. But it sold on the concept and Magid’s heat due to his hot script, Pan. That’s the thing – when you sell a script or you write a hot script, companies are much more comfortable buying from you, and won’t hold you to the same standards unknowns are held to. I know it’s backwards thinking – but it’s the way the business works. If you’re not known to Hollywood, you need to be amazing. Because if someone buys something from an unknown and that script has a lot of problems, people won’t want to push it through the system and whoever was responsible for buying it could get fired. But if you bought a script from a celebrated writer with a hot script that everyone loves, that’s something people want to get behind, even if the script isn’t that great.  So it's a much safer bet, even if it's not as good!

But I’m getting off track. The point I was trying to make was this: NAIL YOUR CHARACTERS. Put everything into your characters. Make them flawed and mysterious and conflicted and relatable. But most of all, make them unique. We’re more likely to see someone as a real person if we haven’t seen that person before in a movie.

Invasion: Cool concept. Could be a neat movie. But needs unique and way more interesting characters.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] Wasn’t for me.
[ ] Worth the read
[ ] Impressive
[ ] Genius

What I learned: Even when you're focusing on a group of people, it's a good idea to have a lead protagonist.  Not that "a group as protagonist" can't be done, but if you're not focusing on a lead person or a lead couple, it's hard for us to make that connection with the characters so that we actually give a shit about them.  And that's exactly what happened here.  I didn't know who the main character was so it's not a surprise that I didn't feel a connection to anybody.