Genre: Conspiracy Thriller
Premise: A SETI worker receives a mysterious signal from space that motivates a secret organization to try and kill him.
About: Media Rights Capital purchased this preemptively in May. Potter and Stravitz are big fans of the genre as they also wrote the script for the remake of “The Boys From Brazil” about the revival of the Third Reich.
Writer: Richard Potter & Matthew Stravitz
Signals has a solid, if not wholly original, premise for a thriller. Nick Freeman is an average 30-something who works at SETI (Search For Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). SETI, as many geeks know, analyzes signals from all over the universe, looking for patterns that may denote intelligent life. Most people see SETI as a joke. I mean, if an advanced civilization is out there, thousands or millions of years ahead of us technologically, are they really going to be transmitting in radio waves? That would be like us transmitting to other civilizations by clicking two rocks together.
But if anyone’s going to find life in the universe through SETI, it’s Nick. He’s a signal samurai who searches for meaning and patterns in signals, from music to speech to the everyday noises that the majority of us ignore. On what should’ve been just another routine day at work, Nick hears a signal that’s unlike any he’s heard before. He’s so overcome by its uniqueness that he copies it over to a jump drive. As the day winds to a close, he heads home, and that’s where, for lack of a better phrase, shit starts going crazy. When Nick stumbles into his apartment, he finds his landlord (who popped in to grab something and was mistaken for Nick) primed for a toe tag. A second later a SWAT TEAM screeches to a stop outside the complex. They don’t look too interested in due process. Poor Nick has no idea why these people are after him but he’s pretty sure that an open dialogue is out of the question. So Nick runs.
The thrillerness of the thriller ramps up and Nick zips around town like a chicken with its head cut off. Thinking that one of his coworkers might have some answers, he goes back to work only to find that his entire floor’s been leveled and everyone’s dead. Nick’s signal prowess apparently doesn’t extend into common sense since it takes him a good 20 pages to realize that maaaaybe the reason these people are trying to kill him is because of the signal he saved. With no one in the world left to turn to, he turns to the last person in the world who wants him, his ex-wife. Lindsey, a reporter, is all business and clearly has an issue with Nick’s slacker-like ways. Apparently the reason these two separated was because Nick never grew up (Hey, since when is looking for alien signals not a respectable job?). Unfortunately for Lindsey, she’s in this for the long run cause anybody Nick talks to dies a few hours later. You gotta give it to Nick. While everyone else talks about killing their ex-wife, Nick actually does something about it.
The two of them are off on a race through the city while whoever’s following them get closer and closer (though if I were the bad guys, I probably would’ve posted someone outside the ex-wife’s house the second Nick went rogue). At some point Nick figures out that they’re after the signal. Lindsey’s reporter instincts kick in as she realizes she might be sitting on the story of the century. Luckily, she happens to know a guy who knows a guy who’s a world class conspiracy theorist. So they speed off to his trailer out in the middle of nowhere and Crazy Dude tells them exactly what they’re dealing with. Or at least after we have the obligatory Illuminati reference. Apparently, the people who want Nick and his signal dead are known as “The Foundation”. Although not much is known about The Foundation, they apparently have ties to the “New World Order”, which is a supposedly behind-the-scenes worldwide organization of high-powered people preparing to create a single unifying government.
I think you already know what I’m going to say about Signals. It wasn’t bad so much as it was predictable. We just read Umbra and the two are similar in more ways than one. Of course here we have two people running from the bad guys, which at least allows us to explore a troubled relationship. Having someone to play off of as well as a relationship with an uncertain future gives Signals a complexity that its thriller cousin, Umbra, couldn’t match. Then again, part of the fun of Umbra was the fact that we were seeing a conspiracy through the eyes of a single man – making us feel that we ourselves were being chased. So which is better, it’s hard to say.
But who cares about that stuff, right? The piece de resistance is always the ending in these scripts. Where was the signal from? What did the signal say? In this respect, Signals gives us something we haven’t seen before. I wouldn’t say that I loved the ending, but the writers definitely put some effort into it. The New World Order is kind of the bastard child of conspiracy theories – the kind of thing you hear the Hickory Homeless Club babbling about on 4th street and Santa Monica. But Potter and Stravitz’s interpretation is actually kind of cool and at least gets you thinking.
Signals very well might be a serial conspiracy theorists dream. It mentions enough of the conspiracy catch phrases to give the doomsayer population their fix. I actually think the younger readers might have a blast with “Signals”. It’s got a nice edge to it and a few interesting tangents. But for someone who’s seen Three Days Of The Condor and all the conspiracy movies since, there’s not enough new stuff here for me to personally get excited.
Link: No link
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: In these films there needs to be a big twist around the mid-point of the story. Your protags have been running around for thirty minutes now, and if you don’t do something to change it up, or throw everyone (characters and audience) for a loop, you run the risk of your reader getting bored of the repetition. I don’t think Signals ever included that twist. Conspiracy thriller stories thrive on surprises, so make sure you have a big one near the middle.