Monday, May 14, 2007

Script Review: We3 - Part 3

Grant Morrison has adapted his own comic book We3 into a feature film script, and it's even better than the comic which was already pretty amazing. In fact, I'll say it again: this is the greatest unproduced script I have ever read.

I've already published two long review pieces on the film - the first a kind of overview, the second looking at the action sequences. There were a few bits and pieces that I didn't get to address so far, and that's all I'm looking to do now - tie things up, fill in a few blanks. There's alos a few more excerpts from the pages I'd like to share.

So, what is We3 about? Well, everytime I get a new student, in our first class together, I essentially ask that question about a little list of films. Jurassic Park, for example - that's about dinosaurs, yes, but also a theme park, cloning, hubris, chases, natural order and so on. So what would I expect my students to tell me We3 is about?

About animal rights and animal cruelty. About feeling alone. About the military. About chases. About guilt. About grief. About hope and freedom. About fighting back. About instinct. About the cruelty of the natural world. About hubris, once again. About living things feeling a connection to one another - and why we need that.

Doesn't sound like the most uplifiting film, does it? Well, that's where you'd be wrong. Not only does We3 end on a very clear up-swing, there are plenty of scenes where, like fans rooting for their team in a particularly tight championship final, I can see the audience on the edge of their seats, ready to punch the air as the underdog, undercat and underrabbit overcome another obstacle. There aren't any cheap victories - for every brutal knockback our characters experience their breaks feel all the more deserved. This isn't a film of somebody kicking a dog while it's down, this is a film of that dog standing up, with it's own odd, slightly alien dignity, and getting the hell out of there - and promising itslef it's not going to lie down and be kicked ever again.

These animals don't need some kryptonite contrivance for us to consider their weaknesses - those are readily apparent. This is the rare kind of action film where the weaknesses are already obvious on page one, but where the resilience, tenacity and sheer will to survive become more and more clear the further the story proceeds. This is the I Will Survive of cybernetic animal slaughter chase films.

In a nutshell: you'll care about the We3, and that will make everything about the film work that much better.

Well, assuming that a decent director signs, not somebody who will drop the ball. I've no idea who's being lined up for this film, and I am cautious about the end result only in that respect. Let's discuss some candidates:

Michael Bay? Well, I suppose he's recently worked with producer Don Murphy on Transformers, and he seems to be a bankable option in view of all of the action. I don't think he'd do the film justice - he's not interested enough in the subtleties that elevate this from, say, Hard Boiled to something more like Bladerunner, Alien, Robocop or Terminator 2. And, frankly, there are better action directors than Bay anyway.

So how about James Cameron? Well, he'd be perfect in many respects, but it's moot. He's rather busy - and he originates his own material, too.

Ridley Scott then. Well, again, I can see that working out brilliantly. I'd have very few questions if Scott signed up to this one. It's never going to happen - he's signed up until the year 3000, I think - but if it did...

A young-ish upstart-y type is more probable. I've racked my brains, and I'm stuck. There are plenty I'd begrudgingly recommend, and who I'd think would make a pretty good job of things, but nobody seems to be the perfect choice. Pretty good choices, in one way or another, would be Florent Siri, John Fawcett, Brad Bird or Alex Proyas. My preferred option, when all is said and done, would be Vincenzo Natali. He's certainly capable of doing a sterling job on this film - but he's doing Splice, and in some ways the two are a little similar, so it wouldn't be as good a choice for him, necessarily, as it would be the film.

Perhaps I'm too in love with the script, terrified or some detail getting lost, some great beat getting missed. The ideas are all there, they just need to be respected.

Peter Jackson's Bad Taste and Braindead/Dead Alive might appear to be less competent than Heavenly Creatures, say, or The Frighteners, The Lord of the Rings and King Kong, but I don't believe that's the case at all. The issue is simply budgetary - with a crew, and some resources, and then the order that a good producer brings, Jackson really hit a string of home runs.

Some directors have had much higher budgets on their second, sometimes first, films than Jackson did on Heavenly Creatures and did a much worse job. Indeed, if you look past the production values that dollars bring in, past the sheen, they've done a worse job that Jackson did on Bad Taste. These are the directors who've had so-so hits with middle of the road genre fare, supposedly alternative indies and comic book adaptations. These are the directors likely to be offered a film like We3. These are the directors likely to fudge it. I'm not naming any names, but I hope you know the sort I mean.

