Spaihts got the job after pitching the studio and Scott Free, which will produce the film.
The film is set up to be a prequel to the groundbreaking 1979 film that Scott directed. It will precede that film, in which the crew of a commercial towing ship returning to Earth is awakened and sent to respond to a distress signal from a nearby planetoid. The crew discovers too late that the signal generated by an empty ship was meant to warn them.”
If you’re not familiar with Joh Spaihts, it just so happens I reviewed one of his scripts here on Scriptshadow. To check that out, go here!
Just a reminder. If you’re a repped writer and still haven’t made your first sale, you have til the end of tomorrow (Saturday) to get your script in to me. Some writers/agents have expressed reservations about sending in material as the exposure of the script would make it difficult to sell. Obviously, this is something that’s never been done before so you have no idea what the response will be. But even if that concerns you, maybe this is a strong script you already went out with at a bad time in the marketplace. Maybe it’s a script you – the writer – think is your best work but it’s a hard sell. Maybe something similar got snatched up, preventing your own sale, even though your script was immeasurably better. This could be that second chance you’re looking for.
Anyway, here’s the original post (oh, it’s now FIVE scripts instead of four):
So I’m doing something different next week. I want to give five writers a chance to get some exposure. The only catch is you have to have agency representation and not yet have sold a script. If you meet those requirements, send me your script, your agency, and a logline. I’ll take the five most interesting loglines and review those scripts Monday-Thursday. If you don’t want your script posted or you won’t be able to take a potentially negative review, then you shouldn’t participate. I know a lot of you unrepresented writers are crying foul here but there’s a reason I’m only allowing represented writers. First, I don’t want to be inundated with 10,000 e-mails. But more importantly, this is an exercise to review scripts from writers who *were* able to land representation, but have not yet been able to sell a script. What’s the difference in quality between a represented and an unrepresented writer? What’s the difference in quality between a represented writer and a represented writer with a sale? Is the difference merely a matter of luck? That’s what I want to explore. Who knows? Maybe we’ll find something great. Send the scripts to this e-mail: Carsonreeves2@gmail.com. There is no guarantee your script will be chosen but you have my word that I will delete all scripts I don’t use. Deal?
Okay, now let’s make one of you guys a millionaire.
Edit: I’ve decided to allow Manager representation as well. Though the choices will be weighted to favor agency representation.
Accepting submissions until: Saturday, August 1st, 11:59pm Pacific Time
Genre: Action Romantic Comedy
Premise: An alcoholic debt-ridden bounty hunter has two days to find and bring in his selfish manipulative dishonest ex-wife, who’s skipped bail.
About: Andy Tennant (“Hitch”) to direct. Starring Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler (who seems to be making a name for himself in the romantic comedy world). Sarah Thorp previously penned “Twisted”. This is shooting right now.
Writer: Sarah Thorp (1st draft, Sep 2007, 114 pages)
Now to be fair, this is the FIRST DRAFT of the screenplay, dated two years ago. So we know some changes have been made in the meantime. But it’s my guess that the basic premise and story are the same. And unfortunately, that’s the problem with The Bounty. This thing is more forced than an episode of The Bachelor. And I understand that the forced setup is a romantic comedy staple that’s been around for years. But there’s a difference between “forced” and “forcing it down our throats” – when the setup becomes so ridiculously over-the-top that it can only exist in the movie world. And that’s what’s happened here. This place that Thorp has invented only exists in Never Never Land. There is nothing plausible or realistic about any of the characters or situations in this movie.
That’s a really nice way of saying I detested this script.
Cassidy Daley is a gung-ho news reporter who will stop at nothing to get her story. She receives that “tip of a lifetime” about some potentially dirty cops from a source of hers named Jimmy. So off she goes into the seedy underworld to find him. Unfortunately along the way she does something illegal and gets arrested. She’s dragged off to jail, but immediately posts bail and skips her hearing. As far as she’s concerned, this front-page story is way more important than a silly bail formality.
Milo is a drunken gambling mess of a bounty hunter. He owes every bookie in town and is quite a ways from his prominent life as one of the best cops on the force. On the eve of getting roughed up by his bookies, Milo’s bail bondsman buddy, Sid, offers him a face-saving bounty. 5000 dollars if he can catch and bring back this person by Christmas Day (48 hours away). There’s just a slight twist. It’s his ex-wife, Cassidy! Ahhhhhhh!!! What are the chances?????
