Premise: A plane is abducted by an alien ship.
About: Dreamworks bought this in late March. Len Wiseman (Underworld) will produce and Patrick Tatopoulos will direct. ICM, who represents all parties, packaged the deal.
Writer: Michael Gilvary
First of all, I want to personally thank the person who sent me this. I have a similar idea about a plane that encounters an alien ship, and as all of us writers do when we hear of a similar idea to our own (especially one that’s sold), we want to see how they executed it.
If you’ve read my “Alien arrival” reviews before, you’ll know that I preach about the inherent problem with the genre. The movies are always top heavy because the anticipation of the aliens is always more exciting than the actuality of the aliens (with maybe War of The Worlds being the exception). Part of the problem is that we’ve seen it all. Until someone comes up with a different take, it’s usually a bunch of reptilian or bug-like creatures who want to take over earth. This happens in almost every one of these films. Remember Independence Day before we saw the aliens? It was actually a cool movie. Then the alien pops out, Will Smith yells “Hell naw” and everything goes to shit. “Signs” understood this problem to an extent, which is why it’s one of the better movies in the genre (don’t get me started on that ending though). And “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind” is probably the best of the bunch because it knows that once the alien’s out of the bag, there’s no more suspense, which is why it waits til the very last scene to reveal them.
Enter Non-stop, which at the very least attempts to do something different. Instead of aliens falling on our precious planet, they take to the air and hijack one of our planes (actually, they hijack a lot of planes). The script starts off quite good. Matt, a handsome guy, is followed into the airport by his clingy mother, who’s trying to make sure he gets to the plane okay. Matt is 30. Their banter is hilarious. While just about everybody in the airport listens, mom asks Matt if he’s sure he’s going to be okay. It’s a cute little moment which instantly gives us sympathy for our lead.
From there we move quickly into the first class cabin of our doomed flight and meet the other main characters, MILF Marriane and her daughter Laney. Through limited conversation we learn that Matt lost his wife to a carjacking. He had a choice to stay in the car and protect her or get out and save himself. He chose to save himself – setting up the fact that he’s a selfish dickhead.
Liftoff. Ding. You may now roam around the cabin. Except they’re not in the air 10 minutes before BANG, a large JOLT rocks the plane. After more bumps, a lot more confusion, and a freefall of death, the plane suddenly stops – yes stops - and they’re still okay. Have they landed? What happened? What’s going on? Looking outside they realize they’re in some endless cavern. Since there’s nothing else to do, a few of the more brave passengers leave to look around (because yeah, that’s what I would do). It turns out to be a bad idea as within minutes we hear their screams of terror.
Taking a page from Aliens (if you’re going to steal, why not steal from the best) curious little Laney, the daughter, sneaks off the plane to go exploring. This forces Marrienne and Matt to go look for her. They make their way through the cavern until they eventually find the other passengers being toyed with in some kind of torture chamber (and not the good kind).
This was the point where I lost interest in Non-stop. To take this neat idea and boil it down to aliens that are torturing/testing humans feels a bit uninspired. The rest of the script basically follows Matt and Marrienne looking for Lacy and a way off the ship. Even though there was no cell service in the ship, I’m not convinced that Matt didn’t find a way to call Peter from Dubai (see this review for reference), because out of nowhere he becomes some sort of superhero, wrestling aliens to decisive victories. Matt designs satellites by the way.
Matt’s old flaw kicks in when he must decide whether to save the few of them (the easy way out) or save the whole plane (a lot tougher). Unfortunately it never quite works because while Matt may have committed a selfish act in the past, he never comes off as selfish here on the ship. He seems like a genuinely good guy. The transformation is lost as a result.
There are some cool parts, including the discovery of thousands of aliens from different planets being held in containment bays that Matt decides to open. A melee of alien madness follows that I can only imagine will be a blast to watch onscreen. But the core story of Matt and Marienne chasing Laney feels really flat. Let’s hope they fix it in the rewrites.
