One of the coolest screenplay ideas I’ve seen all year. But does the execution match the concept?
Premise: A former criminal is convicted of killing his ex-wife and young daughter, who’s gone missing. Looking at life in prison, he participates in a unique experimental program where he will scientifically “hibernate” during the entirety of his sentence.
About: This script was picked up for Fast Five director (and future Terminator 5 director?) Justin Lin to direct. The script has been getting a lot of buzz lately. Let’s find out why.
Writers: Geneva Robertson-Dworet & Will Frank (story by Dave Hill and Geneva Robertson-Dworet & Will Frank)
Details: 112 pages – undated
I’d been hearing about this one for a couple of weeks now. Dozens of people have read it and almost all of them have e-mailed me with the same reaction: “Wow.” It’s not often that I see universal support for a script. There’s something about the art of storytelling that divides people. Some people want their stories to be direct and over-the-top. Others want them to be reserved and subtle. That’s why you get so many divided reactions and why Hollywood has such a hard time figuring out that elusive formula for box office success. How do you appease two polar opposite audiences? Isn’t that the definition of impossible?
But as I opened up “Hibernation” and read its first line: “Anna Bagnehold was skiing the first time she died,” I got goosebumps. Talk about roping the reader in immediately. Writers spend years trying to come up with a line like that – something that instantly gives you 20 pages with a reader. And then, once you get to the first act turn of Hibernation, it gets even better. This is a REALLY clever idea – one of those ideas that makes you groan and go, “Oh maaaan. Why couldn’t I think of that???” And I bet you’re all wondering what this idea is exactly. Well, may I tempt you with a story that pulls its inspiration from Scriptshadow favorites The Disciple Program and Source Code? Yeah, I have your attention now don’t I?
34 year old Sean Quinn is a big guy, the type of dude you’d see working on the docks, lifting heavy boxes. He used to be an enforcer for some not-so-nice criminal types, but has since left that life so he can be closer to his daughter, 5 year old Chloe. It’s not an ideal circumstance. His choices have put him and his ex at odds. But at least he gets to see his little girl every once in awhile.
If only Andrew Moran would see it that way. Moran is Quinn’s thuggish former employer. And as these thuggish boss-types usually go, he’s not a fan of Quinn quitting on him. And he lets him know it. But Quinn reiterates that he’s left that world behind. Sorry dude. Gonna have to find yourself a new rat.
Turns out that wasn’t the best idea by our guy Quinn. Because that night, after a couple of drinks, he passes out. And when he wakes up? His wife has been killed and his daughter, Chloe? She’s nowhere to be found. Before Quinn can even figure out what’s going on, the cops show up. And it isn’t difficult to see how this is going to shake down. All the evidence points to him as the killer.
So off to a lifetime jail sentence Quinn goes. Which would normally suck but there’s a new program the prison is trying out and it’s looking for volunteers. In order to lower the cost of upkeep, prisoners can choose to enter the “Hibernation Program,” which allows them to go into a state of stasis, sort of a cryogenic freeze, for their term. Go to sleep, wake up in 50 years. You’re still young when you’re released. Not a bad deal.
As a perk, they take you out of hibernation every five years, give you six hours of parole to reboot yourself, and back to sleep you go. With the alternative being growing old and dying in prison, Quinn decides to take a chance. So asleep he goes. For five years.
After waking up, he’s given his first six hours of parole. And you know what Quinn is doing with that six hours. He’s looking for information on what happened to his daughter. So he snoops around, asks a few people what they know, with most of the focus centering on his former employer, Moran. Did he kill his ex-wife and daughter because he wouldn’t work for him?
But just as he’s starting to make progress, his time is up and he’s forced to come back to prison, where he’s put back in hibernation. And five more years pass. And he wakes up. And he’s let out. With six more hours to look for clues about what happened to Chloe. Except now it’s five MORE years in the future. And he’s less familiar with the world. And the evidence is getting older. And when those six hours are up, he goes back to the prison, is put back to sleep, and five MORE years go by. And the world is even more different. He’s even LESS familiar with it. And the evidence is five years older. And so on and so forth.
I mean, just stop and think about that for a second. “The Fugitive” except that with every fifteen minutes of screen time, the world reboots into something more futuristic and less familiar to our hero. How freaking awesome of an idea is that??? It ain’t going to be cheap to make. But unlike a lot of flashy ideas out there, the production of this one would actually warrant the cost. It’s that good.
Now, I’m not going all in here YET because, at least with this draft, things are still messy. This is the kind of idea that you have to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. When you have something this good, you don’t want a single messy plot point, a single bad choice. Reading the opening of Hibernation, before I knew the hook, I was getting a little impatient. The dialogue in particular was really…plain, and a little bit clunky. When characters speak to each other, I never want to think about the writer. I don’t want to think, “Ooh, they tried too hard on that line.” It has to be seamless. And the dialogue here wasn’t seamless.
I wasn’t a huge fan of some of the secondary characters either. I thought Sorenson (the main doctor) was strong. I thought Lara, the love interest, worked. But Andrew Moran, the bad guy, wasn’t bad enough. The bad guy’s gotta be memorable in your movie and this guy just felt thin. Austin, the brother of the bad guy, was a little more memorable, but felt like the kind of guy you’d be afraid of at the schoolyard, not as a criminal. Then Raj, the cab driver, well, I mean you got a guy named “Raj” who is a cab driver. So you can see why that choice isn’t very inspired.
And while I liked some of the futuristic stuff, I think it could’ve been pushed further. A lot further. That’s the big draw here – how this mission extends across many time periods, with each time period getting more and more futuristic. That’s cool! I mean I can see the trailer already, cutting between these time periods. But as you cut, each time period needs to be noticeably different, noticeably more advanced. And I wished we would’ve seen more advancement, especially in the last time period, where the futuristic aspect is barely even breached.
My final issue is one I just can’t ignore. Six hours? Huh? Why would this program give someone six hours of parole every five years? It’s so little time as to seem insignificant. And with Quinn being such a high commodity asset, I’m having a hard time believing they’d just let him walk around willy-nilly. The explanation for this could’ve been much cleaner. As of now, it sticks out like a candy cane at a Thanksgiving dinner.
I’m assuming that many of these problems are due to the script still being in its early stages, but the pillars to build the empire are there. Also working in “Hibernation’s” favor is its ending. Whenever you have these time-bending narratives, you gotta have a stellar ending. There’s nothing worse than going through 2 hours of a really cool time-travel script only to have some pedestrian climax. I won’t spoil it here but Hibernation definitely delivers on that front. There were a couple of quick “But wait a minutes,” but nothing that couldn’t be fixed.
Hibernation is the kind of script that stands out in the spec world. It’s got a catchy hook and an exciting fast-paced narrative. More writers need to be studying scripts like this as a way to break into the industry. I wasn’t thrilled with the execution in places, which I’d probably rate as “worth the read,” but since this is one of the best spec ideas I’ve run across in awhile, I’m bumping it up to “double worth the read” status.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I’m always wary of forced ticking time bombs. They pop out at you like flaming roman numerals. A man gets six hours of parole every five years when he’s woken up from hibernation? Why six hours? Why every five years? What’s the point of it? I mean, yeah, this works great as a ticking time bomb. Only having six hours to do something as complicated as catch your daughter’s killer is intense. But it’s GOTTA make sense. So add your ticking time bombs, yes. But build them into the story in an organic way so we’re not questioning them.