Let's take a look at a couple of scenes from the script, to wrap things up.

Early in the film, a huge swarm of biorg rats are shown, building an engine from it's tiny component parts. I discussed this scene in the first part of the review, but only briefly. Here's a good hard look at it.

Doctor Senjei Honda is demonsrating the rats to Senator Dan Washington, and they're accompanied by Major Marvin Samson - "a tall man, uncomfortable in his skin, who stands stiffly and formally at all times and lives haunted with the memory of whatever mistake he made years ago that saw him wind up here at the head of this no-hope project"

It’s just astonishing. I mean, look at that, they’re just like little cartoon creatures, don’t you think?

He nods approvingly at the Major.

I had no idea what you’d been getting up to all these years, Marvin.

The rats go about their task industriously.

Animal slaves. What are the ethical implications?

Honda stops. He is matter of fact and direct.

Fortunately, rats have no ethics. There’s no doubt, Senator, that we can replace a very expensive and increasingly obsolete human workforce with a super-efficient animal alternatives like these... but that is only one limited application of our Research & Development program here.

So, let me get something clear. The technology’s a little outta my reach but am I right in thinking you’ve trained your animals to build machines? Is that correct, Doctor Honda?

Trained? No, not at all. We steer them, like cars. Denise?

Honda’s assistant, DENISE (24), appears and hands the Doctor a remote games console joypad, like the ones the operators were using earlier.

If you’ll allow me to demonstrate.

Honda demonstrates the ergonomically-designed control pad in his hands. Two joysticks for his thumbs.It’s the same device the Operators were using earlier.

You speak, quite rightly of course, of ethics. With your commitment assured, Senator, our intention is to save the lives of countless men and women in our armed services. Ethics on a plate.

Honda is trying to control his genuine excitement which causes him to tremble beneath the veneer of cool.

I’ll show you.

He holds the joypad up in front of his face.

THIS is the GUN of the future.

A scene of rats working on the machine.

It is my conviction that the wars of tomorrow will be fought by remote-controlled animals, like these.

This is an incredible scene, really. First of all, there's the visual component - the construction zone, the movement of the rats in it, the engine coming together. Then, as this unfolds before our eyes (like some old Art Attack, or Tony Hart or Rolf Harris painting) the conversation tells us all we need to know about these three men. And the We3 project can only exist because of a skewed ethical argument, and that is raised here, and there's a certain amount of off-kilter sense to it - even though it gets ripped apart quite comprehensively by future events. Morrison has scripted a perfect expositional scene - there's a lot more going on than meets the eye, but not a word of the surface text is wasted either.

The 'cartoon creatures' line has always reminded me of Morrison's Animal Man story The Coyote Gospel, very possibly the single greatest issue of an ongoing series that DC ever published outside of their Vertigo imprint, and certainly the high-water mark of Animal Man.

Honda goes on to be the (human) character in We3 that we can respect the most. This is where he begins, his starting position, and the escape of the animals leads him to undergo some important changes.

Note that, Denise aside, the cast of characters here is a rather unstarry. That's also true throughout the entire script - the animals take the spotlight, character actors are required for every other role. This will probably filled with "Hey! It's that one guy" and "Look! It's her" moments, but again, that's likely to benefit viewers overall.

I didn't find the script flawless, of course. Here's a section that needs a little fix, I think. Bandit has just picked up a familiar scent...



But whatever was once here, it’s gone now, replaced by a development site and these partially-constructed modern homes.

Bandit urgently sniffs the wind and for a moment, his superb sense of smell creates a strange POV image of the warehouse buildings that once stood on this site and where he once lived - walls and windows made of streaming vapor appear and disappear in ghostly fashion as Bandit snuffles and catches faint scent echoes of the past. A door opens, a man made of mist emerges and then its all gone, blown away by a following rotor wind.

The animals look down on a lifeless wasteland of scaffolding and cement with the sprawling city beyond. They’re fur begins to ruffle int he wind.

