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Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure
Premise: Based on the sorta-famous 1980s video game, Rampage, three animals are infected with a virus that makes them grow exponentially larger and stronger.
About: Rampage is one of the more improbable projects out there. Based on an arcade game that only true arcade geeks remember, the project somehow got the biggest movie star in the world, The Rock, to sign onto it. I’m guessing by offering him an unheard of amount of money. The original script assignment went to Ryan Engle, who wrote Non-Stop (Liam Neeson). Current revisions were done by Adam Sztykiel, who penned the Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis road trip comedy, Due Date, as well as 2015’s Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip. The film is directed by Brad Peyton (San Andreas), and will be a big 2018 summer release.
Writers: Ryan Engle and Adam Sztykiel
Details: 116 pages
Here’s a little industry trick.
If you want to make a giant movie that’s similar to a major property, simply find an obscure property in the IP universe that’s in a similar vein, option it, and make that movie instead.
How do you make Godzilla or King Kong if you don’t have the rights to Godzilla or King Kong? You option little known 80s arcade game, Rampage! That’s how.
I’ll be honest. I was a BIG Rampage fan back in the day. Giant animals climbing buildings and destroying shit? How could you NOT be into that.
But how do you make a movie based on that? How do you create a mythology to make the animals big in the first place? And once you have them, how do you get them into the city? And once they’re in the city, how do you get all three of them climbing buildings? Why would giant animals all of a sudden be like, “Yo dude, let’s climb these buildings!” And how do you make it all believable? At least in relative movie terms? That was the challenge today’s writers had. Let’s see how they did.
Davis Ridley works at the San Diego Zoo as a gorilla wrangler, and there’s nothing he loves more. That’s because Davis gets along with animals better than he does humans. “You always know where you stand with animals,” is Davis’s mantra.
Meanwhile, up on the space station, because of course there would be a space station, a top secret project has gone haywire, killing all the scientists inside and sending the station spiraling into earth’s atmosphere. The station breaks into three pieces, crashing in three separate areas of the U.S.
One of those pieces lands near the San Diego zoo, where Davis’s favorite gorilla, a silverback named George, gets a hold of it. A few hours later, he’s leapt over the 20 foot high enclosure, found a bear, and mauled it to death. Davis is worried.
Soon after, Dr. Kate Caldwell shows up. Kate used to work for the space station company before getting fired last year. Kate is one of the few people who knows what’s going on. Any animal that gets a whiff of her secret virus will start growing infinitely bigger and stronger. And if you guessed that Kate and Davis don’t get along yet their interactions include a steamy romantic subtext, you’d be right.
Meanwhile, back at the Sears Tower in Chicago, the brother-sister CEOs of the space station enact a protocol-beacon of sorts that trigger the infected animals to come to them. I’m not sure what their ultimate plan is once these monsters show up in the middle of one of the biggest cities in America, but who cares! It means giant animals climbing buildings, baby!
Along with George the Silverback Gorilla, there’s a giant-ass wolf and a giant-ass crocodile also coming to join the fun. Will they make it to Chi-Town? And if so, how much building-climbing will they get in before the visual fx budget runs out? And how does The Rock fit into all this? You’ll have to wait until 2018 to find out, cause no way am I spoiling the rampage!
It was really interesting reading Rampage after the sci-fi script I review in the newsletter. One is the very definition of “taking chances,” while the other, Rampage, is the essence of formulaic. And I’m not saying that’s a terrible thing. 200 million dollar movies are going to be more formulaic than not. But therein lies the challenge. You have to take chances and be original SOMEWHERE. Or else there’s nothing to distinguish your movie, nothing to make it stand out or memorable.
Rampage was painfully predictable. It’s got the overcooked character flaw for its protagonist (he likes animals more than humans). It’s got the forced sexual conflict with its leads, Davis and Dr. Kate. All the plot beats, such as the inciting incident and act turns and relevant twists come exactly where they’re supposed to.
I struggled to find even ONE thing about this script that was a unique choice. I eventually came up with the CEOs of the space station company. The writers could’ve gone with the cliche mustache-twirling villain, but made it a brother-sister team instead. So at least there’s something original in the script.
Look, I’m not going to pretend that writing these scripts is easy. When you’re sending drafts into producers, they’re not coming back at you with, “Less Jurassic Park and more David Lowrey’s ‘A Ghost Story.’”
So the question becomes, how DO you make these scripts original?
I think it’s those little choices, like the brother-sister CEO team. If you can make a bunch of little original choices like that, they accumulate and the film starts to feel like something of its own.
But you also have to get the characters right. A huge problem writers run into with these movies is they just accept generic archetypes. When they’re writing Davis’s scenes, they’re not thinking, ‘What has this person been through in their life?’ They’re thinking, “What cool one-liner could The Rock say here?” And I admit, that’s fun to do. But I’d argue that understanding a character’s backstory and biography in a 200 million dollar movie is more important than in some Oscar-bound indie flick.
In the indie flick, the gritty dark palette of the screenplay leads us to give the characters the benefit of the doubt. In contrast, you have to actually work to convince us that the main character in a giant sci-fi adventure film is a real person. And if you don’t do that work? The character feels fake. And by association, everything he engages in feels fake.
Davis’s “Me like animal more than human” m.o. is a dime-store flaw. It’s the very definition of movie logic and doesn’t take into account how a real human being could’ve gotten to this place in their life, or if he should even be there at all.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m digging too deep. Maybe they’re just trying to make the Godzilla/King-Kong version of Tremors. A goofy fun silly adventure where nobody takes what’s happening too seriously. I just think it’s dangerous to do that. Whenever you move away from truth and real life, you get empty movies. Which is why I probably won’t see Rampage unless it has the best trailer ever.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: The forced “we don’t like each other because this is a movie” relationship between Davis and Dr. Kate really annoyed me. Remember guys, CONFLICT is not a reason for a character’s action. People don’t engage in conflict because they want to engage in conflict. In real life, there’s always a REASON behind the way people act towards one another. In Seinfeld, there was this super annoying character named “Bana,” a terrible comic who Jerry despised and never wanted to talk to. The Seinfeld casting directors scoured the acting ranks to find Bana. The direction they kept giving during auditions was, “He’s really annoying.” So hundreds of actors came in and they tried to be REALLY ANNOYING. The problem was, that’s all they were trying to be. Annoying. There was no reason behind their annoyingness. It was just to meet the character requirements. When the actor who eventually got the Bana part came in, he recognized that this lack of reason behind the annoyingness was a problem. So he asked, “WHY is he annoying?” And he came up with this little adjustment where Bana just really wanted to be Jerry’s friend. THAT’S why he was annoying. The casting directors were instantly on the floor laughing at the interpretation and the actor became one of Jerry’s favorites. Jerry would continue to find as many ways as possible to fit Bana into episodes. The point is, characters don’t just do things cause: SCRIPT. You have to find reasons behind why characters are acting the way they do. Then, and only then, will they come alive.