In case you haven’t guessed, Milo hates Cassidy. And Cassidy hates Milo. Even more than Milo hates Cassidy! These two really hate each other! Yet there’s something about this opportunity that makes scumbag Milo happy. You see Milo didn’t always used to be a scumbag. He used to be a successful cop with a bright future. Then he joined up with a reporter on an important case. And said reporter solved the case before he did and printed a story about it, making Milo look like an incapable moron. That led to their divorce. That led to his drinking. That led to his gambling. That led to his firing. And of course, this reporter’s name was Cassidy. Milo is convinced – CONVINCED – that Cassidey stole some information from him in order to solve the case. And he’s finally going to get her to admit it.
Milo’s actually pretty good at his job and it takes him less than an hour to find Cass. He handcuffs her and within seconds the pair is back to their old skitter-skatter rat-a-tat-tat verbal bantering ways. I hate you. No I hate you. No I hate you. No I hate you. No I hate you. No I hate both of you!!!
Milo is so obsessed and scarred by this ancient case, he becomes more than a little interested when Cass informs him that the whole reason she skipped bail was she was onto a huge story about a bunch of dirty cops. Milo realizes that this is it! A chance for him to redeem himself. He’ll solve her case within the 48 hour allotted time before he has to have her in. This will prove he’s smarter than Cass, which will in turn gain him his reputation back, which in turn may even get him his job back! All he has to do is keep Cass within sight and make sure she doesn’t run away. Which essentially means they have to do this…together!!! Snnnnnnnnnn-ap!
Yes, you read that right. Milo is doing this to prove that he’s smarter than Cassidy.
Stirring the pot is the bookie, Dwight, who’s chasing Milo for the thousands of dollars he owes, while Milo and Cass chase the story. Milo and Cass are then put through all the romantic comedy staples like being mistaken for a couple and having to sleep in the same bed (didn’t we *just* talk about this in Leap Year???). But since they used to be married and know all each others’ secrets, they’re constantly able to one-up each other, as evidenced in one scene where Cass sneaks a request to the waitress to add sesame seeds to Milo’s burger because…HE’S ALLERGIC TO THEM! As he chokes to death, Cass scuttles away!
Will they solve the crime? Will Milo still get Cass to the bondsman on time? Will I ever recover from this experience?
The Bounty feels like bad cosmetic surgery. Everything about it is fabricated and manipulated, twisted and pulled and chiseled and tucked in a desperate attempt to look natural. But no matter how you dress it up, it’s still bad cosmetic surgery. There is nothing authentic about this person!
Even the mechanics are all over the place. The order in which the information is offered to us for instance. All the stuff about Milo’s life falling apart because of the case he shared with Cass. We don’t find out about any of that until well after the two have rejoined each other. That’s the kind of information you have to tell us before the two meet so that when we hear the person he’s going after is his ex-wife, our mouths drop. “You mean the person that did all those horrible things to him?? Oh shit!” Without that information, she’s just a name to us. We don’t know a single thing about their history. It’s details like this that drove me batty and that I’m really hoping are just first draft glitches. I’m not saying you don’t want to save some details about the past for later on. But you don’t want to keep everything a secret!
Pretty much nothing in this screenplay works. I laughed one time (when Milo tells Cass to talk dirty to her and Cass sexually utters things like, “Sewage, waste, bacteria”) and pretty much rolled my eyes the rest of the way through. Ratio of laugh to eyeroll = 1 to 1000. The hope appears to rest on the pages upon pages of “witty banter.” But the truth is, I couldn’t even tell you if it worked. I was so put off by the artificiality in which the situations were created that they could’ve been reciting secret scrolls revealing the meaning of life and I still wouldn’t have been paying attention.
Having said all this, I can see from an actress’ point-of-view why this role would look appealing. It’s a bit different. And Aniston basically gets to be a bitch for 3 months of shooting (note to all writers: Actors and actresses love when they get to be assholes). But I don’t think she’s seeing the forest through the trees here. The Bounty jams the ‘art’ into artificial. Then bolds it and italicizes it and ups the font size – The Bounty - until it no longer resembles reality.
