Got some work to do so Zack Smith will be filling in for me on this fine Wednesday (or Tuesday evening for those of you early readers). He decided to read an older script that got a ton of heat back in the late nineties. It actually sounds pretty interesting. Might have to take a look myself. One quick thing before I hand over the reigns. People have been asking me about the logline contest. Don’t worry. It’s coming. I’ve had to change a few things but I’d look for the official announcement two weeks from now at the latest.
Premise: A software mogul sees his stock fall after an accident, which threatens his mysterious plans.
About: In February 1998, Mike Myers was in talks to star in this Michael Tolkin-directed script, with Sydney Pollack producing. NOTE: This link gives away a plot twist that is not in the draft of the script I read, which is dated a month after this article was posted.
Writers: Michael Tolkin, Stephen Gaghan, Michael R. Perry
Details: 99 pages w/title page (March 4,1998)
The first few scripts I read for Carson let me down, so this time, I asked for an unproduced script I’d read about years ago. I was pleasantly surprised to find I enjoyed it a lot, though I’m not sure how well it would play if it were made today.
In Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, there’s this library of dreams that contains every book ever dreamed up. There’s the sequels that never were, half-finished thoughts, and the best-selling spy thriller you used to dream about writing while on the bus.
That’s how I feel about unproduced screenplays. They’re like the dreams of films that were never made, or at least haven’t been made yet. And if it’s an older script, like Harrow Alley or The Tourist, it’s also easy to think, “what if these had been made when they were originally written, with the stars and directors who originally wanted to do them?” There’s a whole digression about Harlan Ellison’s story “Jefty is Five” here that I’ll skip over.
The problem with older scripts is that while many have their reasons for their impressive reputations, the fact is, they also exist within the moment in which they were originally written.
Sometimes, when they’re finally made, they can be like Unforgiven, which Clint Eastwood sat on until he was old enough to play the vengeful William Munny. Other times, they can be like The Good Shepherd, which wasn’t bad, but still felt slow and overcooked after years in limbo.
This is all a preface to my review of Twenty Billion, which is a funny, well-written script that was an entertaining read. While parts of it still feel very topical, its subject matter – a satirical character study of a software mogul reminiscent of Bill Gates – doesn’t pack the punch it might have had a decade ago.
Gates remains a major public figure, but in the 1990s, when Windows broke through, he was a cause célèbre as he became the richest man in the world. Anyone remember the TV-movie Pirates of Silicon Valley? Ah, Anthony Michael Hall…and Noah Wylie weren’t bad as Steve Jobs neither.
Twenty Billion earned a fair amount of attention in the film press for its Gates-like main character in the late 1990s, and more than one outlet reported that Mike Myers was interested in playing the lead. What I read was a shooting script with numbered scenes, and there was even a website for a storyboarding company that listed this as one of the projects it worked on. In short, this script was ready for the cameras.
But for some reason, the picture never got made.
It’s tempting to speculate that Bill Gates pulled strings, or his Hollywood friends felt uneasy. The more likely answer is that Mike Myers decided to do an Austin Powers sequel instead.
Co-writer and planned director Michael Tolkin was previously known for adapting his novel The Player for director Robert Altman, and writing and directing two films of his own, The Rapture and The New Age.
He’s also done a number of rewrites and fixes, and at the time of Billion, he’d just done some work on the script for Deep Impact, the other asteroid-hitting-Earth movie (okay, so that one was a comet). Some reports on Billion list an Impact-like scenario, which didn’t show up in the script I read, as mentioned earlier.
I don’t know if the script originated with him (it might have been co-writer Stephen Gaghan, who went on to do Traffic and Syriana, or Michael R. Perry, who’s gone on to work on a number of TV shows). But the fact that Tolkin was going to direct makes me feel like his voice played the biggest role in shaping the final script.