They’re beat and exhausted...but it’s not over yet as a bullet smacks hard into the dirt beside Bandit and makes him jump.

This visual conceit doesn't really work for me. Rendering scents as a vapoury image seems like a sensible thing to do if you're trying to ape animal senses, but it won't work 100%, and some of the audience will be lost a little. This is the kind of formal error, like zooming and jump cutting, that shatters a film's diegesis - and at this moment, we really need to be with Bandit - not least because of the shock that ends this passage, starts the next sequence. The idea that we can CG an emulation of a dog's POV is a fallacy - we need to construct a sympathy with the dog that works on our human pyshcology instead.

The answer is audio. The soundtrack needs to go down low, and Bandit needs to start recalling in audio. We're pulled into it, the surround sound traces of his memory taking him back. And as we are forced to imagine his remembered home, we can focus our attention on his face, his expression and experience and then... whap! The sudden noise of the shot hitting...

Of course, there's more to it than that, I've oversimplified. But, frankly, I think visually rendering this memory this way would be a mistake - and would miss an opportunity to really connect the audience to Bandit, to his experience, to the duality of his memory and the sad sight he sees now. "You can never go home" indeed.

That's just an example, but there's a couple of little shifts to be made, I think. They are all visual conceits, really - when it comes to the sequence of events, and the dialogue, and the structure of the plot and the relationships, Morrison has aced it.

So, that was the third and final part of my We3 review, wrapping up a few loose ends. To cut a long story short: with the right director, this film will become an instant classic, the kind of film that only builds its reputation as the years go by. It's accessible, it has a clear emotional throughline, a strong plot and more intellectual ideas buzzing around than a whole wall of Art House DVDs in Tower Records. What's not to like? Only the wrong choice of director could knacker this one. I'm hoping the producers take the right risks.


Bryan said...

I would suggest Alfonso Cuarón as a good choice for director. Chilren of Men not only had a great visual style, there were also tons of animals running around in the film.

So Mad at You said...

If that's the best unproduced screenplay you've ever read... my god.

Not only is it an utterly moronic setup, but the dialogue is terrible and the writer (he makes comic books, what a surprise) typed the same line of description twice (search for "the Operators were using earlier"), which makes it pretty clear he read this thing about 1 time.

If this isn't a ruse to bait people like me into flaming this post, then I hope you have no power in 'ollywood to get this tripe made.

Enough with the goddamned COMIC BOOKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

my question is, will this be made before jurassic park IV, which uses similar tech-advanced animals used for warfare?

Brendon said...

First of all, 'So Mad at You' - scripts are written to be filmed, not read as literature. So repetition is not relevant.

Secondly, you have essentially said that the entire medium of comic books is worthless. That strikes me as a blinkered, possibly utterly ignorant, point of view.

What's moronic about the set up anyway?

Johnny B said...

There's nothing moronic about it at all- there's just always someone, and probably always will be, that wants more than anything to be the little kid that observes that the emperor's naked, whether the emperor's clothed or not.

So Mad at You said...

This emperor may or may not be naked, but is definitely a hack, typos and all.

And yes, comic books ARE by and large for morons.

Rich said...

'So Mad At You', by and large, so are films.

Brendon said...

And TV. And, taking circulation into account, 'newspapers'.

trendle said...

Perhaps if we're lucky they'll get Sally Field to play the feisty cat again.

No, that was snide. I apologize. I've read the original source material for WE3 and it is very good indeed (even for an icky comic). I just don't know if it can be translated to film.

Anyway you look at it, a live-action scene with a dog dressed in a metal space suit decapitating Puerto Rican hitmen and shouting phrases like '1 B GUD DOG' or '2 NO 0' in a computer voice will end up being silly. But in saying that I understand that with a skilled director anything is possible. I agree with the poster above who suggested Alfonso Cuarón. The look and feel of Children of Men would suit this story perfectly, especially the scene towards the end of the film in the street and the destroyed building where the baby Jesus begins to cry and everyone realizes what the virgin Mary is carrying.

And yes, 'so mad at you' it's true that ignorance has become fashionable these days but don't you think it'd serve you well to check your facts before you make uninformed statements. "Only morons do this or that" seems like something an angry teenager or a frustrated 40-something would say.