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Genre (from writer): Action/Adventure, Fantasy
Premise (from writer): At the end of the world, young loner Pete Garey and his unicorn companion, Ariel, fight to survive in the chaos of the Change, where magic rules and they battle a dark sorcerer who covets the powers of her horn.
Why you should read (from writer): I have written a fantasy/adventure called “ARIEL” based on the 80′s cult classic young-adult novel by Steven R. Boyett. The script won Best Action/Adventure Screenplay in the Script Exposure Screenwriting Competition, and was chosen by Stephanie Palmer to be pitched from the stage at the AFM in November 2013. I first fell in love with this story when I was 14 years old. It really made an impression on me, (mythical creatures and post-apocalypse, whee!) and I always thought it would make a great movie. ARIEL seems to have a lingering effect on many of its fans. So, fast-forward to thirty years later: I optioned the rights and wrote the screenplay. I hope you and your readers will enjoy it too! — ARIEL is an edgy post-apocalyptic urban fantasy, an exciting road adventure, and a surprisingly funny story of courage and trust on Pete’s journey to becoming a man. — P.S. I had to laugh when I saw Friday’s newsletter and the presence of FIREWAKE on Amateur Offerings. I hope you will not be put off by the idea of TWO talking unicorn scripts – really, what are the odds?? That said, I have read FIREWAKE and the only similarity between the two is a talking unicorn character – they are very different stories.
Writer: Stacy Langton (based on the novel by Steven R. Boyett)
Details: 118 pages
Due to a mix-up in me being an idiot, I just discovered that today’s slated review, Black Autumn, was written by S.D., who’s other script (Primal) was reviewed just three weeks ago. I didn’t think it was fair to give up an amateur slot to someone who had just been reviewed, which sent me scrambling for a replacement. If you guys still want to get a Black Autumn review, let me know and I’ll figure out a day. But today feels like we must release someone new from the Matrix.
Where do you go for replacements at 11 o’clock on a Thursday night? I’ll tell you where. Unicorn Land!
Luckily for me, I had TWO unicorn scripts to choose from! It was a toss up, but I ended up going with Ariel. What did I hope to learn from this experience? Well, let me say this. Some writer (whose name I’m forgetting) once noted that if Harry Potter was the EXACT SAME STORY but written as a spec script called, “Limpy Ladderbottoms and the Candles of Pegasus,” it never would’ve sold. People only take chances on this “out there stuff” if it’s been proven in another medium first. Well, with Ariel being based on a book, I figured if it’s any good, we can give it a Potter platform!
18 year old Pete Garey is just a regular high school dude… until The Change comes. The Change is when the entire world stops working, all electricity, all machines, all batteries. Nobody knows why this happened. All they know is that they can’t cycle through Netflix movies for 30 minutes at a time anymore.
Oh, and that mythical creatures have invaded the earth!
While bumbling around, trying to figure out what’s going on, Pete meets Ariel, a unicorn. Ariel pulled a Harrison Ford so Pete must nurse her back to health, and along the way, they become friends! You may be asking how that can happen. It’s because Ariel can talk! She speaks in a little girl voice, and over time, Pete teaches her the entire English language so they can communicate.
As they head to the library to try and figure out what’s happening, Pete and Ariel feel the presence of a very powerful man, the Sorcerer, who they believe wants to find and kill Ariel so he can take Ariel’s horn! For those of you ignorants who know nothing about unicorns, a unicorn’s horn is said to be packed with magic. Therefore, they’re in high demand.
After the sorcerer hires some horn-men (get it? Instead of hit-men) to steal Ariel’s horn, it becomes clear that the only way they’re going to stop this meanie is to go mano et unicorno with the Sorcerer. Problem is, he’s in freaking New York, which is forever away. So they head down that way, picking up a samurai, a little boy, a horny woman, and a few other peeps, hoping to resolve this Sorcerer problem once and for all.
I’m going to have a tough time with this one. First of all, we have to be fair here. This isn’t the kind of script that most people who visit this site are into. So right off the bat, Stacy’s got a tough sell. I’m sure if this was being reviewed on one of those Twilight sites, it’d be a whole different story.
But it does lead me to my first question. Who is the audience here? Because you’d think if we’re following talking unicorns, we’re looking at a 5-11 year old demographic. But the thing is, sex is a huge part of this script. One of the major threads is that only virgins can touch unicorns. And Pete is a virgin. That’s what allows Pete and Ariel to become so close.
That leads me to my next question. Why did it matter if only virgins could touch unicorns? Virgin or not, everybody was still able to see and talk to Ariel, so losing your virginity only deprived you of touch. You could still hang out, crack jokes about zebras, and get wasted on moonshine. Right?
