Genre: Sci-fi
Premise: An Air Force Lieutenant assigned to debunk UFO sightings has a sighting of his own, which changes his approach to life.
About: This is that often-talked about draft of Close Encounters of the Third Kind that Spielberg did a complete rewrite of. How drastically did he change things? And why mess with a script written by one of the best screenwriters of the 70s? Paul Schrader had written Taxi Driver and would go on to write American Gigolo, Raging Bull, and The Last Temptation of Christ. He was also utilized as the number one script doctor of that era.
Writer: Paul Schrader
Details: 133 pages

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I’ll start this review off with a giant thank you. Thank you, Steven Spielberg, for making sure this version of Close Encounters never saw the light of day.

I’ll go one step further. The ineptitude of this script makes me retroactively question Taxi Driver. I now wonder whether that movie was one of those lucky accidents, an accumlation of many different contributors coming together to make something great in spite of a weak screenplay. Because, when you think about it, Taxi Driver is a pretty messy script. I suppose I should give credit to Schrader for creating a great character. But that narrative was always all the hell over the place.

We see the same with Kingdom Come, a bizarre excuse for a UFO movie that feels like it was written in eight different sections and pieced together on an assembly line. To say this script is a mess is an understatement. And it forever alters how I see the screenwriter who is Paul Schrader.

It’s 1960 and Paul VanOwen, a 40 year-old Air Force Lieutenant, has been given the unenviable task of investigating UFO sightings. These sightings are happening more and more often across the country, and as far as VanOwen is concerned, they’re all hogwash.

Then a big one comes along – a series of sightings in the small town of Clarenceville, Indiana. VanOwen goes down there with a small team to tell anyone who believes in this nonsense that they’re a moron. But then, while driving back to his hotel one night, he has a close encounter with an alien ship.

VanOwen’s entire outlook changes, to the point where he’s begging the U.S. Government to give UFOs a legitimate look. They end up telling him to screw off, but later on, VanOwen is cornered by a secret group who call themselves “Project Grief.” These are the REAL government UFO investigators, so Top Secret that their own government doesn’t even know of their existence. Huh?

They ask VanOwen if he wants to join, but concede he’ll have to leave his family and pretend he’s dead to do so. Sure! He says, without a second thought. Cut to 13 years later and VanOwen is still on the hunt for that perfect UFO case, the one that’s going to finally reveal that UFOs are, indeed, real.

Unfortunately, Project Grief spends most of its time sitting around waiting, not unlike firefighters between fires. The only difference is that it takes a lot longer for a UFO sighting to come along than it does a fire. Which means lots of waiting. And waiting. Oh, and did I mention waiting?

Eventually, a big sighting comes along, and it’s time to find out if all this hard work is going to pay off. Too bad for VanOwen and the rest of his team that everyone who’s read this script has fallen asleep by this point and will never find out what happens. Including Steven Spielberg himself.

Man.

This was baaaaaad. Michael Jackson Bad. Jamon.

I’m not even sure what I just read.

It’s funny. There are always these stories about these “alternate drafts” of famous movies that are so much better than what was filmed. EVERY TIME I’ve read one of these supposed “better” drafts, they’ve turned out to be awful.

It’s geeks trying to conjure up controversy despite it making ZERO sense to film an inferior draft. I mean, why would anybody knowingly do that? At worst, the other drafts are DIFFERENT. A different vision from a different person. But they’re never better.

With that said, there are still a couple of debate-worthy screenwriting topics here. The first is our main character. Schrader’s hero is a military man right in the middle of the action. Whereas Spielberg’s Roy Neary was a nobody family man nowhere near the action.

If you’re a studio, you’re probably favoring Schrader’s hero. You typically want your main character as close to the action as possible. And if VanOwen is an air force UFO investigator, he’s going to be have lots of opportunities to get into interesting situations with UFOs, the military, and the government.

Roy Neary has to see all of these things from the outside, which is arguably not as interesting.

But maybe this is part of Spielberg’s genius. Despite so many writers favoring the military man route, Spielberg’s always liked the “ordinary man stuck in an extraordinary circumstance” setup. And I think it works because the ordinary man is more relatable. I don’t personally know any CIA or FBI agents. But I know plenty of regular dudes. It could easily be you, then, who had that close encounter. You’re just like Roy Neary!

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 9.53.18 PM

But where Spielberg really shows his brilliance is in how he takes everything that Schrader TELLS, and turns it into a SHOW. Show don’t tell. Show don’t tell. Show don’t tell. This is Screenwriting 101, arguably the first thing they teach you about the medium. For Schrader to have no concept of SHOW DON’T TELL is baffling.

His entire opening is people talking about their sightings. We don’t see any sightings. We just hear people talking about their sightings. How does Spielberg start Close Encounters? It’s show after show after show. It’s the air traffic room sequence. It’s running into a desert to see a bunch of planes that went missing 30 years ago having returned out of nowhere. It’s giant groups of people chanting a mysterious alien melody.

