Premise: In the year 2047, a man pursues an illegal super-gene that can extend a person’s life by 300 years.
About: J.J. Abrams and David Klass sold this back in 1994. That was back when J.J. was writing and selling a lot of scripts, including the complicated (and much better than the movie) Regarding Henry, which he wrote when he was 24. One of the craziest writing stories I’ve ever heard is when a movie at the beginning of production (I’m so sorry but I’ve forgotten the title) didn’t feel like they had the script right. So they called J.J. and told him they wanted him to do a quick 1 week rewrite, and would pay him 1 million dollars for it. J.J. showed up but once he got there, everyone decided that they didn’t want to change the script afterall. So J.J. just hung out for a week and picked up a million dollar check. It’s one of those stories that sounds too good to be true but this is apparently well-known. Does anybody know what movie I’m talking about? I’m pretty sure it was a Michael Bay movie. Maybe The Island?
Writer: J.J. Abrams and David Klass
J.J. Abrams, to me, is this generation’s Steven Spielberg. Like a character in a video game, everything he touches is infused with an upgrade. This is a man who’s tapped into the collective conscience in a way nobody else is even close to right now. I mean, he figured out a way to make Star Trek cool! But before J.J. was an A-list Hollywood director. Heck, before he was even a TV director, he was a writer, like you and me. And this is one of his early efforts.
The last big 90s sci-fi script I reviewed was Kurt Wimmer’s Exit Zero. It’s funny reading these scripts because no matter how talented the writers are, the scripts are just dated. I mean, I think every 90s action script ever written has a guy running towards a window, shooting it, then jumping through, hurtling towards death, only to be saved by some “surprise” last second mechanism. Oh, and don’t forget the motorcycle chase where the motorcycer evades his pursuers by sliding under a semi truck. Yup, sadly, both of these appear in Shelter. If I see either of these scenes in screenplays TODAY, btw, I stop reading.
I have nothing against 1994 J.J., but 1994 J.J. is pretty fucking terrible. I mean this is a sprawling mess of a script in every way possible. It’s got no story. It’s got no direction. It’s got no point. Every bad choice that could have been made is made. I don’t even know where to start. I guess I’ll start with the story. If you can call it that. It’s New York City 2047. The distant and soulless Jack Muller is a high-tech thief. He and his futuristic mod squad break into a rich dude’s penthouse and jam a needle into his spine, extracting what, I think, is important molecular fluid that may or may not allow people to live for 300 years.
Jack meets up with his father, Derrek, who’s thrilled about this super-fluid, because the two can sell it to the Russians for millions of dollars and retire. Except while they’re making the deal with said Russians, the police swarm in and whisk them off to jail. For reasons I forgot and because there’s no way in hell I’m wasting any time going back to check, it’s determined that Jack will go into a witness relocation program.
The script then says the hell with what you thought this story was and becomes a witness relocation script! Are you bored out of your mind yet? Jack becomes “Michael” and moves in with the mysterious “Susan,” someone who’s also done something so bad she can’t talk about it. The two, even though they hate each other, must pretend to be husband and wife. Under no circumstances are they ever allowed to talk about their pasts. After an endless number of “Michael and Susan hang out” scenes that I swear had more tryptophan in them than tonight’s turkey dinner, we learn that Susan’s actually a double-agent, part of a setup to try and extract information out of Michael about where he’s hidden the immortal gene fluid.
Oh but wait! It gets complicated when Susan starts to fall for Michael! Ugh, please kill me now. This is worse than New Moon. Eventually she comes clean to him. Michael’s pissed. He leaves to try and reconnect with his dad. In the meantime, Susan tries to figure out where her allegiance lies. Does she help the “Program” get the immortal fluid? Or does she help Michael escape? I wish she would’ve picked option number 3. Killing me.
I’d be interested to hear what J.J. thought of this script today. Would he champion it? Would he admit that it sucked? For a man who can get anything he wants produced, there may be a damn good reason this remains unmade. Still, it’s an interesting glimpse into J.J.’s early sci-fi forays. For example, there’s a scene early on with robot motorcyclers that no doubt inspired the robot motorcycle that chases young Captain Kirk in the Star Trek movie. Other than that though, I’m giving this one a big fat snooze-alert. You’ve been warned.
Script link: No link
[x] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: So work with me here for a second. Why would you create a story where your characters sit around and do nothing? Why would you create a movie where your characters wait for things to happen to them? If you’re writing a story, have it be with a character who’s *actively pursuing his goal!* That makes your character *active*. The fact that he’s *doing* something will add a thousand times more excitement to your movie. It’ll also make your main character a thousand times more interesting. Put your character in a story where he waits around dozens of pages for something bad to happen and you’re going to bore your reader into a coma.