I can only hope that subsequent drafts have given this script new life. But I’m afraid the concept is too flawed. Therefore, I’m sorry to say but…
[x] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: There’s nothing less attractive than writing that’s trying too hard. If we can see you pulling the strings behind the curtain, the story loses its magic.
Roger Balfour is backfor another review. This time it’s cult writer/director Richard Kelly’s third film, “The Box.” Kelly has a tall order ahead of him, trying to follow-up the cinematic masterpiece known as “Southland Tales.” Let’s hope he didn’t employ the 1980s casting director of Saturday Night Live this time around. There are very few guarantees in Hollywood, but one of them is that your movie is always better without Jon Lovitz.
Genre: Conspiracy Thriller, Science Fiction, Horror
Premise: A small wooden box arrives on the doorstep of a married couple, who open it and become instantly wealthy. Little do they realize that the box also kills someone they don’t know…
About: Adapted from the Richard Matheson short story, “Button, Button”. Cameron Diaz and James Mardsen will star. Richard Kelly calls it the most personal film he’s ever made.
Writer: Richard Kelly (writer-director of “Donnie Darko” and “Southland Tales”).
Ask any burgeoning screenwriter what scripts they cherish, which scripts they consider holy not only as tutorial tomes, but as illustrations of the form, and I’m sure you’ll get a laundry list of titles. And I’m sure you’ll find titles like “Pulp Fiction”, “The Shawshank Redemption”, “Little Miss Sunshine”. Stuff you can pick up at Barnes & Noble. What I like to call the Screenwriter’s Starter Kit. Then there’s other stuff, stuff you have to go out of your way to find because it’s not as simple as taking a stroll to the nearest Big Chain Bookseller.
For me, that script is “Donnie Darko”.
I found my copy at a used bookstore about 40 miles away from where I live. And it was at a time when I was first starting to take my writing seriously. I had just written my first two sprawling scripts, and because I had no idea what I was doing, each was 200+ pages long, written by hand with felt-tipped markers (Why? Because that’s how Tarantino did it, that’s why) and had enough plot strands and ideas that would have been better suited for 20 different, individual screenplays.
But whatever, the only way to write is just to do it, and you either catch up to the learning curve or you don’t.
It’s an important movie to me for reasons that I won’t get into here, and despite the criticisms concerning the narrative and plot clarity, I’m in love with the tone and feel and the characters of the movie.
It’s an atmospheric attraction.
And I cradle the script like a conspiracy theorist fondles their sacred Salinger paperback copy of “Catcher in the Rye”.
Quick word about the other stuff Richard Kelly has done. To give you a sense of my palate. I’m not a fan of “Southland Tales” and I think “Domino” is a fun movie, if entirely schizophrenic. But I have a predilection for all things Tom Waits and the movie is so bombastic and Tony Scott-sleazy it’s hard not to love.
Get to it Rog, what’s up with The Box?
It’s Richard Kelly’s adaptation of Richard Matheson’s short story, “Button, Button”. It was previously adapted into a Twilight Zone episode, which was called “The Box”. Interesting info nugget: Matheson used the pseudonym Logan Swanson for the teleplay because he disapproved of the ending.
Do you think Matheson would willingly attach his name to Richard Kelly’s version, or would he go with the Logan Swanson nom de guerre?
You got me, guys. Can’t speak for the man himself. But when I finished reading the script I wandered around my house puzzled. I felt like the Valet from Sartre’s “No Exit” was leading me around my own house on a leash, except there were no mirrors or doors and Richard Kelly was sitting on a barstool laughing at me, taunting me with the key to this narrative puzzle box.
Only problem was, he would never let me lay hands on it.
Takes a deep breath. Okay.
Reading the first 40 or 50 pages of “The Box” is like settling down in your favorite comfy chair in front of the fireplace, while an old friend, who you haven’t seen in a while, sits across from you. While you guys catch up, you realize how much you missed your friend’s voice. How much you’ve missed their presence in your life.
Or, it kinda feels like being a kid again.
It’s after bedtime and I’m under a tent fashioned out of bed-sheets reading the script by flashlight. Devouring the story like it’s a creepy EC Comic.
Your friend produces a packet of mind-altering drugs and informs you that, to continue, consumption will be necessary. And as you’re dropping acid the comic book turns into a manifesto on existentialist philosophy.
Can you at least tell us what the story is?
