Sorry, no link today! :(
Premise: A private satellite contractor is sent to Hawaii to oversee the launch of a secret satellite.
About: Cameron Crowe’s next film was supposed to be released this year but got pushed back for unknown reasons. Ben Stiller and Reese Witherspoon were attached at one point, but I don’t know if that’s still the case. Crowe likes to shroud his projects in secrecy, though this draft has been floating around for a year now. There’s a chance this was a “vomit draft”, the first draft meant to “get everything out”, which would explain a lot in regards to what I read. But my sources tell me while there will be changes, all the main stuff will probably stay intact. Having said that, if I were a betting man, I’d say that production got pushed back because of script concerns. There are a lot of concerns here. A lot. And I can see producers getting all jumpy after reading this.
Writer: Cameron Crowe
Details: 142 pages (May 2008 draft)
Cameron Crowe was an inspiration to me growing up. Say Anything. Singles. Jerry Maguire. These were movies that shaped my love of film. The guy accomplished something that no other filmmaker in history had managed to do: He made romantic comedies cool. I could go on and on about how much I loved every single word Crowe wrote but I don’t have enough time or enough space. What I can tell you is how difficult it was watching his movies lose their edge. I wasn’t in love with Almost Famous but I definitely found it enjoyable. The same can’t be said for his next two movies. The one-two punch of Vanilla Sky and Elizabethtown was like showing up to your birthday party only to find everyone dead. There are many negative reactions you can have after a bad film, but the worst is easily disappointment. How difficult is it watching a film fall short of your expectations? Ugh. For me it’s the worst.
But hey, I still love Crowe. He seems like one of the true “good guys” in the business and one of the few people who genuinely cares about making good movies. Which is why this review pains me so much. I say this as a fan. I say this as someone who doesn’t want Crowe to fall back any more than he has: He shouldn’t make this movie.
The script is incredibly ill focused. We’re talking private satellite contractors, Hawaiian military bases, government politics, Afghanistan, a potential war with China, a mystery character in Wyoming, native Hawaiian voodoo, cursed volcanoes, a military that won’t launch without the natives’ blessing. And all this is wrapped around…a romantic comedy??
As I was reading Crowe’s script, I found myself asking the same question over and over again: What is the appeal here? Who would go see this movie? Women don’t want to see a romantic comedy about satellite contractors. And men are going to be weirded out by all the spiritual Hawaiian mumbo-jumbo. And those are just the first two plots. There are 7 or 8 subplots in the film as well. If I haven’t made myself clear, there’s a lot fucking going on in this film. Every writer is told to ask themselves this question before, during, and after they write a script: What is your movie about? I don’t think Crowe ever asked himself that question because it’s just so all the hell over the place.
Brian Gilcrest is 37 and sells satellite systems to anyone who has money. And I do mean anyone. We start off in Afghanistan with Gilcrest explaining to a bunch of Afghani Tribesman how to operate their new satellite. When things don’t go well, Brian goes apeshit (the man has a bit of an anger problem), and as a result, gets killed by the Afghans. Yes, our main character is dead on page 3.
So then we fast-forward to Brian’s funeral back in the states. It’s here where we meet Tracy, his ex-wife and one of the many completely unnecessary subplots. Just as the priest is sending the coffin down, an officer pulls up, jumps out of his car, and announces to everyone that Brian is still alive! I’m assuming this scene is meant to be funny but man…it just felt…off. I mean, this kind of thing would work great in a Will Ferrell comedy. But here? In a movie we’re supposed to take seriously? It’s one of many miscalculations that pop up in the script. But whatever, I’m being picky. We flash forward to a year later where we find our main character on one of the most beautiful islands in the world…
After World War 2, Hawaii’s significance as a defense post diminished greatly. But recently with all the crazy shit going on (those wacky North Koreans), the army wants to have a strong presence on the islands. As a result, a small 60s-styled military town which was once deserted is now thriving again. Brian, who was blacklisted after the Afghanistan incident, is given a second chance here on the island as he overlooks the launch of a joint private/military venture: a secret satellite known only as “Elevation.”
While overseeing the project on the private side, he’s paired up with a strange Airforce Major named Lisa Ng, who represents the Airforce’s interest in the project. Brian is not happy as he thought he’d be flying solo here. The two’s first assignment is to establish a rapport with and get the blessing of the Hawaiian natives for the satellite’s launch. Getting this blessing is so important that the launch cannot be made without it. It is on this trip (to one of the other islands) where the two get to know each other, and learn more about the ancient voodoo myths surrounding the islands, which may or may not end up summoning the Gods if they don’t handle their business.
