Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Indiana Jones And The Half Dozen Screenwriters

Hey, I have tickets for the new Indiana Jones movie Friday night... I can't wait!

But what the heck am I gonna see?

I bought the new DVD of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK with all kinds of extras...including a new doc that has everyone talking about how great Larry Kasdan's script was. Spielberg says they had this meeting with Kasdan that took the basic concept and turned it into something great... and then the screenplay he delivered was even better. If you managed to miss who Kasdan is, he's one of the great screenwriters of our time. He wrote RAIDERS and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and BODY HEAT and RETURN OF THE JEDI and BIG CHILL and SILVERADO and GRAND CANYON and CONTENTAL DIVIDE (great film - John Belushi) and THE BODYGUARD and others. But not a single frame of the doc shows Kasdan - he isn't interviewed, he isn't shown.

Kind of a mixed message, there. The script was great, Larry Kadan is a great writer... but we didn't think he was important enough to be on the doc about the movie he wrote. The invisible screenwriter.

The reason why it has taken 19 years for a sequel is always said to be finding the right screenplay. After THE LAST CRUSADE, the screenwriter of that movie (Jeffrey Boam who also brought the LETHAL WEAPON series back to life) wrote a screenplay that everyone except Lucas liked. Since then, Tom Stoppard and Steve Gaghan (TRAFFIC) did drafts that were rejected... and then it was given to Frank Darabont (SHAWSHANK) who was one of the writers on YOUNG INDIANA JONES. When I met Darabont many years ago, in the house where he was living up in the Holywood Hills, he showed me the brand new car he bought with Young Indy money. He wrote a draft of INDY 4 that Spielberg loved and Ford loved... and Lucas rejected. Drabont was kind of vocal about it - you can Google it, and find his complete tirade. Then a draft was written by M. Night Shamalamadingdong... probably with a twist ending. That draft was also rejected. I'm sure I left someone out - every hot writer has done a draft - some were rejected by all, some were only rejected by Lucas. Finally they found a script they all agreed on by David Koepp.

Koepp is kind of the go-to guy for big blockbusters - like WAR OF THE WORLDS and JURASSIC PARK. I'm a fan of his early thrillers (APARTMENT ZERO, BAD INFLUENCE, etc), and even like the stuff he's been writing & directing lately (his great little film TRIGGER EFFECT may end up the better version of Shamalamadingdong's HAPPENING film). I saw him on a panel once, and he talked about writing big films - often the director gives you a list of scenes and your job is to run a story through them. This means he probably took dictation from Spielberg and/or Lucas... hell, maybe even Ford. So Lucas gets *exactly* the script he wants...

And is that a good thing? I mean, look at the three STAR WARS prequels. Is that what I'm gonna see on Friday night? Indiana Jones meets Jar Jar Binks?

They always do director's cuts - you know, where Lucas screws up his old movies - but I'd really like to see the Writer's Cut - the Darabont version, the Night version, the Boam version, etc. Would those movies be better? Different? More interesting? Less Jar Jar?

Wouldn't it be cool to have all of these scripts on the DVD when it comes out?

What do you think the new movie is going to be like? Better than LAST CRUSADE? Worse than that awful second film?

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Mixed Genre Salad and my 20th film.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Chicken Ceasar salad at Fuddruckers.

Movies: THE VISITOR - I was fan of STATION AGENT when it came out, so I had to see the writer-director's new movie. Character actor Richard Jenkins plays a very uptight college prof who is practically forced to give a presentation in New York. When he arrives at his unusued NYC apartment... there are fresh flowers on the table. Someone's belongings in the living room. Someone is squatting in his empty apartment. Then he hears a noise from the bathroom - someone in the tub! Ends up a young immigrant couple have been living there - and they think *he's* the intruder. Once he proves it's his apartment, the couple agrees to leave... but when he sees them on the street he decides to let them stay temporarily. Until they can find a place to stay.

The woman (Zainab) is from Senegal, the man (Tarek) from Syria. She makes jewelry, he plays the bongos in several night clubs. Completely different than Jenkins' stuffy college prof.

The movie opens with Jenkins taking piano lessons, and not doing well. So we know he has some interest in music. He also has many CDs of a female pianist playing classical music. When Jenkins comes back from his event to find Tarek playing his bongos in the living room, he's interested in the music. They may be reluctant roommates, but they have music in common. Tarek offers to teach Jenkins how to play the bongos, and it's funny to watch the stuffy guy playing a wild instrument.

McCarthy's STATION AGENT was about accidental relationships, and so is this film. Though Jenkins has nothing in common with Tarek, they bond over the drums... and a scene where Tarek takes Jenkins to play in the park with a few dozen other bongo players is a high point of the film. But just when you think the story will be about a closed off man learning to losen up and the healing power of music, the story takes a major twist... and nothing is the same.

One of the things I loved about this film were the small moments - Jenkins delivers a letter from Zainab to Tarek at one point, and turns away as he reads it to give him privacy. Tarek's mother prepares dinner, and measures salt into her hand. Little bits of reality and character. There's even a nice little reveal about why Jenkins is taking piano lessons (the story may seem like McCarthy is making it up as he goes along, that life is just playing out; but in reality this is a carefully constructed script where some minor thing early in the film plays off later).

This is a nice little art house film, that takes a stuffy upper-middle class college professor and immerses him into a world of immigrants trying to make it in America.

- Bill


Brett said...

I had the occasion to meet and speak to Kasdan ay AFF a year or so back. I told him that he as much as any single man was my motivation for wanting to be a screenwriter, as anyone who could make John Belushi and Blair Brown a believable romantic pairing clearly was doing some cool shit.

He laughed.

CONTINENTAL DIVIDE is a tragically underappreciated little flick.

And Kasdan was even cooler in real life than I dared dream.

Ian Michael Hamet said...

A Jeffrey Boam cut is, alas, not really possible at this point, since cancer took him in the mid-to-late 90s (I wanna say '97, without looking).

I'll bet that his draft was brilliant, or just short of it.

And everything I've heard about the Darabont draft has been aces. Koepp, I'm afraid, never thrills me. He gets the job done, but not much more than that. (Haven't seen Trigger Effect, though.)

Leif said...

Went and saw it today and was really disappointed. It's a hard movie to judge since you can't help but compare it to no just the original movies, but also from the viewpoint of who you were back when you watched them.

That said, I think that is suffers from what you're describing. It feels very much like it was made more by compromising between different visions then by following any one vision.

Da Weave said...

Saw it last night, one word, mediocre. It has that same flat, by-the-numbers quality that ruined (for me) the Star War prequel films. There's never a hint of suspense. All the action sequences come off like watching someone play a video game. Lots of missed story opportunities. We can only hope that one day the other screenplay versions find the light of day, 'specially the Darabont.


Aric Blue said...

Wow, did it suck. I wanted to see the Darabont version. (although I read the Boam one a while back--the Noah's Ark one, and it was okay--better than this one)

Speedo said...

Bill - Thanks for the tip on The Station Agent. I netflix it and it is wonderful. I can't wait to see The Visitor when it comes out on DVD.

Whether you know it or not - your work on this blog gives this writer a lot of food for thought. Thank you.


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