And if there’s a lesson to learn from this abysmal script, it’s that. Scharder was thinking LIKE A WRITER. Spielberg was thinking LIKE A FILMMAKER. He realized he had to SHOW the audience something. That having characters engage in pages of recollections about the UFOs they saw wasn’t going to be interesting to watch. So keep that in mind guys. You’re writers. But you’re writers FOR THE SCREEN.

Kingdom Come becomes laughably bad as it continues. At one point, VanOwen shows up at his old family home, 15 years after he suddenly disappeared from his family’s lives, and his wife is surprised by his arrival for all of one second before she casually suggests, “Come inside. Let’s talk about what you’ve been up to.”

The dialogue here is routinely awful. Here’s an example. Late in the script, a couple of years after Project Grief has dispersed, VanOwen, still working for the government, runs into Judy, an ex-member of the group. She starts the conversation…

“What are you doing? What’s going on?”

“Judy, you know I can’t tell you. You’re on the outside now.”

“I can keep a secret.”

“But I can’t tell you.”

“But I spent four years in the Project. It was a very big part of my life. I have to know if anything’s happened.”

“Come on, let’s have lunch and talk about other things. Let’s enjoy the sunshine.”

I mean, in a way, it’s almost encouraging. You have this titan of screenwriting writing garbage dialogue. If he struggles, it’s obviously okay for the rest of us to struggle as well.

Schrader keeps the hits coming, at one point sending us out into the stars and into a nebula shaped like a vagina. I guess the acid really was flowing back in the 70s.

I can only imagine Spielberg taking one look at this script and saying, “What the fuck is wrong with you, dude? I’m trying to make a movie here. Not Easy Rider 2: A Junkie’s Jaunt Through the Milky Way” (but, you know, in that nice Spielberg way where he doesn’t let on that he’s never going to call you again).

I wish I could say there was anything good about this but there isn’t. It’s the screenwriting equivalent of an interstellar vagina.

[x] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Make sure to have a plan for your script beyond your first act. Or else after the act is over, you’ll be flailing in the wind trying to come up with plot beats and story threads. And you’ll convince yourself that it’s coming together. But trust me. When the reader reads it, they know you have no clue where you’re going. I say this because Schrader at least knew what he wanted to do with the first act here – send VanOwen to a town that was experiencing a UFO flap. But he didn’t have a clue what was going to come next. And it caught up to him. The power of outlining, guys!

  • Justin

    I should probably watch Close Encounters someday… Heard only good things about it.

    Anyway, great article.

    • Scott Crawford

      You’ll probably be surprised by it.

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      Heard only good things about it.

      And here’s your first negative micro review: it’s excruciatingly boring :)

      • Deaf Ears

        First positive micro review – no it isn’t.

  • Lucid Walk

    Spielberg’s top 10, in random order.

    – Close Encounters of the Third Kind

    – Indiana Jones 1

    – Indiana Jones 3

    – Minority Report

    – Jurassic Park

    – Schindler’s List

    – Jaws

    – E.T.

    – Saving Private Ryan

    – Ready Player One (yes, it will make the list)

    • Poe_Serling

      Duel has to be your No. 11, right?

      ;-)

      • Lucid Walk

        Still haven’t seen it. I know, I know…

        • Poe_Serling

          Every film buff has a few of those on their need-to-see
          list.

          I’m pretty sure that you’ll enjoy it when you get a chance
          to watch it.

          ;-)

    • Doug

      Where is Catch Me If You Can? One of his best, and clearly better than Minority Report.

      • Lucid Walk

        Only saw it once as a kid. Might give it another shot

      • Erica

        Bridge of spies is really good also.

      • ripleyy

        Or Terminal.

    • Scott Crawford

      No Raiders?! A pox on both your houses (I know you have two).

      • Lucid Walk

        Uh, I said Indiana Jones 1

        • Scott Crawford

          Mea culpa. I really shouldn’t comment too early!

          On the other hand… show it some respect and call it Raiders!

        • Kane

          That would be temple of doom… the prequel.

    • hickeyyy

      My personal favorites, in order…

      1. Jurassic Park
      2. Catch Me If You Can
      3. Saving Private Ryan
      4. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
      5. Jaws
      6. Raiders of the Lost Ark
      7. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
      8. Schindler’s List
      9. War of the Worlds
      10. The Terminal

      • Poe_Serling

        And still no Duel? Has the world suddenly gone
        topsy turvy?

        ;-)

        • hickeyyy

          I have to be completely honest with you, Poe. I’ve never seen Duel!

          • Poe_Serling

            Perhaps down the road Carson will do an article called “10
            Screenwriting Lessons You Can Learn From Duel.”

            Your homework assignment the night before: watch the flick.