Tolkin’s novels and screenplays love putting the screws to yuppies…well, maybe not Gleaming the Cube. His personal works usually take wealthy but immoral people who are gradually reduced to an increasingly desperate state by some sort of world-unraveling crisis. Unlike many of his other works, though, Twenty Billion has an oddly sweet, even whimsical quality behind its dark satire.
The premise is simple: Dennis Morton is the founder and CEO of the Interface Corporation, the most powerful software company in the world. His Interface software is used in most computers on the planet, and he’s about to launch a massive new initiative called “Mozart,” designed to take technological interactivity to the next level.
But things soon go wrong. Much like in the recently-reviewed Father of Invention, a glitch in an older version of the Interface software (in this case, altering the desktop to a specific font in combination with a specific shade of plaid), causes a major mining accident. Dennis, who can’t even remember to put on his shoes, is barely able to comprehend the human tragedy in front of him. He has a problem: He can’t let his stock fall.
Dennis, you see, has been meeting with fellow billionaire and mentor Henry Uberall as part of an inner circle of the ultra-rich determined to make the ultimate escape from what they see as a collapsing society. Plenty of online posts ruined what’s a major twist in the script, but suffice to say it’s both over-the-top outrageous and weirdly plausible. And for Dennis, who’s ill-at-ease with people in general, it’s the final step in separating himself from the rest of the human race.
Problem is, joining this elite group – along with his mom and a female companion he just hasn’t met yet – will cost him…well, see the title. So owning up to his screw-up with the software isn’t an option.
The crisis with the miners also serves as a window into the more unscrupulous side of the software industry. We find out, for example, that Dennis essentially kicked out the partner with whom he started his business, who now harbors passive-aggressive resentment toward him at the social events they frequent. More ominously, there’s the coder who knew there were bugs in the software, but was talked by Dennis into letting the program go out, and is now riddled with guilt and anger.
To handle his crisis, Dennis confers with corporate publicist Charlotte Walsh, who’s equally disappointed in his unwillingness to tell the truth, and charmed by the human being beneath the intimidating-but-lonely figure. Charlotte is married, but that doesn’t stop Dennis from pursuing her, and Charlotte’s husband is so turned on by the idea of hobnobbing in Dennis’ circle that he does everything but tell her to sleep with the guy.
About midway through the script, I realized that what was going on here was a Billy Wilder comedy in the tradition of The Apartment, mixing a light-hearted character study with something darker and more satirical. There’s one sequence, for example, where Dennis invites Charlotte to a late date at his ultra-high-tech house called “House.” At first, it’s silly – Dennis has his very own food court! – then moves into more poignant territory as we find out he has the actual attic from his childhood home inside this massive estate.
It’s also interesting how the script twists your expectations on how certain plot points will pay off. The plot with the disgruntled coder, for example, goes to a very dark place, and one where we kind of agree with the guy. Then it twists things around and makes us ask the question – do we really know what it’s like to be in charge of a billion-dollar company? Could we always be counted on to make the right decision?
Still, the script isn’t perfect. While I enjoyed the tonal shifts, some might find them a bit jarring. And the ending is almost absurdly upbeat, almost like the parody of Hollywood endings from The Player – though even the script makes fun of this. I could see where some readers might feel it’s a disjointed mishmash between real-world satire and a more traditional Hollywood comedy, but I enjoyed the script as much on a second reading as I did the first.
If it were made today, it’d need some updates – the gimmick where the film has a “home page” that takes us to different scenes (using such tabs as “Go,” “History,” etc.) is very late-1990s. And there are some of-the-moment references – for example, Dennis makes an apology commercial starring Jeff Goldblum, just as Goldblum was appearing in Microsoft commercials at the time. I’d forgotten that when I read the script, but it still played well – witness GM’s apologetic post-bankruptcy spots.
The biggest problem this script might have today is that, well, it’s about a billionaire with an excessive lifestyle. That might not play to today’s audiences. And, as I said earlier, a Bill Gates parody might have felt relevant and edgy in the late 1990s…not so much these days.