Issue three was that I got the feeling there was a weird sexual thing going on between Ariel and Pete. I don’t know if that was on purpose or I was totally misreading it. But it made me feel the way the rope in gym did when you slid down it. Then you start imagining where everything goes and it’s just… well, it’s not church conversation, let’s just say that.
But let’s move past all that stuff. If I’m being honest, it’s hard for me to see what makes these magic worlds work or not. As crazy as a sexually frustrated talking unicorn sounds, is it any stranger than Harry Potter casting Griffensporf Level 5 spells on his ginger friend, turning him into an eagle spider? Not being the audience for this world, trying to gauge its logic is a hornless endeavor.
All I can do is comment on the story. Everything else being even, did the characters and the plot compel me to read on?
In a word, they did not.
First off, there was the double time-jump-forward in the opening ten pages (we jump a year forward after the opening scene, then jump another year forward after another scene). Not only is this clunky, it indicates a writer who doesn’t know where to begin their story. If we’re going to jump, just do it that one time. Two years ahead.
From there, there was a LOT of expositional dialogue with very little drama. It was a lot of characters talking about people they knew and how “you should meet this person” and “you can go to the library” and how “I’ve heard of this sorcerer,” and then “who is the sorcerer” and “what does he want” and “where are we going.”
Instead of scenes being used for dramatic purposes, they were used to talk about plot details plot details plot details. Characters talking about the plot is boring. Readers want drama!
For example, there was a scene in The Walking Dead (zombie apocalypse show) where Rick, our hero, shows up with his son and a friend at an abandoned house. He wants to rest and they want to go into town to look for food. So he takes a nap and they leave. While they’re out, some violent raiders come to the house, and Rick must hide. He knows his son and friend are coming back soon, and when they do, these men will surely kill them. But Rick can’t do anything about it. He’s trapped, unable to warn them without letting the raiders know he’s there. That’s drama! We have no idea how our characters are going to get out of this so we have to read on to find out! We don’t get a single crafty dramatic scene like that here.
There was also ZERO subtext going on under any of the scenes. Characters almost exclusively delivered two kinds of dialogue: They’d say exactly what they were thinking, or they would discuss plot exposition that set up later events.
This kind of thing becomes apparent once you run into a scene that actually does display subtext or conflict. And that’s what happened here. I noticed, all of a sudden, that I was drawn into a scene. It was when the new girl joins the group, and Ariel becomes jealous of her. Ariel tells Pete that she doesn’t trust her, but that’s not what she’s really saying. She’s saying, “This girl is trying to take my man. And I don’t like it.” They then kind of dance around that reality, without saying it out loud. That’s what I mean by subtext. But that was the only time it happened in the entire script.
Remember, the reader likes figuring things out. They enjoy trying to measure what two people are really saying while they’re talking. It’s like a little adventure. When you have two people saying exactly what they feel (“I love you.” “I love you too”), we don’t get to go on those adventures. So we become bored.
In addition to that, the goal was too muddy. Everybody talked about this Sorcerer guy, but I couldn’t figure out who he was or why he was important. People would say his name and then everyone would get jittery. So for a big portion of the script’s first half, we’re just talking about this guy but not doing anything about him.
Then, at some point, they say, “Okay, well, let’s go get him.” Which was good, because now our characters were actually moving forward. But I still didn’t know what the plan was. Was it to kill him? Talk to him? Strike a deal so he didn’t take Ariel’s horn? When the motivation for the main goal driving the story is muddy, the reader loses interest. How can someone be into something if they’re not sure why it’s happening? Look at Lord of the Rings. We know what Frodo is doing the whole time. He’s going to the volcano to destroy the ring. That’s always clear.
I think this script needed a clear goal right away. The motivation behind that goal needed to be strong. The scenes themselves needed less exposition, more drama, and more subtext. And it would’ve been nice if some of the rules had been clearer. Again, why does it matter if you can’t touch a unicorn if you can still see it and talk to it? Other than petting privileges being revoked, it’s the same thing.
On the plus side, the script was properly formatted. There was some imagination behind the world. And there was a certain charm to some of the characters. I think Stacy was up against a tough crowd. Even if this was the greatest talking unicorn movie ever made, you’d still have to drag me to the theater. That shows you just how high the standards were. I dearly hope this doesn’t hurt my chances of seeing a real unicorn someday, but this wasn’t for me.
Screenplay link: Ariel
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: For a dramatically potent scene, create a complicated situation where success is in doubt. That’s all that Walking Dead scene was.