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

Does Fincher still want to take a ride?

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
[x] impressive
[ ] 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.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08239067667651048280 Joshua James

    Wahoo! thanks for posting this now … downloading post-haste …

  • Anonymous

    damn nice.

  • Anonymous

    JJ says:

    There are at least two other scripts I know of that are also written in the first person: one that was called “Shakespeare’s Sister” when I read it and starred Kenneth Branagh and Madeline Stowe; and John Milius’ great script from the early 70s, “The Life And Times Of Judge Roy Bean”–which is also in the past tense, I think. (I remember scene description like, “He twirled his guns and returned to the saloon. I do not know if the badmen ever took him up on his offer but I suspect he was no less the deadly for it.”)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08439555051697115476 Carson Reeves

    Yes! JJ coming through with the script knowledge. :)

  • Anonymous

    Another script written in the first person is Joe Carnahan’s White Jazz. Clooney was supposed to be in it a few years back. The movie is back to development hell.

  • Anonymous

    JJ says:

    “Judge Roy Bean” is a terrific movie with Paul Newman, directed by John Huston, but the script is so much better….In fact, it may work better as a reading experience then translated into a film!

    Just dug out my copy, here’s an example of “Roy Bean”‘s description:

    “Roy Bean crossed the Pecos River sometime in 1890; a man of 40 with a past. He was headed west as the sun does set and he had the intention of “roosting up” in that territory. I beleive he was wanted of horse and cow thievery in Tularosa County and also the forceful abduction of an Indian woman. He was a convicted bank robber to boot and ran with the “Baldy” Mitchell gang. He rode into the setting sun, headed for hell.”

    The “I” voice is never identified, it’s just like someone spinning a Carl Sandburg type American tall tale. Milius said he was inspired by the first person narrative voice of Charles Portis’ novel “True Grit”:

    “People do not give it credence that a fourteen year old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen everyday. I was just fourteen years of age when coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shot my father down in Ft Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold peices….” from “True Grit”.

  • http://www.movie-infos.net/ Milan

    I never read a script which is written like “Passengers”, but I will take a look. I hope it is good. :)

  • Anonymous

    JJ

    Could you email me that script? I’m a huge fan of the movie and would love to read it. Email is Scwriter2000@yahoo.com if you’re able to.
    Thanks

  • Anonymous

    JJ says:

    Hey, I wish I could send it, but I only have a hard copy. I’ve never seen many of Milius’ best scripts in PDF, sadly. If I can ever manage to scan the ones I’ve got and put them into PDF, I’ll letchya guys know.

    Meantime…if anybody does have Milius on PDF…feel free to share! : )

  • Anonymous

    JJ says:

    Hey, I wish I could send “Roy Bean”! Sadly, I only have a paper copy.

    Very few of Milius’ scripts seem to be out there in PDF, oddly…

  • nick

    Thanks Carson, anyone remember a script called The Tourist by Clare Noto?

  • Anonymous

    JJ says about The Tourist:

    Oh hell yeah. That’s one of the most legendary unmade scripts of all time…in that small circle of titles like Nostromo and Harrow Alley that have been on a sort of super unofficial all-time upper black List for like, decades. Men In Black seems to have gotten a lot of ideas from The Tourist.

    Sorry about the multiple posts up there, that was a mistake. Whoops.

  • nick

    Thanks JJ. I read the outline for ‘The Tourist’ in Greatest Sci-Fi Films never made. I imagined Tony Scott making this around the time he made ‘Hunger’. Kind of like ‘Alien’ meets ‘Sex in the City’. Passengers reminded me of it in some way. Has anyone ever read these scripts – ‘Harrow Alley/Tourist’ etc..?

  • Anonymous

    Does anyone have “The Tourist” in pdf?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08439555051697115476 Carson Reeves

    You guys can contact me for Harrow Alley and The Tourist.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05643850688983700529 Xander Bennett

    Carson: I’d love copies of HARROW ALLEY and THE TOURIST, please!