Would Tolkin have been able to establish the right tone and visual style to bring this to life? Would Mike Myers have been able to dial it down for the role of Dennis? Would this have been the rare satire that played to a wide audience? The only real indicator we have of what Twenty Billion could have been is the script. And it’s a pretty good script…though its moment may have passed.
Script link: Twenty Billion (If you are the writer or copyright holder of this script and would like it taken down, please e-mail me at Carsonreeves1@gmail.com and I will do so immediately)
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I Learned: Though Dennis is an internal character, we’re able to learn a lot about him by seeing him interact with a wide variety of other characters (even his house). It’s the basic technique of revealing character by putting him in situations with people who see him differently, and seeing how he reacts. Also, while I’m not sure if others felt the same way about the tonal shifts as I did, for me they showed that combining elements of comedy, satire and darkness in a script provides an opportunity to really surprise the reader when something dramatic pays off in a humorous way, or something silly turns into a more emotional moment.
Backed by J.J. Abrams, Firstshowing.net is reporting that writers Aline Brosh McKenna and Simon Kinberg have sold an untitled pitch to Paramount for 2 million dollars. Since J.J. Abrams is about the closest thing to a surefire quality picture these days, I’m very intrigued by what this project might be. If there’s anyone out there who can give me some details, please e-mail now! Carsonreeves1@gmail.com
No link :(
Premise: A recently dumped sci-fi geek enlists the most selfish heartless narcissistic ladies man in London to be his wingman.
About: One of the lower-ranked scripts on this year’s Brit List. (edit: added) Mat, the writer, wrote and directed a comedy short called ‘Hard to Swallow.’ The short was selected at Sundance and off the back of that he was commissioned by the UK Film Council to write ‘Wingman’, which was his first full length script. He began with Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” in mind, but finished with something a little more…hmm…shall we say, filthy.
Writer: Mat Kirkby
Details: 112 pages (June 25, 2009 draft)
If I were ranking the Brit List scripts I’ve read so far (about ten), Wingman would probably be at the top, by a hair, over Good Luck Anthony Belcher. The script doesn’t have the high concept marketing-friendly “big idea” Good Luck has, but what it lacks in big ideas, it makes up for in consistency. Whereas Good Luck kind of runs out of steam in the second half, Wingman is just getting started. Surprisingly though, this spec made some very basic mistakes, things that make me wonder if this isn’t a first-time writer. Large chunks of description that could’ve been summarized in a couple of lines litter the digital real estate like hot dog stands at a fat camp. After awhile, I just stopped reading them and went straight to the dialogue, which is where the script shines anyway. It’s not “overly cute and clever” funny. Just pure “stems from the character” funny. And the main two characters here are why Wingman works.
33 year old Simon is Sir Dorksimus Maximus Extraordinaire. He works for a sci-fi magazine, unapologetically sets his ring tone to the X-Files theme, and has more trouble speaking to women than a deaf-mute. He was recently dumped by his long term girlfriend, Claire, for being unable to utter those three essential words: I love you. Now he’s out in the singles game for the first time in ages and he doesn’t have the chops or the know-how to swing it. To make things worse, Simon is one of those people who got so comfortable in his own world, he neglected to keep all his friendships. Now, not only are all his old friends married, but they’re not dropping everything to rush out and help a guy who fell off the friendship radar.
This forces him to make the call he swore he would never make – the one man he knows will reserve him a spot in hell. We’re talking about the one man who will join him in the trenches – Britain’s answer to Vince Vaughn in Swingers: DeClan. DeClan is one nasty SOB. Whereas Vaughn had charm, DeClan is more like a hunter, unapologetic in his pursuit of nailing the next hottie. Tucker Max reads *this* guy’s diary. Unfortunately, the epitome of the heartless classless selfish dickhead-dom is Simon’s only lifeline.
Off the two go, DeClan enlisting Simon in his School of Scoring. But it’s kind of like David Beckham trying to teach Stephen Hawking how to do a corner kick. Simon is so underprepared for all the lying, the scheming, and the cruelty involved in picking up women that he always finds a way to screw it up.