Script link: Nonstop (script taken down at the request of writer)
[ ] trash
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Go a step further. Why are 99% of aliens in movies reptilian or bug-like? Because writers are used to it and don’t bother pushing themselves. Come up with something different that no one’s ever seen before. You’ll be rewarded and respected for your originality.
Premise: Two British nerds fresh off a trip to Comic Con head off to Nevada to see the famed Area 51.
About: I believe this is the third collaboration between Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Unfortunatley, their longtime director Edgar Wright is busy selling out and making Scott Pilgrim. So Pegg and Frost have decided to equally sell out and hire Greg Motolla, the director of Superbad. Pre-production is almost over and they should start shooting soon.
Writers: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost
Since “Help Me Spread Goodness” wasn’t blazin’ up the charts of any “to read” lists, I thought my Tuesday review should be something more mainstream. Everybody and their mother’s mother is piping in about this script so I thought, what the hell, why not review it?
Now I’m about to lose some major geek street cred here but…..Oh man, I can’t believe I’m about to say this………..I didn’t like Shawn Of The Dead. Not only that, but I thought Hot Fuzz was pretty unwatchable. Does that mean I hate Simon Pegg? No, of course not. I thought “How To Lose Friends And Alienate People” was pretty good. And that Star Trek movie will easily be the best of the summer. Although he was kinda upstaged by that mini-Alien friend of his, who, if I may be the first to suggest, deserves his own spinoff movie.
Which is pretty ironic because Simon Pegg opts to share the screen with another little green man in his newest movie “Paul”. Paul happens to be the name of an alien that Pegg’s super-geeky character, Graham, and his even fatter and geekier sidekick, Clive, bump into during their cross country trek across the good ole United States. The desperadoes of dork meet the little green man, “Paul”, outside of Area 51 not-so-desperately searching for someone to save him. It’s not like they have anything better to do so they figure…why not?
And thus begins the first cross-country roadtrip with alien-on-board. Paul himself is a 3 foot tall alien that speaks perfect English and has been advising the American government for the past 60 years after his craft crashed on earth. When Clive realizes he could have *the* Roswell alien right here in his car, he freaks out:
Oh my God! Roswell?! That was you?!
Roswell was a smoke-screen man, designed to distract from the truth.
They invented a fake alien crash to distract from an actual alien crash?
I know, fucking stupid, isn’t it?
What have you been doing here all this time?
Oh you know, kickin’ back, shooting the shit. Advising the government.
(Paul’s already told him the story)
Not just the government.
INT. ROOM – DAY
A room lit by a single bulb, furnished with a table and chair. PAUL sits with his back to us, he is smoking a cigarette, whilst talking on the phone. We hear the voice on the other end of the line. It is strangely familiar.
…I want him to have some kind of special power, you know? Something sort of messianic…
How about molecular revivification.
I don’t know what that is.
Restoration of damaged tissue through telepathic manipulation of cellular intrinsic field memory.
Oh right yeah. Like by touch sort of thing? His little finger could light up at the end and-
You know what? Sometimes, less is more.
The line beeps.
You got another call?
Yeah I gotta take this man. It’s the fucking V guys again.
Paul would still be kicking it with his government peeps if they hadn’t decided to terminate his alien ass. So he gets out of Dodge just in time to find the two biggest sci-fi nerds on the planet. Needless to say, it doesn’t take long for the government to find out who has their alien.
Our trio meets up with Bible Babe Ruth, whose entire belief system is shattered when she meets Paul. They find the 7 year old girl (now 67) that Paul’s spaceship almost killed 60 years ago, and who’s lived her entire life having the world tell her she’s crazy for believing in aliens (see the script “IGB – Intergalactic Being” for a similar premise). They also make a ton of references to Aliens, Star Wars, and Back To The Future. The majority of it is pretty funny.
However this script can never be as funny as it will be onscreen. You can practically smell the improvisiation potential on the pages. And I think that the duo did play the writing fairly safe. There is a scene late in the script that pits religion against evolution which, at the very least, takes a chance. But that scene is more the exception than the rule.