Richmond, Virginia. 1976. Arthur and Norma Lewis are seemingly nestled in comfortable suburbia. Norma is a teacher at the Collegiate School, a prestigious private school. Incidentally, their nine-year old son, Walter, is a student at the school. This is important because the School Board has officially canceled the faculty tuition discount.
The Lewis family will no longer be able to afford their son’s tuition.
Arthur works for NASA.
He’s an engineer for the NASA Langley Research Center. He designed the 360-degree camera that’s mounted on the landing module that was sent to the surface of Mars.
When we meet the Lewis family, it’s before Christmas. And someone in a black Sedan, under cover of night, has just deposited a 1’ x 1’ x 1’ cardboard box on their front porch.
And inside of the cardboard box is a wooden box.
Its dimensions are 8” x 8” x 8”. White oak. A clear glass dome is attached to the top on a hinge mount. Inside of the dome is a cylindrical metal button.
The next day, a gentleman in a crisp wool suit and black hat arrives at the Lewis house like a door-to-door insurance salesman. When Norma finds him on the doorstop, he stands in profile. But when he turns, introducing himself as Arlington Steward, the other side of his face is revealed.
We see gums, molars.
Arlington’s face is horribly disfigured. The flesh burned away, forever providing a window into the pink innards of his jaw and mouth.
Although Norma is momentarily repulsed, she feels an overwhelming pang of pity and sadness for this strange gentleman. Why? Because, she too, possesses traumatic physical scars.
However, because it’s her foot that is disfigured, she can easily hide, cover up her shame. It’s as simple as putting on a shoe. Her deformity concealed save for a limp her students whisper and wonder about.
Kelly sometimes it’s hit out of the park with his montages and his cross-cutting sequences. His parallel scenes. And his writing in “The Box” is no exception. There’s a sequence where we are told the origin story behind Norma’s disfigurement, and it’s a tender and poignant series of moments that establishes Arthur’s love for his wife.
Kelly cross-cuts between Norma and Arthur telling this story. Norma tells a class full of curious students, calmly defusing what could have been an ugly situation by, just for a moment, transforming herself from a figure of authority into a storyteller. She becomes transparent, vulnerable, an adult who honestly tells her secret to a room full of teenagers. Arthur tells Norma’s story to a co-worker, his method of the tell framed by the prosthetic he is building for her foot.
And it’s a powerful sequence.
In Norma’s youth, her brother accidentally dropped a barbell on her foot. And while she was having her foot X-rayed, the doctor was negligent and left her alone for way longer than she should have been behind the X-Ray machine. Four toes had to be amputated because of the radiation.
Which is all to say…
Norma Lewis feels a connection with Arlington Steward.
And Arlington Steward feels a connection with Norma Lewis.
The box belongs to Arlington.
And this is not a good thing.
There’s something Mephistophelean about Arlington. And he has a Faustian proposition for Norma, “If you push the button one of two things will happen. First someone…somewhere in the world…who you do not know…will die. Then, you will receive a payment of two-hundred thousand dollars…tax free.”
He opens his briefcase, shows her the money, then leaves.
Obviously, Norma is spooked. But, a seed of temptation has been planted in her soul, and she goes through the next few hours grappling with the possibility and the ramifications of the question, ‘What if?’
Arthur, the consummate engineer, takes the box apart.
It is completely empty.
Does Norma push the button?
And…does someone really die?
Yes. The next few pages after Norma pushes the button are INTENSE. It’s actually really cool. We get descriptions of the lingering Kubrick camera floating through the 911 Dispatch Center and we experience the 911 call…and we’re rocketed through the telephone lines and the atmosphere…arriving with the police officers at a house where there is a child, barricaded in a bathroom…screaming her lungs out.
And there’s a corpse in the kitchen.
The furious beating heart of the story is exposed as Kelly cracks its rib-cage open when Arlington tells them that the box will be reprogrammed, and delivered to someone else. Norma asks, “So now what? Are you gonna go and make the offer to someone else?”
“Why yes. That’s how it works, Mrs. Lewis. (beat) And I can promise you that the offer will be made…to someone you do not know.”
And his meaning is clear.
Norma’s life is in danger.
Because someone she doesn’t know is going to push the button on that box.