But the screwing it up parts are exactly what we came here for. In fact, pretty much anything where Simon is trying to score a member of the opposite sex is funny. One of my favorite scenes is a take on the famous sequence from The Odd Couple where Declan invites over a couple of women for a night at Simon’s flat (hey! I’m getting a hang of this UK lingo). One of the girls is a clueless Russian model. The other is seemingly Simon’s dream girl. She’s extremely cute, a little bit nerdy, and loves the X-Files just as much Simon! He’s finally found the perfect girl to replace his ex. Except the girl’s love for the X-Files maybe goes a little bit deeper than Simon’s, insomuch as she creates tin foil hats the two must wear so that “the aliens can’t hear what we’re thinking.” While no one’s ever personally made me wear a tin foil hat (though an ex-girlfriend did tell me she’d been abducted by aliens once), just the memories it conjured up of all those hilarious dates that went wrong made Wingman, and Simon’s journey in particular, very identifiable for me.
Wingman isn’t pushing any boundaries so if you’re looking for a new way to row a boat, look somewhere else. There are actually a lot of things in this story that don’t work –most of the subplots and secondary characters aren’t fleshed out and as a result, whenever we’re with them, the story slows to a crawl. But when the script focuses on the interactions and relationship between DeClan and Simon, it’s pretty damn funny, and that’s why I’m going to go ahead and recommend Wingman.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: When you compare Wingman and Good Luck Anthony Belcher, I think there’s a reason Good Luck finished higher on the Brit List, even though the scripts are comparable on a comedic level (this is my opinion of course). Good Luck has the more high-concept premise. In having the better premise, it comes off as a more fully-formed idea, which is easier to market and therefore easier to sell. Wingman is no slouch. The idea is simple enough to fit right into the title, and that should be easy to sell as well. But as much as you’d like to “stay true to yourself” and not “sell out,” the best way in for a new writer is always the high concept idea, especially in comedy. Those are the scripts all the execs and development people and producers and agents and managers are looking for. It’s playing the odds, man.
In case you missed it, it’s Double Post Monday! Yeah, you heard that right. Two posts for the price of one. I reviewed Paranormal Activity so if you’re interested in hearing my reaction, scroll down or click here. If you want my twitter (“Twitter” is now a verb used to describe anything quickly) on it, I thought it was a solid scary movie that’s worth the hype. Roger doesn’t have time for such trivial shakey-cam endeavors though. He’d much rather review the long-rumored but never filmed Arnold Schwartzenegger project, “Crusade.” I remember when Harry from AICN would have weekly updates on this script. Now you get a chance to actually read it for yourself. Take it away Roger…
Premise: A prisoner who is set to die is freed when he fakes a miracle during a visit by the Pope, and is drafted to recapture Jerusalem.
About: In the summer of 1994, the film was weeks from starting production under the helm of Paul Verhoeven, with sets being built in Spain and Morocco when Carolco’s Mario Kassar pulled the plug because the budget was topping $120 million. Because Schwarzenegger had a pay-or-play deal, he walked away with ownership of the project and Carolco gambled on Cutthroat Island, which had a budget of $115 million. It only made $10 million, landing it in the Guinness Book of World Records for biggest box office flop of all time and bankrupting Carolco Pictures. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, and I’m guessing an old-fashioned compare and contrast session with each script could yield us much wisdom. Or maybe, we need only ask ourselves, who the fuck says ‘No’ to Arnold?
Writer: Walon Green. Revisions by Gary Goldman.
One of my favorite filmmakers is Sam Peckinpah and one of my favorite films is The Wild Bunch. So much so that I probably drive my co-writer mad whenever we hit a narrative bump and I break the silence with, “Well, in The Wild Bunch…”
So it was a delight for me to read a script by Walon Green. There’s lots to learn from a man who is known for his remorseless sense of structure, his byzantine attention to detail, and his palpably-drawn characters.
