Premise: When a man goes rock climbing with his friend, he’s abducted by aliens and inexplicably turned into a giant rock creature.
About: Concrete was a cult comic book in the late 1980s, birthed out of the Dark Horse comic book label. The creator, Paul Chadwick, has worked in comics forever and, in 2005, became a key creative force behind The Matrix Online, a multiplayer game set up by the Wachowskis to continue the Matrix storyline. I knew nothing about this comic but became interested when I looked at the comic’s art, which has a haunting quality to it.
Writer: Paul Chadwick (writer of the screenplay and creator of the comic)
Details: 107 pages (undated – but somewhere in the 1990s)
I have an intriguing question for you. How would you rank individual superhero properties at this moment? Batman used to have a stranglehold on the top position. But I don’t think he does anymore after these DC disasterfest flicks. You could argue that Batman might not even be in the Top 5 anymore. Deadpool. Wonder Woman. Iron Man. Spider-Man. Captain America. Who do you think owns the sandbox?
The question has me wondering what makes a comic book movie stand out these days. There are SO MANY that simply having a dude with a gruff voice and a bat-mask isn’t enough anymore. Either you have to find a comic that explores the genre in a unique way (Deadpool) or, if you already have an established property, you have to find a director who’s going to add a stylistic flourish that gives that property a fresh feel (Thor: Ragnarok).
The Concrete art has me hoping we’ll get a little of both here. Let’s take a look.
I know a script is in trouble when the writer doesn’t make clear what the main character’s job is. When we meet Ronald Lithgow, he’s in a senator’s office writing down notes as the Senator speaks. Does this make him his assistant? A co-worker? Someone who works alongside the Senator and is merely keeping notes for himself? We’re not given a clear answer, and this becomes an issue throughout the script.
And, actually, it’s a problem a lot of new screenwriters have. It’s not that they don’t tell you what the main character’s job is. It’s that unclear details become a pattern throughout the script, leaving the screenplay feeling like you’re squinting at it through a set of foggy glasses.
Anyway, so Ron goes on a vacation with his good buddy, Michael, to do some hardcore rock-climbing. However, when their curiosity gets the best of them and they explore a cave, they find some terrifying rock creature aliens waiting for them, who knock Ron and Michael out, and then when they wake up, they’re in an alien rock cave lab, having been turned into giant rock creatures themselves.
Michael is killed – RIP Michael – but Ron escapes, and when a local town reports a Sasquatch-like creature hopping around the premises, the NSA swoops in, and an evil dick named Joe Stamberg, brings Ron to an NSA lab so he can study him. It’s there where Ron meets the beautiful Maureen, a scientist who has a jonezing for rock men. Ron seems perfectly fine with being treated like a guinea pig for some reason, but breaks out when it’s revealed that Maureen has been removed from the project.
Once out and spotted, Ron becomes an instant celebrity, and that’s when Stamberg realizes he can make some money off this thing. So he pulls a George Lucas and and sells Concrete’s rights to comic book and toy companies everywhere. Concrete starts making appearances on news shows. Everyyyyyybody loves Concrete.
But Stamberg wants to take things further, and when there’s an incident at a mine where dozens of miners are trapped, he sends Concrete there to save them. Pump up his celebrity even more. But Concrete screws up the dig and, as a result, men die. Is the Concrete love now over? Will the world turn against him? And if so, what else is there left for a man trapped in a 12 foot tall body made of rock?
Right, so, I’m not going to mince words. This was a mess. I’m guessing that while Chadwick was an accomplished comic book writer, this was an early foray into screenwriting. There were too many Screenwriting 101 problems.
For starters, the celebrity sequence – where Concrete becomes a worldwide celebrity – it lasts 30 pages! I mean, I can see a 7 page montage TOPS. But it just went on and on and on. And this isn’t what screenplays are made for, giant 30 page sections with good vibes and zero conflict. You can’t be that friendly for that long without the audience getting bored. This comes down to a basic understanding of how screenplays are paced. It’s okay for good things to happen for a scene or two. Maybe even three. But then you got to start throwing conflict at the main character.
And that was another problem. Ron had zero issues with being imprisoned by the NSA. His attitude was, “Yeah, whatever you need.” And since that section ALSO went on for a long time, that was another area that got boring.
Then there was Ron himself. For such a cool looking character, there’s nothing going on with him. One of the things you need to do early on in a script is establish who your main character is BEFORE THE TERRIBLE THING BEFALLS HIM. If we don’t know who he is, then what happens to him feels empty.
I’ll give you an example. If we’d been shown, early on, that Ron was always getting overlooked, that he wanted more attention, that he was invisible at work, NOW when he becomes this huge celebrity, it has more weight. Because it’s tied to something that we’ve established he wanted. Then you can go into a “be careful what you wish for” story.
And I’m not saying you had to go that route. I’m saying you had to go SOME route. And this script gave us no route early on. By not establishing who the hero was… EVER… we never knew what the main character’s journey was supposed to be.
The problems don’t stop there. Concrete doesn’t encounter his first opportunity at heroism – saving people in the mine – until page 80!!! This is a superhero movie. The first big heroic act should not be occurring 80 pages into the story. Sure, if this is a more cerebral character-based superhero movie, I’d understand the lack of big set pieces. But we just established there’s nothing going on with this character. I don’t have any idea what I’m supposed to be thinking about him. As far as I can tell, he’s a guy who’s relatively happy to have been turned into a giant rock man. Which is a leap you have to explain to the reader. But we never get any explanation.
To be fair, an entire superhero renaissance occurred between the time this script was written and today. The bar has been raised considerably. If they’re going to still develop this project, I would go 100% away from the celebrity stuff and focus more on the turmoil of what it’s like for this man to live like this. Those are the most arresting images from the comics and the far more interesting theme. This long drawn out rise to fame is the last thing that’s going to interest people about a rock dude.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Whatever big themes you’re exploring in your movie, you have to build a bridge between those themes and your character. There’s no reason to make celebrity a giant theme in your story if your main character doesn’t have opinions or conflict about celebrity. A big component of Iron Man, for example, is his ego. So when he makes the decision to tell the world he’s Iron Man and become this celebrity, that decision is tied to his character in a clear way.