She’s become part of a twisted cycle, a creepy metaphysical experiment with life and death consequences. And in order to survive, her and Arthur have to find out who Arlington Steward really is and who he works for. And the story jumps into conspiracy thriller mode as they dig for clues and discover answers. As they put the puzzle together, they discover enemies and allies; more people, ranks and titles who are caught in Arlington Steward’s chilling web.
Wow. The first half of the script sounds kind of awesome! Does the second half hold up?
Not in this draft. The concepts are really interesting though. I won’t spoil the mystery, but I’ll give you guys a hint. Richard Kelly seems fond of mining Philip K. Dick. Particularly “Valis”. I’m not certain, but he maybe drew inspiration from the fabled, unfinished PKD novel, “The Owl in Daylight”. Just speculating here, though. Arlington does have a sort of witch’s familiar, an owl that watches several of our main players and seems linked to the creepy gentleman. Consciousness-travelling is also a major concept and device.
There are hints throughout the script to Arlington’s true nature. For example, in one scene, the son Walter is reading an Edgar Rice Burroughs-like comic-book at one point and the thematic implications are eerie as hell.
NASA may or may not be hiding photographs from the Viking Project. Photographs taken by Arthur’s camera on the surface of Mars. Photographs that may be major clues to Arlington’s true nature.
Sounds cool. What’s your beef with this draft of The Box?
The execution. How Kelly shoe-horns what should only be a reference to Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit”, but becomes a frustrating, distractive tangent when characters become obsessed with the work like it’s the codex to the encrypted mysteries of the main story and start repeating lines from the play. There’s even a bizarre Jodorowsky-like dream sequence where Arlington is dressed like the Valet from “No Exit”, and the players are trapped in Hotel Hell.
I feel that it muddles up a story that starts out as a cool little thriller and takes it to the realm of obscurantism.
It gets really confusing as characters start to deliver cryptic lines of dialogue about Pandora and Prometheus. I feel like that it may be a substitute for unclear characterization, because, in the first half of the story you have a good feel for who these people are, but once we derail into bizarro world it’s like we’re no longer dealing with characters so much as automatons that recite and reference other works of literature.
Kelly has been recorded as saying, “My hope is to make a film that is incredibly suspenseful and broadly commercial, while still retaining my artistic sensibility.” Does he succeed?
I’d say so. But my quibble is that it feels like two different movies. I’m positive there have been rewrites, as there’s stuff in the trailer that isn’t in this version of the script. My hope is that his artistic sensibilities will lean more towards the coherent in the finished movie.
Look, sometimes I think that Kelly is less interested in telling a coherent narrative than in creating a feeling. A tone poem. He seems more interested in conducting emotions and atmosphere than telling an easy-to-follow story.
Does an audience really need a primer in existentialist philosophy and mythology to understand a story about a box that kills people when you push a button?
I understand the appeal of dropping references. I’m a fan of retelling myths and classical stories.
But the story should stand on its own as well. Sans references.
Think about viral marketing. Alternate Reality Games (ARGs). This is supplementary material that may broaden the worlds of tv shows like “Lost” or movies like “Cloverfield”, but it’s never an intrinsic part of understanding the plots. You could enjoy those stories without even knowing that the supplementary material existed.
Kelly treats it the other way around. All the supplementary material with “Southland Tales” actually becomes an answer key as you try to understand what the hell you just watched. It’s almost the same way with “The Box”. I really hope he boils his witch’s brew of interesting concepts into something easily digestible.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I Learned: Atmosphere. Kelly is superb at creating a suburban eeriness. Reading his clean prose, I could actually envision and feel the crisp gloom of Steven Poster’s photography. A good eye and ear for spacial and audio details helps not only create an atmosphere, but a time period. Snippets of talking heads on the radio, newspaper headlines, architecture. I not only felt like I was in 1976, the eerie atmosphere made me feel like I was reading an actual Richard Matheson or early Steven King short story. Atmosphere, when melded with voice, can go a long way into making a script an enjoyable read.
For an interview with Kelly about the film, go here.
No link (in case you were curious - :)
Premise: A hotshot politician meets a beautiful ballet dancer only to experience unseen forces fighting to keep them apart.
