no link :(
Premise: An 8 year old girl’s wish for her parents to get back together results in the island of Manhattan, where her father lives, detaching and sailing across the ocean to Spain, where she and her mother live.
About: So the trades are reporting all these weird details about the script that have a little girl living in England making a wish via lighthouse candles to see her father again. But those reports were made back in April, and the draft I have is dated June, 2009. So it seems like a lot of those details have changed. If this is the official new direction they’re taking or if they’re planning on changing it even more, I’m not sure. What I do know is this: Will Smith has signed on to play the lead character in The City That Sailed. He’ll be teaming up once again with his go-to New York director, Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend). I mean, they brought New York into the future. Why not bring it to Europe? Now supposedly this is Will Smith’s next project. But if you go to Smith’s IMDB page, you’ll see that he has 25 projects in development. So I’ll believe it when I see the first production photos. Smith will also be producing the picture with Overbrook Entertainment partner James Lassiter.
Writer: The Wibberleys (previous draft by Andrew Niccol)
Details: 130 pages (June 9, 2009 draft)
I guess we’re all driven by the concept, right? We try to put up this façade like we’re better than that. That it’s what’s inside that matters. And don’t get me wrong. The inside *definitely* matters. But there’s nothing that sparks the imagination quite like a cool concept. So when I heard there was a script about Manhattan detaching and floating off into the ocean, I just thought that was the coolest sounding thing ever. I didn’t know how it detached. I didn’t know why. But I wanted to find out.
Imagine my surprise when I learned the reason Manhattan detached was because a little girl wishes for it to. A little girl wishes it? A little girl wishes it!!??? That’s what I got all excited over?? I thought this was going to be a cool sci-fi destruction movie! An action film! A terrorist plot! But an 8 year old girl making a wish while holding a snow globe?? That’s definitely not what I had in mind. All my enthusiasm went right out the window by page 10. What the hell am I reading? Liar Liar?? I was so pissed that for the next 20 pages, I barely paid attention.
And then a funny thing happened. I found myself slowly getting roped back in. I couldn’t believe it at first. I had so given up on this story. Yet somehow I was looking forward to the next page. And then the next page after that. How did this happen? Well, I think it’s because “City That Sailed” is unlike any script I’ve ever read before. It’s just…odd. I bitched about Henry’s Crime not having a genre but “City” crosses into more genres than a student thesis film. It lives by its own rules and has its own agenda and as a result is a completely unique experience.
Greta Cooper is an 8 year old girl who lives in Spain with her mother, Anna. Greta’s father (Anna’s ex-husband) is Elliot. Elliot still lives back in Manhattan, where he operates as the director of Homeland Security for New York. When Greta finds out that her mom plans to marry Javier, star of the Spanish soccer team (in one of the more ridiculous choices for a character I’ve seen in awhile – but hey, this is The City That Sailed, where logic is thrown out the window), she makes a wish that her mother and father will get back together while holding a magical snow globe (note to all writers: There is no such thing as a non-magical snow globe in movies. So if you use one, make sure it’s magical).
We truck over to Manhattan where it’s just another average day in New Yawk when WHAM, a huge jolt rocks the island. And then another. And then another. Bridges start SNAPPING off their grids. Remember that crack in the earth that comes during the earthquake in the original Superman? Child’s play compared to the one rocking 5th avenue. Buildings are swaying. People are freaking. It’s absolute chaos. And the next thing you know, Manhattan is floating down the Hudson River!
Elliot is quickly on a direct line with the president trying to figure out what the hell is going on. The top two choices are a terrorist attack and some kind of unique earthquake. But the more information they collect, the less each of those causes makes sense. In the meantime, scientists start calculating the destination of the island, and it looks like the island is heading directly towards…Spain!
When Greta hears this information on TV, she announces to her mom that her wish worked. When Anna asks what she’s talking about, Greta explains the whole snow globe fiasco. Of course Anna thinks she’s crazy but then again…SO IS MANHATTAN FLOATING ACROSS THE OCEAN!
Things only get weirder from there. The media finds out that Elliot and Anna are divorced, Anna is now getting married to Javier, and the island is scheduled to arrive at Spain on the day of the wedding. As a result, they run with the story that he’s coming to break up the wedding. The paparazzi and internet are going crazy. David Letterman (still broadcasting from New York mind you) is cracking nightly jokes about their predicament. Everyone’s dancing in the streets. People are water skiing off the back of the island. It’s…bananas.
And somehow, it actually works. I’m still not sure how, but I was definitely entertained. When writing a movie, the list of priorities usually goes: story, character, dialogue, etc. But City That Sailed doesn’t excel in any of these areas. It excels in the area that’s supposed to have the least affect on the emotions of the audience: Spectacle. This movie is one giant spectacle and the images described are so wild, so breathtaking, so fucking back-breakingly loopy, that they’re the main engine driving the island, err—the story forward.
The sequence of Manhattan plowing through the Hudson River alone will be worth the price of admission. The shots from underneath the ocean looking up at the underside of the Island, its car tunnels and its cracked off subways…it’s just something that we’ve never seen on film before. When New York sails past the Pico Islands, considered to be one of the most beautiful places on earth…you can’t help but smile imagining it.
But if I’m being fair, I do have some problems with the story. Because as a story, The City That Sailed is more like a rented sunfish than a world renowned cruiseliner. Anna and Elliot’s failed marriage boils down to the old “He worked too much.” The problem here is that Elliot has the best excuse in the world for working too much. He’s saving human lives! He’s protecting America! For that reason, we don’t see his choices as selfish, and actually sympathize with his situation. In addition, Javier the soccer player feels like such a joke, such a cartoon of a character, that he’s never a true threat. Without a true threat, we’re never worried that Elliot and Anna won’t end up together. And finally, the entire relationship between Elliot and Anna has to be done over the phone (the nature of this story unfortunately) and therefore we never get a true sense that the couple is making progress. Since the relationship is *supposedly* driving this story, that’s a big deal.
But who needs all that nonsense to work when you have New York floating through the ocean!!?? This isn’t so much a movie as it is the ultimate vacation. Smith and his boys are betting that they can throw this thing up at Christmas and nab every single demographic in the country. And the truth is, they just might. Because of the mechanics of the story, I don’t know how much more it can be improved (besides getting rid of Javier. Please, for the love of God, get rid of Javier) but that’s okay. The script embraces what it is and what it is is a giant spectacle.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: The City That Sailed suffers from the main characters (Anna and Elliot) not being in close proximity to one another. No method of communication is as good as putting your two main characters face to face. Phone, e-mail, text messages, even video chat. You can get as creative as you want interchanging these things, but your story will always feel like it’s missing something if the characters aren’t in front of one another. I’m not saying some stories don’t warrant it (this one obviously does). Just know that when you choose to write these stories, you’re never going to get the romantic aspect to feel just right. And that’s why.