            ;-)

        • Erica

          I pretty much like all Spielberg’s movies so a top ten would be hard, but missing is movies like Always, the wacky 1941 and of course BFG which I really enjoyed even though most didn’t for some reason.

          • Lucid Walk

            Haven’t seen any of those three, my bad

      • Lucid Walk

        I’m sorry, War of the Worlds? Really?

        • hickeyyy

          I’m not saying it’s his best, it’s just a fav of mine. I have a soft spot for alien invasion flicks, even when they aren’t the best.

      • Kirk Diggler

        2. Catch Me If You Can

        Good call. Underrated.

        • hickeyyy

          It’s definitely near the top of my favorite Leo movies and my favorite Hanks movies as well, not just Spielberg!

    • wlubake

      I was always partial to Empire of the Sun. I’d take your list and sub that in for Ready Player One without too much worry.

      But give me E.T. as the quintessential Spielberg movie.

      • Lucid Walk

        Yet to see that one. But I have a lot of faith in Ready Player One. It seems like a movie destined to be made by Spielberg

      • Ninjaneer

        ET always creeped me out. No mo watchee fo me.

    • brenkilco

      Close Encounters is his best film. Period. End of story. Yes, Schindler’s List is more important and Private Ryan is more visceral and Jaws is more suspenseful and some may find Raiders more entertaining. Doesn’t matter. Simply put, CE3K contains everything that makes Spielberg great as a director executed more perfectly than he would ever again manage. It is THE Spielberg movie.

      • filmklassik

        Your case is well argued – – as always – – but Jaws still tops the list for me, followed by Raiders, Encounters, and then, naturally, Hook. Kidding. Then it’s probably Duel, Private Ryan and Schindler’s List. Or Schindler’s List and Ryan.

        • brenkilco

          Well I would list Jaws second so no big dif.

    • Ninjaneer

      My top Spielberg (Fave to watch, not necessarily best made)

      1. Raiders
      2. Last Crusade
      3. Jurassic Park
      4. Jaws
      5. Temple of Doom (I know, not a great movie but grew up watching it and has one of my favorite movie moments [when they get trapped in the shrinking room])
      6. Close Encounters
      7. Munich
      8. Saving Private Ryan
      9. Schindler’s List

      There’s a handful more that I will prolly watch again but wouldn’t be that excited about it (Minority Report, War of the Worlds) and mostly the rest I don’t really care for much.

      Still haven’t seen Poltergeist though. 99% of horror movies are too messed up for me to justify watching but I imagine a Spielberg horror is prolly fine. Might give it a try.

  • Poe_Serling

    Perfect timing for this review…

    As most know, Close Encounters is celebrating its 40th anniversary
    this November.

  • (Ex) Long Time AV Club Reader

    “It’s geeks trying to conjure up controversy despite it making ZERO sense to film an inferior draft. I mean, why would anybody knowingly do that? At worst, the other drafts are DIFFERENT. A different vision from a different person. But they’re never better.”

    You liked the Logan draft of I Am Legend better… Terry Rossio also cites the 90s Godzilla flick as a prime example of directors throwing away good material, and getting away with it because they’re coming off a hit film and are still rock stars. You should review the Rossio and Elliot draft of Godzilla and see if you agree(it’s on Rossio’s site).

    • Scott Crawford

      From what I understand, Emmerich and Devlin were hired to make a certain type of Godzilla film (more like Indy Day, cheaper) and they did that. Not really egomaniacism on their parts.

  • Doug

    The script for Taxi Driver was influenced by the ‘pure-cinema’ filmmakers of the 1960s and 70s, such as Kubrick, Tarkovsky and Fellini. They tended to write in deep sequence arcs that eschewed traditional narrative structures. Basically, Taxi Driver is a series of set-pieces that reveal character. If you view it through the prism of Syd Field’s 3 act structure, then yeah, it can appear messy. But you can say the same thing about 2001, Stalker and Satyricon.

    • Malibo Jackk

      Hey thanks D.
      Hadn’t really thought of it that way.
      Did think Easy Rider kinda rambled (like the characters themselves).
      And wasn’t sure that Five Easy Pieces even had a story.
      Same with Midnight Cowboy.

    • filmklassik

      And mash, animal house, boyhood, diner, the big chill, and any number of other movies that don’t adhere to the McKee/Field paradigm. Now as it happens, generally speaking, I’m a huge fan of the classic three act structure. I love it. It’s been taking good care of us for nigh on 3000 years. But I do appreciate the exceptions.

  • klmn

    A [X]What the hell did I just read.

    I can’t remember the last one C gave out.

    • PQOTD

      Um, Valerian maybe?

  • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

    I thought Paul Schrader was like a BIG TIME outliner. I swear I read this man outlined everything down to a tee. OR maybe he started outlining AFTER this debacle. Hmm… Well, at least he moved on and had some hits down the road. Not every script is your best.

    • UPB13

      There’s a photo out there of the Taxi Driver outline with expectations as to how many pages (or half pages) he expects each scene to cover.