About: Adapted from a Philip K. Dick story, Universal and Media Rights Capital (Bruno) will be producing. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt to star. George Nolfi, who wrote Timeline, Ocean’s 12, and The Sentinal, adapted and will make The Adjustment Bureau his directorial debut. Nolfi is also producing along with Chris Moore, Michael Hackett and Bill Carraro. Damon will be getting a 20% first-dollar-gross backend. Yikes.
Writer: George Nolfi
If you were following me on Twitter yesterday, you’d know that I was super excited about a particular script I was reading. Up until page 32, I thought I had a “genius” on my hands. I purposefully went into it blind and as the story unfolded, I found myself inching closer and closer to the screen. I was actually on the edge of my seat…for a screenplay. As the setup came to a close however, I began to realize this wasn’t going to be the script I wanted it to be. The sci-fi element that made the story so unique and interesting, faded into the background in favor of a heavy love story. Had I prepped myself for that, I would’ve been more tolerant. But I couldn’t help thinking of the potential this kind squandered.
Congressman David Norris, 33, is running for Senate. He’s kind of like the white version of Obama. He’s good-looking. He inspires young people. He gives great speeches. His only fault is that he’s a little *too* honest when discussing issues. And on the eve of what should’ve been a blowout victory, he himself gets blown out. Looking like Andy Roddick after this year’s Wimbledon (but come on – did anyone really think he was going to win?), David must find solace in the second place trophy. How did this happen? Where did he go wrong?
As David preps for his “loser” speech, he meets a beautiful rambunctious woman named Elise. She and David gravitate towards each other like sugar and cinnamon, immediately lost in one another’s eyes. Words, smiles, and laughs are exchanged. It’s as if some unknown entity has put the rest of the world on hold so that these two can experience a perfect moment in time. To say these two are soul mates would be the understatement of the millennium.
David then gives an amazing consolation speech inspired by Elise. It’s the kind of speech that gets played over and over again on CNN and makes him not only the frontrunner for a Senate seat in three years, but many people’s pick as our future president of the United States. But all this is insignificant to David. All he cares about is finding Elise again. He must find Elise.
As it would happen, the very next day (as David is preparing for his first day of work at his new hedge fund job) David drops into Starbucks to pick up a coffee. But we push up above and meet a mysterious group of men on a rooftop, overlooking the city. The men speak in hushed tones. Something about preparing for a coffee spill. One of the men, Harry, is assigned to the “case”. We cut to David, coming out of the coffee shop, and then over to Harry, who’s supposed to do…something. But he’s drifted off and missed his cue. Which means David catches a bus. And when he catches that bus, he can’t believe his luck. Cause sitting there right in the middle is the world’s most perfect vision. Elise. The two share a shocked smile. But Harry’s not smiling. Neither are the rest of the mysterious men. Apparently, David’s just done something terrible.
The mysterious men are thumbing through something called the “Handbook”. Not to be confused with Facebook. It’s full of extremely complicated diagrams inside, lines twisting and turning in every which direction. And then, to our utter shock, the lines start moving. They disconnect, slide and extend, reconnecting with other lines. It’s this movement that seems to have the mysterious group of men concerned. Something is happening that shouldn’t be. And David appears to be the cause of it.
Elise gives David her number and he’s holding onto that thing for dear life. Off to his new job he goes, a skip in his step and an “I’m in love” smile on his face. When David steps into the building, we notice an immediate emptiness. There’s a security guard there but he doesn’t pay much notice to David. David heads upstairs and passes by his secretary. But when he says hi, she doesn’t say anything back. She just sits there. That’s when David takes a closer look at her. Her face appears to be…frozen. David understandably freaks out and runs into his partner’s office only to find…that his partner is frozen too! Three men (the mysterious men) surround him, adjusting some sort of metal contraption on the side of his head. They turn and spot David, and David turns and runs.
But when the world’s frozen and people are inserting metal contraptions into other people’s heads, do you really think running’s going to help? The men have an ability to leap from door to door, covering large distances in split-seconds and before David knows it, he’s cornered, caught and drugged. When he wakes up, the men are standing over him in a warehouse. After some debate, the decide to tell him the truth.
Behind our world are planners, fate-spinners who guide and encourage us with lost keys, spilled coffee, phone calls and texts – anything to keep us on “the Plan.” The Plan is our preordained destiny in this world. It must be adhered to. If too many people stray from The Plan, the foundation of humanity itself will crumble. So these men are here to help keep things on point. Harry was supposed to be there to enforce a coffee spill with David so he missed that bus. But David got on the bus. And because he got on the bus, something very terrible happened.