I’ll leave you with one last scene for the day. This is just after Clive, Graham, and Paul have hit something in the road.
EXT. DESERT ROAD – DAY
The door to the RV swings open, CLIVE and GRAHAM step out. The desert road is silent. We can see for miles. On the road lies a yellow and black bird, it is very dead.
Fuck, that made me jump.
Ah yes, the waspish markings of a Scott’s Oriole. Unmistakable.
What a waste.
Nothing anyone could’ve done.
PAUL looks at them, then scoops the bird up in his hands.
What are you doing?
PAUL closes his eyes. His skin ripples with color as he sways slightly. The bird’s eyes flicker, its head lifts, it opens its beak and tweets. GRAHAM and CLIVE are astounded by what they are seeing.
It’s a miracle!
PAUL stuff the bird in his mouth with a grotesque crunch.
I’ll miss these.
Why would you do that?
I’m not gonna eat a dead bird, am I?
[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I’m not sure I learned anything here but I did try an experiment. As I was reading, I was trying to imagine this script as a virgin property, not something Pegg and Frost had written or were attached to. I was trying to see how I felt about the script minus the elements and if I, or anyone else for that matter, would still turn it into a movie. I think I concluded that while the concept is definitely funny, I don’t think the execution is good enough to get a green light. Give it a try yourself. Is this a script that’s only funny because you can see Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in the roles? Or is it funny period? Please let your thoughts be known in the comments.
Premise: A banker who gets swindled in a Nigerian internet scam travels to Nigeria to get his money back.
About: From Variety – “Ben Stiller will direct/produce with Red Hour partner Stuart Kornfeld and Jeremy Kramer. While the project is meant to be entertaining, it sheds light on current issues in Nigeria and other African countries, fitting the Participant Media mandate to make films that compel social change.” This is way more drama than comedy and quite an interesting choice for Stiller. Then again, his directing tastes tend to be different than his acting tastes (Tropic Thunder excluded). It also received 6 votes on the 2008 Black List (people can dog that list all they want but it seems like everything on it is made into a movie).
Writer: Mark Friedman
The hardest thing to understand about Help Me Spread Goodness is why an intelligent middle-aged middle-class man with a good education and a job in *banking* would be so stupid as to fall for one of the most obvious scams in the history of the internet. Before they even extend one leg of tripod to shoot this picture, they’re going to have to fix that problem.
We’re introduced to PATRICK, the aforementioned banker, who’s itching for a promotion so he can send his son to astronaut camp. When the promotion doesn’t happen, Patrick finds himself confiding in a man who’s sent him one of those infamous “I am dying and need to give you my 130 million dollar estate” Nigerian e-mails. This part of the script is quite funny, as we get cutaways to the Nigerian’s alleged story along with voice over. He’s lying in bed. Dying. Signing his last will and testament. Then we have Patrick casually writing back, “I didn’t get the promotion. Can you believe that??”
But when it becomes clear that Patrick actually believes the story and is going to send money, the script takes a huge step backwards. This scam is an ongoing joke in almost every circle of America. You’re saying Patrick is the one guy who’s never heard of it? Okay, well, whatever. Let’s go with it for now.
Surprise surprise, when Patrick checks his bank account a couple of weeks later, there’s a large sum of money missing and it seems that – gasp – his Nigerian buddies aren’t e-mailing him back. Not only can Patrick not send his son to astronaut camp, but he just lost 25 grand of his college fund. I don’t know if Patrick was more pissed that the Nigerians ripped him off or that he was a complete moron, but he takes it upon himself to right this wrong and travels to Nigeria to get that money back.
So Patrick jets to Lagos, Nigeria, a city with over 8 million people, and starts snooping around as if it’s the Old West and you can pop into the local watering hole and ask, “Hey, you know of any suspicious people in these parts?” Just an observation here, but if you’re a banker and can’t even make sound money decisions, what makes you think you can be a detective in a strange country where you don’t even speak the language?