    I loved the hell out of PASSENGERS. It’s easily one of the best scripts I’ve ever read. You know how some scripts are pure Actor Bait? This is Director Bait.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05643850688983700529 Xander Bennett

    Er, and my email is xanderbennett at gmail dot com. Cheers!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02163221455899041141 Emily Blake

    Maybe I’ll try reading it again. I tried once some time ago and I was so distracted by the first-person thing that I couldn’t get past the first three pages.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08439555051697115476 Carson Reeves

    Emily,

    I’m disappointed in you. You dig crazy weird stuff, right?

    Copies of Tourist and Harrow are courtesy of JJ by the way. Thanks JJ!

  • http://blogspot.com Archie

    This script started making the rounds about a decade ago and now it resurfaces every few years, gains some admirers and disappears. It’s not some lost masterpiece. It’s gotten Greg Pruss jobs which is sometimes all you can ask of a script. It’s that weird thing that happens where the script is a good read and has good writing but is a lousy template for a film.

    Think about this in movie form and what does the audience get? Charles walks, walks, walks, bookstore, library, hospital, stalk, stalk, stalk, he’s in about a dozen cabs, trains, he has flash dreams. It’s all very repetitive with little escalation.

    People who read this script love it mostly because of that first person “I”. It’s immediate and readers project into the main character so much that they don’t see that he’s a lousy character. The bulk of everything interesting about Charles exists in his prose asides to the reader and not in his dialogue or actions.

    What killed it for me that the central theme is ultimately about claiming your humanity as written by someone who doesn’t seem to have a firm handle on how people react to anything.

    I was trying to find the date for the script and found the Stax Report review from 2000: http://movies.ign.com/articles/036/036039p1.html

    He had the same problem I had which is people flip out over things like swine flu let alone a large number of people losing their minds. If the writer wants me to buy into this story then he needs to better explain the world it inhabits.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06872780969179149381 martinb

    How can you trust someone when you know they can turn into someone else at any time?

    When Bakunin says you have to accept these things and go where they take you, you are changed but you can change for the better or change for the worse, I felt that was the central theme. Letting go and trusting to love.

    But, sheesh, what a weird world. Interestingly written — the first-person thing worked for me once I got used to it — but bleak, spaced-out, trippy, alternate universe-y. I kept wondering what type of person would watch this. And what type of people live in this world. Where people passively watch others get ridden. Where there’s no government action. (What if these things get loose in the military? Fun and games there all right. Maybe it’s just a New York plague?)

    An interesting script, but something of a gamble as a movie.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08439555051697115476 Carson Reeves

    Archie,

    I actually read that review as well. The funny thing is, this draft seems to be a direct response to some of Staxx’s problems. From what I understand, more of the world is explained in this one – with the insinuation that the government doesn’t know what it is and are scared that if they admit that, mass panic will set in. It’s still a small enough problem where they can pass it off as people being high or wasted or depressed.

    Which I still think being ridden is a metaphor for. If you substitute the words “drunk” or “high” for “ridden” in this, you’ll find that it fits in nicely. So when these strange moments happen when a woman is on the ground naked and all these onlookers are watching…that stuff happens in the real world too. And Pruss basically took the metaphor out of the equation there. She’s holding an empty bottle of vodka. So that shit really happens. It’s rare but it happens.

    That’s what I liked about it. I never knew whether it was sci-fi or reality.

  • Anonymous

    I really, really dug this script. I was thinking of how it could be done, whether there would be voice-over or not, decided it would work better as a really visceral, intimate film. Something Aronofsky could direct.

    Carson: If you’re still reading this, and can send those two scripts (Harrow Alley and The Tourist), that would be greatly appreciated. Robert.Martinez@purchase.edu is my e-mail address.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07019706620588684967 Trailer Trashers

    It was pretty awesome. Has anyone read the other draft? completely dif.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05408214011758642852 Dan

    I agree the script isn’t perfect (the third act is kind of a mess), but the flaws are minuscule compared to the scripts that are actually produced these days. Unfortunately, with the big Hollywood studios wasting $200 million budgets on movies about talking guinea pigs and indie studios cranking out unfunny dreck like Gentleman Broncos, a dark and offbeat (but heartfelt) project like Passengers simply isn’t marketable.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05408214011758642852 Dan

    Incidentally, what’s the bio on G.J. Pruss? I can’t find anything on IMDB other than an episode of Tales from the Crypt. What else has he worked on, credited or uncredited?

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    • scottdow01

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