  • wrymartini

    Didn’t see a link but in case anyone’s looking for it it’s here (although called Close Encounters…):

    http://www.pages.drexel.edu/~ina22/splaylib/Screenplay-Close_Encounters_of_the_Third_Kind.pdf

  • Malibo Jackk

    Modern Screenwriting Theory (I think I just made that up) would have us believe
    that the protag must be a man who firmly does not believe in UFOs – rather than
    just an everyman who discovers that they do exist.

    (So much for Modern Screenwriting Theory.)

    • Scott Crawford

      Would a modern movie star, one of the Chrises, play an electrician?

      • Malibo Jackk

        Good point.
        What’s a Chrises?
        You said movie star – not actor.

  • Scott Crawford

    Spielberg’ work as a screenwriter is undeappreciated (and a little controversial). He did a draft of Jaws, wrote CE3K, cowrote Poltergeist, wrote for AmazingStories, AI, as well as treatments and other stuff.

    The sledge from Citizen Kane hangs over his typewriter.

    Francois Truffaut was very impressed that Spielberg had written his own script for Ecounters.

  • V

    There’s a moment in this movie that sends shivers down my spine, and I don’t even know why.

    So, it’s just after that great scene where what he thinks is a car pulls up behind him, and he waves it to go past. Instead, this ufo rises over him, and starts doing god knows what. Gravity inside the car is messed up. Everything starts falling sideways and upwards. His electrical stuff goes crazy. He looks up at the ufo and it pulses some kind of light down at him, giving him burn marks (and I guess somehow implanting visions in his mind).

    Anyway, after this intense madness, it just kind of ends. The ufo above just silently drifts away. It’s now the calm after the storm. The scene is essentially over, right.

    But for some reason, as it’s drifting away, it occasionally (maybe just once) flickers its main spotlight down at the ground again. Seemingly for no reason. No one’s underneath it or anything.

    It’s just this weird little moment. I don’t even know why Spielberg included it or what it means. Yet, there’s something very real about it to me. It’s hard to explain. It leaves me with a very visceral feeling.

    What is that last flicker of light all about?

    • Malibo Jackk

      Don’t want to ruin it for you.

      • V

        I think I’m missing something obvious that you’re saying. What do you mean it’s Spielberg winking at us? And what about the Mona Lisa smiling?

        • Malibo Jackk

          Like I said, I hate spoiling it.
          Because it’s may have other meanings for you.

          1.) The first reason he did it was for people too stupid
          to understand that the light was coming from the UFO.
          2.) The second reason is because it adds something
          – and is not just a disappearing UFO.
          3.) The third reason is to suggest that this is what the UFO
          does – it has momentary curiosity.

    • Scott Crawford

      I’ll have to rewatch that bit:

    • Malibo Jackk

      The long version

      • Malibo Jackk

        Why do UFOs hate mailboxes?

    • Kane

      For me it was how those last flickers seemed so casual for the ufo. It just turned a man’s world litarally and figuratively upside down a second ago with those lights and a few seconds later the aliens are flipping them on at what, rabits? Its like they were saying to dreyfuss hey youre interesting… but so is this bush. That scene was one of the main reasons i saw it in theaters last month.

      • V

        Yeah, that’s it, I think you totally get what I mean. Like you say, that last flicker of light is just so casual. And that makes it so much more eerie to me. It’s such a strange little moment.

  • huckabees

    OT but in the spirit of “What the hell…”

    I went to see “mother!” last night. To keep it short:

    Blunt.

    On the nose.

    Last act plays like the gory version of a bad SNL sketch.

    • Scott Crawford

      So many people asked me for the script. I don’t have it.

      That’s A mistake.

      A bit of unsolicited feedback might have helped. Might it?

      • huckabees

        I don’t think so. Aronofsky said in an interview that he wrote the screenplay in five days, sounded very proud of himself. So I guess got swept away by the spark that hit him somewhere.

        This onslaught of allegorical imagery you get to see in “mother!” is just something that you would only expect to see on a theater stage. In a movie, it just seems like total overkill. Melodramatic.

        • Scott Crawford

          I’m guessing SOMEONE might have wanted to call him out on that. I mean, a really good editor could maybe have turned it into something better. Couldnt he?

          • huckabees

            Among other things, the movie is about the ego of an artist / creator / god going off the rails and – so it seems kind of ironically fitting that the movie is what it is.

  • Scott Crawford
    • Malibo Jackk

      He was a better Madoff than Madoff in MADOFF.
      (But I’m repeating myself.)
      What helped was the script – it was amazing. The production first class.

      • Scott Crawford

        History buff. Politically savvy. Oscar winner. And he was in Stakeout.

  • Andy M (formerly andyjaxfl)

    Point of parliamentary procedure!