The Wild Bunch.
Isn’t Crusade the fabled Arnold Schwarzenegger project where his enemies stitch him into a live donkey?
Fuck yeah, it is. But it’s more like Han shoving an unconscious Luke into the carcass of a Tauntaun, except substitute Han for angry Saracens and Tauntaun for a dead donkey that’s hanging from a spit surrounded by hungry hyenas. But this is just one scene that’s sure to offend special interest groups worldwide, and we have so much more (awesomely) loathsome ground to cover.
The opening title credits are no slouch. It’s 1095 A.D. and we meet a rider named Hagen who proceeds to rob a French Abbey during vespers. In the Abbot’s chambers, it’s more like a bacchanal than a prayer service, where the main course is prepubescent acolyte boy-flesh. If that’s not enough to ruffle your conservative feathers, consider the soundtrack of pan-pipes and lutes.
Long story short, Hagen is caught red-handed and the Abbot sends for Count Emmich of Bascarat, whom we meet raping a pubescent peasant girl in a vat full of grape slime. “Closer to bone the sweeter the meat,” after all, and we are introduced to his villainous entourage who may or may not die horrible deaths at the hands of Hagen (against the backdrop of two civilizations at war) later on.
Here’s the lowdown: Hagen’s inheritance has been stolen from him by Emmich, his half-brother. So rather than serve as this douchebag’s serf, he would rather be a thief. Only problem is, the acquisitive Abbot agrees to keep Emmich’s dirty little secret for a quarter of his estate, in exchange for hanging Hagen.
What gives? Hagen can’t die. Doesn’t he have to fight in the Crusades first?
You betcha. Hagen’s scaffold is struck down when emissaries from the Vatican arrive, heralding the arrival of papal hype-master, Pope Urban II. He spins a tale about a city named Jerusalem, a forlorn place where nuns are ravaged by Moslems and where Christians live in fear and slavery. He urges his crowd to listen to the voices of the martyrs, to take up arms and free Jerusalem from the blackamoors.
He promises remission from all sin and eternal salvation to those who die in battle…and to their families. If people aren’t convinced yet, Pope Urban II guarantees a holy sign to confirm that this war is God’s will.
What’s the sign?
I’d rather not spoil it, but let’s just say that Hagen, not content with merely having his execution date postponed, fakes a miracle from his jail cell with the help of his cell-mate, Ari, a comedic and resourceful shyster.
When it comes to survival, Ari is a great guy to have on your side. Just like in Entourage.
And before we know it, Hagen is pardoned and he’s marching off to the Holy Lands with the rest of The Pope’s Army.
Hagen is the official mascot of Christendom’s war against Islam.
Unfortunately, he is relegated under the command of his d-bag brother, Count Emmich, rather than the knight known as Godfrey of Bouillon, a blind idealist who at least has less scandalous intentions than Emmich.
But don’t worry, Hagen’s situation improves when he royally fucks up his stepbrother’s face in a dispute involving the intentioned rape of Jewish newlyweds who have strayed too close to the army of Crusaders.
Hagen’s not one to sit around and watch his dickcheese brother violate a bride in front of her husband (or at all). Obviously, the deal breaker is that Emmich opts to “protect” his head with a “pot helm”, and Hagen decides to use his brother’s armored head for batting practice with his axe-handle. A combat faus pax? You be the judge. But a fair warning, the description detailing what happens when a blacksmith removes Emmich’s pot helm leaves nothing to the imagination.
Emmich may have lost the battle, but he’s in this for the long run. In a scheme that would make Machiavelli proud, he sells Hagen and Ari to Moslem slavers. So, we’re treated to a cool sea-faring sequence where Hagen and Ari attempt to commandeer the ship they’re on to escape the Saracen corsair. There’s some decapitations and some swash-buckling, but the fun and games ultimately end in manacles.
Except not for Ari. Who speaks enough Arabic to convince the slavers that he’s actually a Moslem that was captured by the Christians.
Things look grim for Hagen.
