Genre: Action Thriller
Synopsis: A plane cannot drop below 8000 feet or everybody on board dies.
About: Not every script gets sold. But that doesn’t mean you won’t make some money off your newly minted spec. Altitude, by Michael Palmer, got him enough recognition that he was broght in by fox to pitch his idea on Hitman 2. He won the execs over and 6 figures later, was officially in the game.
Writer: Michael S. Palmer
After spending all that time on Virgin America’s website yesterday, I decided I wanted to spend my next 120 pages on a plane. I didn’t know what kind of plane. All I knew was that I didn’t want any snakes. And I didn’t want Kareem-Abdul-Jabaar. I craved something that put you right in thick of it when the shit went down. I found just the script I was looking for: Altitude.
Okay, let’s not dodge the obvious here. This is Speed on a plane. And to be honest I’m surprised they still entertain these kinds of scripts. I thought 6 billion “Speed on a [blank]” pitches between the years of 1991 and 1995 would’ve worn the industry out. Nope. Guess not.
Altitude starts off with a plane full of dead people. When a SWAT team finally gets inside, they see that everyone on the plane is dead, even the pilots. Sound familiar? It should if you watched the pilot for that shitty Fox show, “Fringe” (which last time I checked had Porcupine Men). Yeah, we’re talking the exact same opening. Well, Palmer signed on with Fox to do Hitman 2, then Fringe uses an opening that’s the exact same as Altitude. I don’t think it’s difficult to figure out what happened here. My question is, does Palmer get paid for this? I mean they’re basically saying, “Uhhhhh, we don’t want to purchase your entire screenplay. But we would like to purchase the opening.” Can they do that? Or, because it’s not the entire script, can they just steal it? I think one day I’ll look into that. Cause that would be pretty cool if you could sell parts of your screenplay.
But in the meantime, we’re cutting to different parts of the world where planes are literally falling out of the sky. Into the desert. Into the city. Into parks. 24 planes go down in all. Is this a terrorist attack? What’s going on?
We cut onto Delta flight 1784 which is on approach when all of a sudden one of its passengers, JOHN, starts flipping out. He’s racing down the aisles, carrying some device with him. What is it? What’s going on? Passengers panicky. John charges the cockpit. Everybody charges him. Moments later he’s getting his face bashed in. But John’s trying to tell them: He’s not the enemy. He’s the only one who can save them. If this plane tries to land, he claims, everyone on it will die.
Apparently some virus called “Icarus” was unleashed into the Denver airport, where all these doomed flights originated. This particular virus activates once you reach a certain altitude. Then you can no longer go below that altitude. It was specifically designed for this situation. So that planes going up would never be able to come down (at least that’s how I understood it). So the question then becomes, how do you land a plane that can’t land?
Altitude depends more on action than it does on problem-solving. And there are some cool scenes. An impromptu takeoff on the same runway another plane is landing on. A refueling that requires that some of the passenger go out onto the wing. So yeah, there’s some cool stuff in there. But ultimately, Altitude doesn’t stick its landing (yes, I went there) because the characters don’t pull you in enough. It’s not for lack of trying. Palmer uses flashbacks (ick)
to help reveal a sub-plot involving his deceased daughter but it doesn’t work. It feels clumsy and doesn’t fit the fast pace of the rest of the film.
A final review here is tough for me. I think I’m going to give it a “worth the read” but only barely. For you action/thriller fans, there are some solid moments.
script link: link taken down
[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned from Altitude: Flashbacks. Use them? Don’t use them? This is a highly debated topic in the screenwriting world and an argument I’ve been on both sides of. Ultimately though, I say use them only if you can think of no other solution. Because they ruin all of the momentum you’ve built into your story. And they’re almost always used for boring stupid stuff that can be addressed quickly and easily during the story. In this case, Palmer uses them to show us a really downbeat backstory where we learn his disease research actually ended up killing his daughter….So what! No, I’m serious. So the fuck what!! If you could’ve got that out of the way in the opening 5 minutes with a picture or a moment or something, we would’ve had much more sympathy for John. But as it is, in mystery form, we don’t find out til page 80. That’s 75 pages you made us wait to build sympathy for a character you could have had us sympathizing with on page 5. — But getting back on point, the flashbacks were easily the least interesting thing about Altitude. And even worse (as is almost always the case) had you removed them, the story would’ve lost NOTHING. So keep that in mind fellow writers, the next time you’re thinking of using a stupid flashback. :)