    The best example of an alternative draft that surpasses the finished product is I AM LEGEND. Mark Protosevich wrote an excellent draft in 1995 that is quite excellent, and it’s a damn shame that it wasn’t made in favor of the swill that we got almost ten years ago.

    Protosevich captures the themes of Richard Matheson’s novel (or is it a novella? I really don’t know) while creating something mostly new, whereas the Will Smith/Akiva Goldsman missed the mark by the length of a football field.

    Yes, it gets a little 90s actiony in the third act, but it’s more akin to a Die Hard/The Matrix third act as opposed to the mindless and numbing action of a Transformers movie where the action gets more bombastic just because it’s the third act.

  • brenkilco

    Considering he’s been a film making force for going on five decades isn’t it odd that Spielberg has only two screenwriting credits? Don’t think so. While the details are murky it’s generally conceded that he didn’t write either CE3K or Poltergeist. On encounters he apparently hired and fired platoons of writers to the point where credit apportionment became impossible. Assume there was a similar history with Poltergeist.

    And bad as this draft may be, I’m wondering if the shooting script would read much better. Judged strictly as narrative SS’s masterpiece is a patchwork thing with about a million lose ends and unanswered questions. What’s the climax after all? The alien ship lands, disgorges some passengers, there’s a brief meet and greet and the ship leaves. The movie works as a directorial tour de force that creates an exultant mood. One of the most stunning uses of the widescreen ever. But storywise…….

    • DaChoppa

      HA! I agree with you.
      Roy doesn’t impact the ending. Take him out and the story still ends the same.
      Roy’s family leaves him, but if he left them, at least he would have made a choice which would have been much more powerful.

    • filmklassik

      It’s a visual tour de force. but as awe inspiring as that final sequence is — and its terrific — my favorite scene will always be the one with the air traffic controllers. (“Ask him if he wants to report officially.”). I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

      Also, I don’t know who came up with the idea of the aliens implanting a geometric shape into selected people’s heads, but whoever did was friggin’ brilliant. Just an inspired idea that propels the story and leads to that wonderful revelation (It’s Devil’s Tower!) around the 70 minute mark (I’m guessing a bit here). That’s the kind of narrative ingenuity that too frequently gets overlooked in conversations about screenwriting. But it shouldn’t.

      The final production draft was allegedly written by Jerry Belson, with Spielberg supervising, and Spielberg apparently made a financial deal with Belson to avoid arbitration.

      Belson was by all accounts a very talented guy.

      http://articles.latimes.com/2006/oct/13/local/me-belson13

      • brenkilco

        That controller scene is great. Kind of daring to stay in the room and have the whole encounter play in our heads. A real tease too. Hey, we want to see the spaceships. But the scene is still so Spielberg. Not static as it would have been with most other directors. All kinds of subtle camera moves and characters invading the increasingly crowded frame.

        Jeez, how many thousand sitcom episodes did that guy Belson write?

        • filmklassik

          A lot. He was as facile as Larry Gelbart and, like Gelbart, was able to excel in more than one medium. Actually, Gelbart was a pretty successful playwright, too, and it’s rare for anyone to write for TV, movies, and the stage with equal proficiency. Neil Simon managed it — although I know you’re not a fan of his. (I dig him, but I know he can be spotty).

        • filmklassik

          There’s so much to love about that PATCO scene. There’s the Altman-esque quality of the real-sounding, overlapping dialogue combined with Spielberg’s unsurpassed confidence and visual control. Another thing I love is the way that one older controller says, “Ask him if he wants to report officially” — like he’s surprised but not THAT surprised — he’s obviously encountered this kind of thing before. Not all that shocking, really, since I’ve heard that most pilots who’ve been flying for a while have stories about UFOs. And these are not dudes who, in general, are prone to hallucinations.

  • Citizen M

    What Spielberg thought of Schrader’s script:

    “one of the most embarrassing screenplays ever professionally turned in to a major film studio or director. It was a terribly guilt-ridden story not about UFOs at all.”http://cinearchive.org/post/46758999955/read-the-screenplay-of-close-encounters-of-the

  • Citizen M

    What Carson thought of Spielberg’s script:

    “Spielberg could’ve made anything he wanted after Jaws, but he took a chance on something he was really passionate about. I’m a firm believer that you have to take a big chance with every screenplay you write if you want to succeed.”http://scriptshadow.net/10-screenwriting-lessons-you-can-learn-from-close-encounters-of-the-third-kind/

  • Andy M (formerly andyjaxfl)

    KINGDOM COME is a great title though. Is it too connected with the famous DC comics story from twenty years ago to be used without attracting backlash?

  • Poe_Serling

    Encounter of the First Kind

    Back in the day of John Mellencamp “small towns”…

    My parents would get us in the car and take us on one of those
    classic Sunday drives into the countryside.

    For the next couple of hours or so you ride here and there… just
    sitting and enjoying the scenery roll by… often times even taking
    a turn down a road that you didn’t know existed until that moment.