They get nut-chopping grim when Hagen witnesses another captor get castrated by a cold-as-ice Moslem surgeon and his assistant. And right when Hagen’s member is put on the butcher’s block, Ari dramatically strides in like the best of double-agents and rescues him. Like I said, when it comes to survival, or avoiding the fate of eunuch, Ari is a great guy to have on your side.
How is Ari able to be so convincing?
Ari’s uncle is counselor to Ibn Khaldun, the Moslem Prince. Hagen is to be trained as a royal guardsman. We learn that Crusaders have besieged Antioch, and the only “safe” window for Hagen to escape will open when they march on Jerusalem. Essentially, he’s forced to blend into his surroundings.
It’s in Jerusalem that Hagen learns the truth.
The city is truly a mélange of three faiths where Jews, Christians and Moslems can worship freely.
It is also in Jerusalem where Hagen falls in love with Leila, the daughter of Ibn Khaldun. While Hagen and Leila play cat-and-mouse fuckgames, in which Leila vicariously experiences Hagen’s sexual prowess through her odalisque, Sheba, Emmich rises to power and influence among the Crusaders in Antioch.
In a city that’s stripped of food, what will the starving Crusaders have for their victory feast? According to Emmich, it’s people. “I see no shortage of meat in Antioch. I see ewes that carry ample flesh and tender lambs still fattening at the nipple.” A ghastly stew is prepared for the Christian army, and the soldiers pledge their loyalty to Emmich with their grateful spoons.
Meanwhile meanwhile, the Moslem leaders discuss the possibility of protecting Jerusalem’s walls with archers from Damascus. The plot thickens as we learn that the reluctant Damascan leader is a selfish prick who will only share his army if he can marry Leila. Ibn Khaldun muses that perhaps they can reason with the Crusaders, maybe even attain a truce.
The story kicks into high gear when the Crusaders reach Jerusalem’s walls and Ibn Khaldun sends Leila to her brother’s estate in Nablus, with Hagen as escort. An assault on the royal entourage segues into the infamous donkey scene.
But what about the big war sequence we’ve all been waiting for?
It’s pretty fucking cool. It’s a third act ball-buster that injects some much-needed momentum for those who grew tired of the Moslem girlfriend stuff.
There are some startling images here. Hagen, berserker-fighting through a sea of battle, armed with a scythe that he uses to cut through the ankles of Moslem soldiers. Hagen, his silhouette projected onto a wall of smoke, back-lit by the setting sun, singlehandedly fighting off hordes of men, the tableau rallying the fleeing Crusaders to get back into the fight.
The battle spills into the siege of Jerusalem, and I ain’t gonna lie, it’s grisly.
But the best part, and probably the most resonant, is a scene involving the One True Cross in the Holy Sepulchre. It’s a disarming sequence that cuts through all of Hagen’s war-time survival profiteering and points at a higher power. It’s good stuff.
Crusade has an amazing attention to detail in it that points to an older, tougher era of screenwriting. With today’s “modern” scripts, I can breeze through them in an hour or two. Not so with this one. I was forced to slow down, to pay attention, to savor the words.
This script makes “Medieval” look fucking clownish in comparison. And “Medieval” is a script I like (I’m sorry I’m not sorry, I have doubts about “Predators” after hearing the plot. It’s not “Aliens” to “Alien”. It’s a coin-op arcade game a company like Midway would have made back in the mid-90s.)
It might be blasphemous to say it, especially considering the two iconic characters Schwarzenegger is known for (The Terminator and Conan), but I think Hagen could have been his greatest role. It’s not only iconic, it has a depth to it that transcends the epic breadth of the background story. It’s an underdog story of redemption set against the historical conflict of The Crusades.
I felt there might have been too much exotic girlfriend and not enough holy war, but what the hell, it ties into Hagen’s conflict with Emmich. Which is the overarching theme to Crusade. Redemption. And isn’t that what all redemption stories are about? A man trying to regain his inheritance, a man trying to re-seize a mantle lost? Quim just sweetens that redemptive pot, amirite?