But here’s the thing. If you can get over all that (and it’s not easy), you just might find yourself enjoying a sweet story about a man who learns a little bit more about the world.
What Patrick begins to see is that the Nigerian men involved in these scams – however wrong they may be – are doing it to survive. This isn’t the First World where as long as you have an education and work hard, you can get a job. There aren’t any jobs there, there’s no education, and scamming whoever you can to make it through the day is better than the alternative: to starve. So when Patrick says “You stole from me,” they basically say, “Yeah, but you were dumb enough to fall for it” (and because Patrick is so stupid, I kinda agree with them).
But getting back to the story, Patrick actually does run into one of the scammers, OTUMBO, who promises to take him to the man who orchestrated the scheme. This leads to a series of mis-adventures that leave Patrick worse off than if he’d never come to Nigeria in the first place. For some reason though, Patrick continues to trust him.
After Patrick is conned for the third time and has finally discovered that small part of his brain that still functions, he calls it quits on Otumbo, telling him to get out of his life. Except that the very next day, when he comes out of his hotel, Otumbo is there, waiting for him on another journey that he promises will lead Patrick to the man who stole his money. But Patrick’s not having it. “Wait here, I’ll be back in a minute,” he tells Otumbo, with no intention of ever returning. So Otumbo sits down and waits.
When Patrick gets back to the hotel, out of eyesight, he sees that Otumbo is *still* there. He sneaks up to his room and comes back down a couple hours later. He’s shocked to see that Otombo is *still* waiting for him. He leaves a third time, comes back hours after that. It’s been seven hours in total. Mark Friedman writes:
Half-eaten room service lunch on the desk. Patrick goes to the window, knowing what he’ll find…
Then he frowns. Otumbo is gone. He’s puzzled– And then he spots him. He’s WALKING IN TRAFFIC in front of the hotel, selling… TOILET PLUNGERS.
He’s selling toilet plungers.
And Patrick stands there, and he watches. Traffic is heavy now but it still speeds up occasionally and is dangerous, Otumbo weaves between cars, face shiny with sweat.
Patrick is transfixed. Something about this moves him. This young guy who found some plungers and is trying to sell them, doing whatever he can… and still taking an occasional glance back at the hotel, waiting for Patrick to emerge.
It’s this kind of heartbreaking moment where you realize that Patrick isn’t just a scam for Otumbo. He’s survival. He’s a way to last a few more days out in the jungle. It was a touching moment that really drove home, I believe, the reason why Friedman wrote this.
So while this script is not without faults, it does have enough high points for me to recommend. Read it yourself and tell me what you think.
[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I think I’ve said this before but sometimes we’re so blinded by wanting to tell our story, that we forget to ask if our characters are acting rationally. I guarantee you there’s no way this will be filmed before this problem is fixed because nobody will believe that Patrick is that dumb. There’s another script out there called “Big Hole” that’s similar to this except in that script, the protagonist is much older – is not nearly as computer savvy – so the fact that he would get swindled by an internet scam is a lot more believable. Just make sure your characters are making believable choices.
Take a look over to the right there. There’s a whole crop of new specs I’m looking for. I know some of you have’em, so fire up that e-mail and send’em my way.
Some of you have been nice enough to occasionally write me with suggestions. Keep them coming. Even though I can only review one script a day, I try to get to anything that’s highly recommended.
For no good reason, here is the “Downloading Box Office” on my last 10 reviews…
1) Unbound Captives
4) Aaron and Sara
5) You Again
7) A Couple Of Dicks
10) Paper Wings
I’m quite surprised that a period film got the most downloads. I’m curious as to why this script was downloaded more than the others. Was it the 5 million dollar price tag that intrigued you? Or was it the subject matter?
Genre: Dark thriller/drama
Premise: Microscopic proteins/aliens ride human beings as passengers for their own personal enjoyment.