    There was never a fear of getting lost because you would eventually
    bump into a road sign pointing back toward a familiar town not too
    far from your front door.

    And these mini trips usually ended with an ice cream treat at
    Diary Queen or some other local fast food spot.

    So…

    One summer day, late afternoon if I’m remembering right, we
    were motoring down a back road in the middle of the sticks.

    OUT OF NOWHERE

    A fast moving object appeared above the clearing to our left.

    The thing was quite large, round, and sort of glowed with a
    swirling mix of red, orange, and yellow colors.

    Within a second or two, it passed directly over our vehicle and
    headed in the direction of the nearby woods.

    Before anyone inside the car could say a word, it was gone.

    Over the years I’ve did a bit of research to figure out what we
    might’ve seen on that particular day.

    The earthly possibility?

    Ball lightning.

    The not of this world possibilities?

    Endless.

    ;-)

  • Citizen M

    1. One morning, driving along a flat, straight road towards the rising sun, I saw an intensely bright object hovering over some nearby low hills. It moved very slowly and shone much brighter than any star. I was certain it must be a UFO when it tilted slightly and I realized I was seeing the sun reflected off the side of a Boeing climbing away from the airport and headed at about a 30 deg angle to the sun away from me. The motion of the sun, aircraft, and my car were perfectly synchronized to keep the reflection in my eyes for several minutes.

    2. One afternoon I was returning from a day out surveying when I saw a circular orange object moving irregularly low over Cape Town. My two assistants were in the front of the truck with me and confirmed they saw it too. I stopped and set up my theodolite on the side of the road and attempted to observe it. Because of the irregular motion it was difficult to catch more than a glimpse or two through the telescope. i still don’t know what it was, but I’m pretty sure it was a loose weather balloon blowing in the wind, I estimate about 1 1/2 to 2 meters diameter.

  • Justin

    I’ll admit the title is badass. Will give it a read (however many pages I can).

  • Poe_Serling

    Another excellent post.

    Even before the huge success of Jaws, Spielberg’s everyMANN leanings were
    on full display with Dennis Weaver’s character in Duel.

    And just from my point of view, the basic story lines of those two films have
    a lot in common.

    Duel is pretty much about a predatory trucker and his rig out in sea of empty
    back roads and sage brush.

  • Lucid Walk

    Still haven’t seen it

  • klmn

    Is C gonna review Mena? With the movie coming out at the end of the month, now is the best time.

    • Andy M (formerly andyjaxfl)

      I think he did in a newsletter a few years ago…

    • Scott Crawford

      Came out here (UK) few weeks ago. Kermode said it, like Logan Lucky, was enjoyable but largely inconsequential (except for a few moments when Domnhall Gleeson’s CIA character shows a darker side.

      You can understand why Tom Cruise wanted to do the film – flying, darker, more complex character, work with Liman again – and once he wanted to do it was a runaway truck (at least till people saw it in previews and sent it back for reshoots).

  • brenkilco

    In a moment of rare candor ace screenwriter Ernest Lehman admitted that if anyone other than Hitchcock had directed North By Northwest it wouldn’t have amounted to anything.

    There are scripts that stand on their own, play adaptations for instance, and scripts that are nothing more than opportunities for a director and crew. Alien is a lousy script by most standards. Cursory description, dull dialogue and undifferentiated characters. It has a reasonably novel premise(pace Zontor) and one or maybe two cosmically horrifying scenes. And that’s it. The writers should have been down on their knees giving thanks for Scott and Geiger and that cast.

    Of course isn’t making the reader visualize the story with too few words a major haiku challenge of screenwriting?

    • Malibo Jackk

      “Alien is a lousy script by most standards. Cursory description, dull dialogue and undifferentiated characters.”

      But are you saying the script should have gotten a PASS
      or are you talking about it’s literary significance?

      • brenkilco

        That’s just it. I don’t know. What ultimately is a good script? One that makes a good film. So though it seems deficient to me, maybe Alien is a good script. The problem is of course that you don’t know whether the movie works till its made and once it’s made attributing credit to the script distinct from all the other elements is next to impossible.

        • Doug

          The thing about the Alien script is that it is structurally perfect from a suspense perspective. The lack of character differentiation actually enhances the suspense because character development doesn’t clog up valuable screen-time. The dialogue isn’t dull at all – its apparent lack of sparkle means it does more because it’s not clogged up with banter or narration (again, this enhances the suspense effect). It’s a blue-print for how to write contained suspense.

    • Omoizele Okoawo

      It is very easy to hide the fact that your story idea is weak or that your plot is nonexistent behind flowery language. When your idea is good enough that the novelty of it jumps out at you and just communicating it suggests really interesting scenes and plot ideas you don’t need a lot of description. I feel like cursory descriptions means the writer is confident enough in the idea of his story that he doesn’t need to do the set designers job or the directors job in his descriptions to hide the fact that his plot or his story idea is weak or nonexistent.