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: The next time you’re lost in your own character arcs without a thematic compass, just remember what Conan said: The best things in life are to kill your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.
Seriously, when it comes to movies about men with swords, everything else is icing on the cake.
Yeah yeah, I know. I’m not supposed to review movies. However Paranormal Activity is unique. First, there isn’t a script (well, technically there isn’t) which means the movie is the script. So I *am* reviewing the script. Heh heh. But also, I have a feeling this movie’s going to be talked about a lot in the coming weeks and I wanted to get my opinion out there. So enjoy my review of…Paranormal Activity.
I have to say I was a little disappointed when the first scene of 2009’s descendant of camera shakey fakey cinema, Blair Witch, came onscreen. When I originally heard about Paranormal Activity a few years ago (after it debuted at some popular film festival) I thought it was a slam dunk idea. Except the idea I heard was different from the one I watched tonight. I’m not sure if I got bad information or they switched out all the old stuff and reshot new stuff, but the idea I heard was that a couple starts experiencing strange things in their house, so they set up video cameras in every room to record any anomalies over the course of the next month.
Well *this* Paranormal Activity axed that idea in favor of the characters operating a single camera during the course of the story. The reason this is a problem is you make things exponentially harder on the believability scale when you put your characters in life-threatening situations and the first thing they think of to do (because it’s the only thing you *can* do if you want a movie) is to grab the video camera. Oh! What’s that? It’s a demon sounding monster in the next room! Let’s go grab the video camera and check it out! Sure, you’re not going to get any of those nice close-ups using the multiple-camera set-up, but it’s sure going to be a lot more believable.
That said, Paranormal Activity does about as good a job as you can making those moments work. There were only a couple of times when my overly critical eyes rolled and I went, “No way.” But the audience around me (which I’m pretty sure at least 70% of thought the movie was real) didn’t bat an eye.
Another surprising component to this production was the actors. Playing “100% real life” without being able to lean on the funny crutch (like “The Office” for instance) is just about the hardest thing an actor can do. No matter how realistic you are, the fact that you’re trying to hit plot points and set up payoffs and improvise dialogue – those just aren’t things you have to worry about in the real world so it’s inevitable you’re going to come off as “fake” sooner or later. Yet I was pleasantly surprised by both these actors. The girl was just your average girl in a relationship – no bells and whistles, nothing special – just how you want her to come off. And the guy’s machismo act, which started off shaky, really grew on you, particularly because it was essential to the story.
The strength of the story is obviously the bedroom scenes, where the camera is propped up on a tripod and records the couple sleeping (as well as the hallway seen through the open door) as we sit in our seats helplessly wondering what the hell is going to happen next. The paranormal moments are tiny at first – a door moving, a sheet rustling – but they get progressively worse. And worse and worse and worse. I have to admit that I was captivated the entire time, both by the story and wondering what the filmmakers were going to come up with next that we hadn’t seen in scary movies before. And that’s pretty much where Paranormal Activity has such an advantage. Because the setup and direction of this story are so unique, we don’t have any blueprint to guide us. We’re not sure where the scares are going to come from. We’re not sure how this story ends.
There are a couple of moments though that are hard to buy. The “writers” smartly identified that they needed a way to keep the characters in the house so they came up with a storyline that whatever this “presence” is, it’s been following the girl around her whole life. So they *could* go somewhere else, but it would just end up following them. Yet there’s a moment late in the movie where it’s just not believable in any capacity that they wouldn’t get the hell out of there. I’m being deliberately vague because this is the kind of movie that preys on your ignorance. And make no mistake, you will be preyed upon.
Paranormal Activity is pretty much that “dream idea” every independent director/producer is looking for. It’s simple, it’s smart, and it’s entertaining. This film lives up to the hype and I encourage all of you to see it before Halloween. :)
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
note: Know that you are going into SPOILER TERRITORY in the comments section…