Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller
Premise: (from IMDB) A man is wrongly convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage against the U.S. He’s offered his freedom if he can rescue the president’s daughter from an outer space prison taken over by violent inmates.
About: This sci-fi actioner is being pitched as “Taken in outer space” but it appears that’s due more to whose involved (Luc Besson and Maggie Grace – both Taken alums) than the actual script itself. I’d probably call this more “Die Hard in space,” due to the contained nature of the story and the somewhat cartoonish aspect of the plot. It’s nice to see Guy Pearce getting some work again (he plays the lead – Miller). He’s one of the most underrated actors out there. This draft of the script was written back when the project was titled, “Section Eight.”
Writers: Luc Besson, James Mather, Stephen St. Leger
Details: 107 pages – 2nd draft, revisions March 2009 (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).
Huge fan of Luc Besson. Still remember seeing The Fifth Element which was YEARS ahead of its time effects wise, and being blown away by the extensive mythology of the world. How different it was. How ambitious it was. And how surprisingly funny it was. It was too weird to ever find the mainstream success Star Wars did, but it’s arguably the second best sci-fi fantasy film ever made outside the Star Wars universe.
Unless I’m mistaken, this is Besson’s first foray back into science-fiction since Element, and that makes it worthy of discussion. However, I was upset to find out that the draft I read was really rough. And I mean rough enough to be mistaken for sandpaper. Take this early dialogue exchange for example, where a character asks what happens with their space suits once they’ve escaped the station: “And what if we get sucked into earth’s gravity?” “It won’t happen – you’re fifty miles outside the Earth’s gravitational pull.” “But what if it does?” “Not that it’s a problem but the suits are precisely designed to withstand a re-entry. They come equipped with chutes.” Hmmm…I wonder if these chutes are going to come into play later?
There’s “on-the-nose” and then there’s “ON-THE-NOSE” and it looks like they were still at the stage where you’re using dialogue to spell out your story for yourself, planning to smooth it out later once everything’s in place. This is how most writers work so it makes sense and it means this will be a more “broad strokes” examination of script. I’m figuring (hoping) it will change a lot in the time being.
Luc Besson likes his heroes tough and simple and Miller is no different. He’s a government agent in the year 2088 who possesses a unique talent for getting into and out of tight places without getting caught. Unfortunately, Miller is convicted of killing his partner on his latest mission and is sentenced to 30 years on Section 8, the space jail that houses the worst criminals in the world.
In the meantime Emile, a journalist and the daughter of the president of the United States, is going up to Section 8 for a little expose on the jail. Seems that they freeze all the prisoners to keep costs and problems down and that there are rumors that this freezing process causes permanent brain damage. Emile is interviewing a few of the inmates to see if she can break a 60 Minutes like story.
Naturally, one of these rapists-murderers she interviews, a degenerate aptly named Hydell, is able to slip out of his handcuffs, pickpocket a gun, and start shooting up the place, which of course ends in the release of all 500 prisoners from their medical-induced slumber. Alex, the smart villain (and Hydell’s brother), emerges as the brains of the operation, and realizes he can use the jail’s workers as bargaining chips to get back to earth.
Lucky for the good guys, Alex doesn’t realize he has the biggest bargaining chip of all right in the room with him…the president’s daughter. For this reason, a few of the president’s advisors come up with a risky plan. Sneak one of their men up into the base, have him find Emilie, and get her out of there. But who are they going to find to pull that off?
I think I have an ide-aaaaaaaa.
Miller accepts the job for a chance at freedom and, in one of the lazier subplots of the story, to save a friend who’s also up there. The rest of the story is pretty straight-forward, with the two running around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying to escape the prisoners and the jail. Miller and Emilie, predictably, despise each other in that “I hate you but I still want to have sex with you” way, which makes their goal all the tougher, but they suck it up because it’s not like there are a lot of options up here. Unless you like getting raped and murdered by 500 prisoners.
In case you haven’t figured it out, this is basically an extended trippy R-rated version of the “Escape the Death Star” sequence in Star Wars.
Unfortunately, in its current form, the script reads like it was written by an amateur, or at the very least three professionals in a hurry. I mean the characters here are painfully underdeveloped. Miller is a tough guy who’s, well, tough. Hydell is an evil bad guy who’s, well, evil. Alex is a mastermind who’s, well, smart. And every character here communicates in a bravado so macho they make the original cast of Predator sound like a bunch of metrosexuals on a field trip to Bergdorf. For example, there’s a lot of this: “And who are you?” “I’m your fairy fucking godfather.”
Ironically these were some of the same arguments lobbed at Taken, but a couple of key differences were in play with that film. The connection between the pursuer (Neeson) and the pursued (the daughter) was personal. He was her father, which added a whole emotional component that this doesn’t have. Nobody seems to care about anyone or anything in Lockout but themselves. Taken also did a good job carefully constructing the relationship between father-daughter in the first act. The setup here seems more concerned with a murder-mystery that doesn’t have anything to do with the story (whether Miller really killed his partner or not).
In the end, this is a lazy treatment of a well-tread premise. It has some potential, especially with Besson overseeing it, but it’s going to need some major rewriting, particularly in the character department, to truly stand out. Hopefully all the rewriting since 2009 has taken care of this, since I’d love nothing more than to see another awesome Besson sci-fi flick.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: A lot of people are intimidated by the second act. And they should be. It’s scary. I’m scared right now just thinking about it. But to ease the pain, I have a tip for you. It’s called “Escalation Nation.” Use the second act to place obstacles in front of your character’s goal with each obstacle being slightly bigger than the previous. At first all Miller has to do is find Emilie (obstacle) but then he learns that she’s in a room that’s running out of oxygen (bigger obstacle). Alex learns about their plans and sends his baddies after them (bigger obstacle). Alex makes an announcement over the speaker to all the prisoners that Miller and Emilie are trying to escape and to stop them at all costs (bigger obstacle). The escalation of these obstacles will keep the story moving at a brisk pace and since each problem is bigger than the last, we rarely get bored. Of course, this is assuming you’ve already developed characters that we want to root for.
Remember, you can’t spell “characters” without “care.”
No, that last part was not meant to be serious. Shame on you if you thought it was.