      That’s one of the reasons why Meat fell flat for me; replace all the well written description with cursory description and the emperor has no clothes.

      Alien put the novel idea of a haunted house story combined with scifi front and center so the writers didn’t need to convince anyone that the aliens were supposed to be scary; they were making a horror film, that’s the director and the special effects departments job. All the writer needed to do was write down the dialogue and the sequence of events that would give the director and the designers the opportunity to shine with the resources they had.

  • ripleyy

    I guess you could say this interstellar vagina was… out of this world *snickers*.

    No, but seriously, what the fuck is this?

  • klmn

    Didn’t Robert DeNiro do an uncredited rewrite of Taxi Driver? IIRC, Julia Phillips said that in her book.

    https://www.amazon.com/Youll-Never-Lunch-This-Again/dp/0399590900/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1505928855&sr=8-1&keywords=you%27ll+never+eat+lunch+in+this+town+again

  • writecraft

    Oh cmon, would love to hear your take on Mother! since it’s turning out to be one of the most controversial films this year

    • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

      What’s so “controversial” about it? Everyone seams to hate it.

      They ONLY people who are defending it are they ones who made it. Gotta have some love mixed in there too for there to a “controversy”.

      In JUST seeing the trailer “Mother” looks so-so. Javier Bardem as the bad guy with a secret looks interesting, but Jennifer Lawrence’s character looks like a complete loss.

      • lonestarr357

        It has its defenders, somehow. I’ve only seen the trailer myself and I couldn’t fucking tell you what the movie was about at gunpoint. I’d read about the movie and the ending and I think that’s what people are taking away from it, myself included. For a studio to greenlight a film with an ending that Austin Powers’ Fat Bastard would approve of, one can only imagine the blackmail it took to get the film made.

        • Kirk Diggler

          “For a studio to greenlight a film with an ending that Austin Powers’ Fat Bastard would approve of”

          Get in my belly.

        • Justin

          I feel like the director intentionally mislead people with the trailer. Of course, this seems to have been a huge mistake.

          I watched a review of the movie, and it just… I don’t know, my mind’s fucking scrambled :|

  • Andy M (formerly andyjaxfl)

    Oh God, I hope Dicaprio stays far, far away from The Joker. Not because I don’t think he’d make a good one — he certainly would — but a Joker origin movie is a terrible idea.

  • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

    WOW, are you really THIS guy:

    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0270189/

    If so, my hat’s off to you. What a GREAT career! Keep up the fine work.

  • Levres de Sang

    If we’re comparing the scripts of Taxi Driver and Spielberg’s Close Encounters then I’d say the former is far more coherent than the latter. However, there’s one thing that’s always bothered me about Taxi Driver: Travis’ Mohican haircut comes out of left field. All we needed was to see a doodle or two on his diary / notepad during that training-his-body montage… In other words, it was a payoff without a setup.

  • Poe_Serling

    Remember George Lucas actually wanted Lynch to direct
    The Return of the Jedi.

    In that particular case, even Lynch realized that he wasn’t
    a good fit that kind of project.

    • brenkilco

      Don’t get that at all. His ultimate choices for the sequels were capable journeyman, not guys who were going to rock the boat. Wonder what he was thinking.

  • brenkilco

    It may be apocryphal but I’ve read that the script for Ben Hur went along very detailed and literate and at a certain point you turned the page and all it said was ‘Chariot Race.’ Sometimes not even a blueprint.

    • Jaco

      One version of the script I’ve seen definitely qualifies as “detailed and literate” – a lot of words fill those 235 pages. No page with just “Chariot Race” – the bit is described in detail, but there are a few scenes later in the script where all it says is “(Scene content later).” Certainly plausible there could be an earlier draft where they did the same for the chariot race scene.

      Interestingly, a bunch of “we see” spattered about on the pages.

      • Malibo Jackk

        You had to mention “we see.”
        Now I can’t even read Ben Hur
        for fear the “we see”s will take me out of the script.

        • Jaco

          We understand.

  • Bitches!

    100th comment, bitches!

    • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

      Gosh Bitches!, it’s good to have you back.

  • Spielberg fan

    I’m a huge fan of Spielberg. I’ve said this once before, but I’m deeply impressed how Spielberg can make two films about aliens, CETK and ET, and yet both are vastly different. Even though CETK has an intimate story, following Roy, it also views it from a wider perspective, as the government/military/world experiences these strange events, but ET is totally, and tonally, very different, following a child/children’s perspective of an alien encounter. Both these stories are vastly different, and it’s hard to believe it’s made by the same person. Spielberg is such an infinitely talented individual. He’s just incredible.

    I’m also just going to put this out there. I love Artificial Intelligence. I get the sense that there’s a lot of Kubrick fans who consider the movie some sort of perversion. But just taking it for what it is, irrelevant of who wrote or even directed it, I think it’s an amazing cinematic experience. I’m in love with the idea that this (naive) robotic child goes on a journey to become real so his mother will love him. And it actually works in the end (not quite how he planned, but it does work out). It’s one of the most emotionally pleasing films I’ve ever watched.