About: Based off a 1969 Robert Silverberg short story that won a Nebula Award, this project was being circled pretty heavily by Fincher around the turn of the century. Since then, it’s been pretty much forgotten. I believe it’s currently being developed by Focus Features.
Writer: G.J. Pruss
This is not going to be a traditional review because this was not a traditional script. In fact, I’d probably call this the most original script I’ve ever read. Some of you may have heard of it before. It’s based on a short story and made some headlines when Fincher was attached back in 2000. But when you’re David Fincher and have the pick of the litter of every weird odd dark script on the market, you toy with a lot of projects. And it looks like this one got toyed with. Then thrown out. Well I’m here to throw it back in.
The first thing you notice about Passengers is that it’s written in the first person. Yes, the script is written in the first person. “I walk over to the store.” “I have sex with the beautiful woman.” It’s so weird and jarring at first that you can’t help but be pulled in. You feel like you’re right there with this guy – Charles – and all of a sudden you’re wondering why every movie isn’t written this way. It seems so real. So immediate. How the hell they plan to transfer this onto the screen I have no idea. I thought maybe they tell it from a first-person perspective, like a video game, but that would be too bizarre and too hard to pull off. Then again, why not? It would create the same jarring shock I had when I picked this up.
So Charles spends most of his life in a blur. He’s an alcoholic. Blacks out all the time. Finds himself in his bed, not remembering anything about the previous night’s events. He stumbles into his high-paying job. His bosses are concerned. They know he’s an alcoholic. They know it’s starting to affect his work. He promises them it isn’t. — I’m thinking “Okay, a guy with a really bad alcohol problem. We haven’t had a good one of those in years.”
But that isn’t Passengers. No, this movie is way more fucked than that. Charles goes home, finds an old strawberry rotting on the floor, covered by ants. Picks it up. About to throw it away….then realizes. It’s not a strawberry. It’s a woman’s finger. He freaks out. What’s going on? Figures it was something that happened in one of his drunken nights but for the life of him can’t figure out what or why. He puts it on ice and throws it in the freezer.
He heads to the doctor. Doesn’t like doctors. Asks him what’s wrong with him. The doctor acts strange. Starts asking him weird questions. Has this been going on a long time? How long does he black out for? What does he remember? This appears to be much worse than an alcohol problem. Something else is causing the blackouts.
Charles must go to the underground for answers. People don’t sell medicine for this kind of thing on the streets yet because that would imply there was a problem. Whatever’s happening, it’s being covered up. What is happening? The unthinkable. People are being “ridden” – their bodies used as amusement park rides by…who? Aliens? Ghosts? Collective bacteria so small we can’t yet recognize it? Whatever it is, it’s intelligent, and it takes control of us. We don’t remember anything when it happens. Sometimes we end up in strange people’s houses with no memory of how we got here. Other times it kills us. To the rest of the world it’s passed off as disease or being drunk or being high or depression. But really it’s this entity, taking over our bodies for its own pleasure.
I don’t think there’s any question that the “Passengers” are meant to be our own individual demons. Whether they be alcohol or drugs or anything that gets you high. The passengers tend to take you over at night, when you’re most susceptible, the rides last 1-3 days (suspiciously the same amount of time as your average alcohol/drug binge). A lot of the people being “ridden” have bloody noses (cocaine). But even if you want to ignore that and take Passengers literally, it still works because trying to figure out who or what the passengers are is fun.
There’s so much to enjoy here. And no, the script isn’t perfect. The end drags on a little too long but it’s such a trippy “ride” you don’t care. This is a great fucking script. It had me racing through every page to the point where I felt ridden. I don’t know who the hell is waiting to make this, but they need to make it now. It breaks into my Top 25 at #14.
[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: Pruss took a big chance by writing this in the first person. But it wasn’t just to be different and hip. He had a purpose. We felt like we were Charles, which made all of our experiences more personal. It completely worked. My point being, if you’re going to break rules, especially big ones, make sure there’s a valid purpose behind it.