The natives are skeptical but cool with the launch as long as it’s not military in nature, which Brian assures them it’s not. But later on, in a surprise that you’d be retarded not to have seen coming, it turns out the satellite is indeed very military in nature. When Brian finds out he’s pissed as all hell, but in another subplot, China has blown up a satellite with a ground-based missile, upping the need for a better satellite defense. A decision is on the table. Brian must decide if he wants to have a conscience and prevent this evil satellite from launching, or reap the personal and professional benefits of overseeing the successful launch of one of largest private space ventures in history.
As I sat there after reading this, I went through about 15 minutes of, “Is this just over my head?” Did I not “get it?” Could this be a case of reading a genius script but I’m too stupid to realize it? I was so pained by the possibility that I sent it out to two people. The first one, a girl I know who, interestingly enough, hates Jerry Maguire and loves Elizabethtown. And the other, a guy, who likes all the Cameron Crowe movies I mentioned plus has an unhealthy love for Almost Famous. I eagerly awaited their reactions. So I waited. And waited. The verdict? Neither of them could get past page 30. I begged them to keep going but they both said there was simply too much going on and none of it was any good.
Huh. Talk about breaking criticism down to the bare essentials. But they were right. We don’t know what we’re supposed to be focused on here. We don’t know what the end goal of the story is. I mean, I guess it’s the satellite launching. But we don’t have any reason to care about whether the satellite launches because the stakes of it not launching are zero. If Brian stops it, who cares? I’m sure Crowe would argue that world peace is at stake. If we launch the satellite, maybe, MAYBE, China might get mad and blow us up. Well yeah, and maybe swine flu will mutate into a plauge next week and we’ll all be dead by December. There’s a lot of things that could maybe happen. It doesn’t mean they will.
I will say this about Crowe. The man is fearless. He’s not afraid to ignore the rules and take chances. You have to admire that in an artist. When you look at Jerry Maguire, that movie had a funky structure and a lot of characters as well. But in that film, we really felt that if Jerry and Rod failed, that that was it for them. They were through. And so we desperately wanted them to succeed. I never felt that once in this script.
The one place where the script excels is, not surprisingly, the relationship between Brian and Lisa. Or I should say the early scenes between Brian and Lisa. Brian’s a broken down mess of a man trying to gain back some respectability. Lisa’s this socially retarded company woman who cares only about the next link in the chain of command. It’s all business for both of them in this endeavor but come on. We know it ain’t going to be business for long. Crowe writes these tension filled “I don’t like you but I really do” scenes better than any writer out there. And watching this relationship evolve was the lone shining star in the script. Unfortunately the characters become causalities of the sprawling unfocused story. After awhile, they just get swallowed up.
Speaking of the military I should get a medal for summarizing this script. The above is a supremely simplified version of what I read. There are tons of characters and countries and motivations and storylines involved that I didn’t even touch upon. Partly because it would be too confusing and partly because I didn’t understand them. I applaud Crowe for exploring such a unique world. But ultimately this story doesn’t work on any level. It pains me to say this about one of my idols, but if I were Crowe, I would not make this film. It simply isn’t a good story.
[x] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: In a world where nobody gives you their honest opinion, how do you know when something you’ve written is bad (or good)? There’s no full-proof way to find out. But there are some things you can do. First of all, know that whatever friends and family say, they’re usually embellishing by up to 20-30%. So If they say they liked it, that probably means they thought it was average. If they say they loved it, it probably means they thought it was good. A good idea is to ask them pointed questions. What did you think of the protag? Did you like the relationship between the leads? Was the final act satisfying? If the friend is excited to talk about these things, chances are they were at least into it. If they seem disinterested and keep their answers short, chances are they weren’t. If you really really really want an honest opinion, have your friends give it to someone who doesn’t know you. Have them tell the person that they have no personal connection to the writer but need to know if the script is great or sucks. Make sure your friend asks them key questions afterwards. It’s not easy to find someone to read a stranger’s script, but I promise you, you will get that completely unbiased opinion you’re looking for if you do. I’ve found that being able to read people helps as well. The way someone talks can give away whether they loved or hated your masterpiece. If they’re reciting their favorite scenes to you unprovoked. If they say things like, “Did you really write this?” If they ask you two weeks or two months down the line, “What’s going on with that script?”, these are signs that you have something good. And of course, try to get as many opinions as possible. It’s not easy (this generation – more than any other – hates to read) but if you can convince a group of people to give you feedback, you can get a good sense if what you’re writing is good or bad. — P.S. Any other suggestions on this issue are welcome in the comments.