    I also have no idea why people don’t like Temple of Doom so much. Or they apologize for liking it. It think it’s great. I understand it stands out from the other two in many ways, but I still just love everything about it.

    • Erica

      Big fan myself and love all of Spielberg’s films, well 1941 is…funny?

      My life’s goal is to meet him (as I’m sure are millions of others). One day maybe will be working on a project together. Yup, it could happen, well in my world anyways.

      • Justin

        It could definitely happen. No doubt about it. Let’s just hope he doesn’t retire any time soon.

  • brenkilco

    We will have to agree to disagree. Yes the scenes are short and it moves. The same could be said of Friday the 13th. Not only do I not find the characters unique. I don’t find any of them remotely interesting. The first rate cast of the movie really makes you understand what actors do for a living, which sometimes involves making something out of nothing. The movie does have an irresistible premise, which honestly does owe a lot to the fifties grade z’er Zontar The Thing From Venus, including the climax. The basic story is really nothing. The monster comes aboard, kills one crewman than another, than another until the last survivor blasts it out an airlock. The End. It has a couple of interesting incidental ideas, the face hugger and the duplicitous cyborg, and one killer idea, without which it would certainly never have been made; the chest buster. This script sans the buster might have been Zontar. Scott and Giger made it Alien.

    A writer can get away with a script as skimpy as this if he knows it’s going to get made. As an original though, it’s not so much terse as skeletal.

    • Poe_Serling

      “The movie does have an irresistible premise, which honestly does owe a lot to the fifties grade z’er Zontar The Thing From Venus, including the climax.”

      I wasn’t aware of the Zontar (never seen it) and Alien connection.
      Interesting stuff if true.

      I know of Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires influence on the
      Scott film.

      • brenkilco

        God, I am so embarrassed. I mixed up Zontar The Thing From Venus with It: The Terror From Beyond Space. Not a joke. It is actually the proto Alien. Just lost my Z grade fifties sci-fi merit badge.

    • filmklassik

      Oh man I love Hill & Giler’s screenplay for Alien — but I understand your reservations. I think the telegrammatic, spartan style they chose to employ remains effective for certain types of genre flicks, action and horror in particular. Not sure I’d want to read an adaptation of Anna Karenina that was written that way. Then again, it strikes me that there is a direct line from what Harold Pinter was doing in his screenplays of the 1960s to what Hill & Giler – – and Hill himself, in a couple of scripts (Hard Times and The Driver) — were doing later on.

      James Ellroy’s been writing entire NOVELS using that staccato, “Western Union” style of prose for about 20 years now, and they’re unreadable. I much prefer the more traditional books he was turning out in the 80s and early 90s.

      So I think a little of that style goes a long way.

      • brenkilco

        I think it was real balls not to even describe the alien. But I forget what a heavy hitter Hill was back then. This is what you’re getting. Make it work. Pinter’s stuff is so pared down it’s almost funny. The script for Quiller, which I know I’ve talked about before, barely describes anybody or anything. But if you’re gonna go that route I think it helps to be a genius.

        • filmklassik

          Excellent point. Genius never hurts. And I’m not sure Walter Hill qualifies — although he’s pretty damn good at times.

          Pinter on the other hand, yeah, is almost equivocally brilliant, but I’m not sure Pinter could have written Hard Times, The Getaway or 48 Hours any more than Walter Hill could have written Betrayal or The Servant.

          …Although Hill *could* have written Quiller. But it’s hard to imagine his script being as twisty or cerebral as Pinter’s. Or having an ending that carries quite as much impact.

  • Malibo Jackk

    Duel = Jaws on wheels.
    Logline: A man with a fear of asphalt must stop a 20 ton truck
    from terrorizing slow driving motorists.

  • Marija ZombiGirl

    Writers must keep this in mind

    I’d say “DIRECTORS must keep this in mind”. We, as writers, know it which is probably one of the reasons that some nonsensical notes drive us mad because everything is not completely up to us: choice of lighting, scoring, cutting, for instance. And trust me, I know firsthand all there is to know about directors unable to project themselves into what is essentially their own movie – well, script but you know what I mean.

    Your first long post merits a stand alone chapter in a book on directing.

  • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

    You can bag on me all you want, Peter. It’s the popular thing to do around here. Cool, you giving me a shout-out on my blogsite. Wish I was more popular. Maybe someday…

  • filmklassik

    Hang on, are you saying Taxi Driver was re-written by another, uncredited screenwriter? I’ve never heard that before. Are you sure about your sources?

    Only reason I’m skeptical is because Scorsese went on to hire Schrader for a number of other projects, and I can’t believe he’d be so quick to hire the guy who couldn’t cut the mustard during their first collaboration.