David was never supposed to see Elise again. Apparently if her and David were to get together, a rift in The Plan so huge would occur, it would make that stuff they talk about in Ghostbusters seem like a bad night of drinking. They tell David that whatever he does, he cannot speak to this girl again. To drive home their point, they take out her number from David’s wallet and burn it! They then inform him if he speaks about this puppeteering backworld to anyone, they will be forced to erase his memory. Which will essentially make him a vegetable.
CUT TO THREE YEARS LATER
David is once again on the verge of becoming Senator. But all the life has been seeped out of him. His happiness is tied inexorably to his inability to find Elise. He still takes the same bus every day in hopes of seeing her again. But the Planners have been behind the scenes, manipulating everything to make sure they stay apart. David knows this but keeps trying. And then, impossibly, he sees her again. This time, he will not leave her. This time, he will not let her out of his sight. But The Bureau has other plans.
And there you have The Adjustment Bureau. David tries desperately to be with Elise. The Bureau tries desperately to keep them apart. Is it any good? Well, that depends on if you want David and Elise to be together. If you do, you’ll root for Mr. Damon to break through walls to be with her. If not, you’ll likely close this puppy by page 40. It’s always difficult to create a storyline where two people fall desperately in love. You basically have to have them fawning over each other within seconds of meeting, and the slim timeframe makes it hard to develop any real conflict in their relationship. Which leaves us with pure love. And what movie have you seen where two people dote over each other for 120 minutes that’s actually any good? Romeo And Juliet? Even The Notebook had the two fighting just as much as they proclaimed their love for each other.
I think I have a problem with adapted Philip K. Dick material in general. It always feels like 3/4 of a good idea. The setup is usually solid, but the idea can rarely support an entire screenplay. In “Bureau” there were times when it all felt a little too silly. David and Elise share a lovely lunch together while The Bureau stands 100 feet away and flings little pieces of fate at them to try and keep them apart. Kind of like less-menacing versions of Final Destination. A text message to Elise telling her her ballet recital has been moved up. Sending David’s campaign manager over to encourage David to get his speech ready. I’m trying to figure out if that would actually be compelling onscreen or just really really stupid. It’s a tough call.
Luckily there’s nothing out there quite like The Adjustment Bureau. Of course it borrows from other movies (more than a few times I thought of The Matrix) but overall the feeling is a unique one, which no doubt is why this project has caught the attention of such a big star like Damon. The themes of fate and choice are prevalent, and it’s hard not to find those interesting even in a conventional story.
If only the 129 page screenplay were a good 19 pages shorter, this could’ve played out more urgently – always advantageous when you’re dealing with sci-fi. And like I said, the innovation in the first act doesn’t extend into the rest of the story. One good idea is never enough for these flicks. You need two or three. There’s a final act chase that has David teleporting from doorway to doorway throughout New York just like The Bureau does, but it feels safe as opposed to innovative. I felt like a father consoling a kid after he lost a nailbiter of a soccer game. “Almost,” I wanted to say, as I patted him on the back.
But there’s no denying that there’s something about The Adjustment Bureau. I’m sure they’ve already engaged in rewrites that will render some of these issues moot. And Emily Blunt being super-hot doesn’t hurt things. The Adjustment Bureau wasn’t bad.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: When you have two people falling in love, you want to avoid having them spout back and forth how much they love each other for 120 minutes. For an example of *why* you don’t want to do this, please watch “Star Wars Attack Of The Clones.” In The Adjustment Bureau, Rolfi makes use of a writer’s best friend in this circumstance: sarcasm. Not only does sarcasm keep the conversations light and funny, but it feels a lot more like real life. Who out there is constantly blathering, “You’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever met in my life. I love you like air.” Why not instead, “Nice shoes. Where’d you find those? Wal-Mart?” We know it’s a joke. We know Elise really likes David. So the line ends up being cute and interesting. That’s not to say there won’t be moments in your screenplay where your characters say what they feel (“I love you”) but you want to make those moments the exception and not the rule. — Sarcasm is just one of many tools you can use to stave off those dreaded cringe-worthy lovey-dovey moments. Use it judiciously.