THURSDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

BEST IDEA WINS!


The best idea in your screenplay is going to be your story concept. You probably think I'm stating the obvious, but often a secondary idea captures the imagination of the reader... and that can cause big problems. If the reader is more interested in a subplot then your main story, your screenplay isn't going to be satisfying.

They have made a sequel to THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK which was a quasi sequel to Ken & Jim Wheat's PITCH BLACK - the marque-buster title leads me to believe they wanted to create a franchise around the Riddick character from the first film... but after this film flopped, they retired that notion. Why did this film flop? Let's take a look at the *idea* behind the script. The idea behind PITCH BLACK was a planet with a very very long "night"... and nocturnal predators. A shuttle crash lands on the planet during the day, but when the suns go down it becomes pitch black and the survivors can't see a thing... but the things can see them. Okay - the long night is a great idea, and the entire story revolves around it. How do you find a safe place to hide when it's too dark to see *anything*?

In PITCH BLACK Riddick (Vin Diesel) was a vicious convict being escorted to prison on the shuttle... who has the key to survival during the long night. He was part of a prisoner experiment where he was given night vision eyes. He can see in the dark.

So the cool idea we start out with in CHRONICLES is the night vision eyes... but that's only used once in the movie. Instead, the story is a mish-mash of cool ideas that don't really add up to a plot.

The story begins with a group of evil warriors called the Necromongers who seem to be a cross between the Knights of the Crusades and the Moonies. They have some sort of religion (that we never see practiced - nor do we ever see *any* evidence that it really exists - there's more orgainized religion centered on Neo in the MATRIX movies) and they go from planet to planet with a huge armada and some nukes, forcing people to convert or die. So there's an idea, even though it's not well developed: let's toss our badass convict into this group of religious conformists...

But that's not what happens. This film has ADD. So we cut to Riddick being chased by bounty hunters. That's also an idea - you could do an entire outer space FUGITIVE thing with the bounty hunter chasing Riddick. But the story has other ideas... lots of them. Because he's a badass, he kills all but the lead bounty hunter, and steals his ship. The lead bounty hunter tells him that the guy who put the price on his head is...

Keith David, one of the other survivors who made it all the way through PITCH BLACK, and is now a Holy Man on some danged planet. So Riddick flies the stolen space ship to the planet to confront David... basically delivering himself to the guy who put the price on his head. This doesn't make much sense to me - he does exactly what the bounty hunters wanted him to do.

Riddick and the Holy Man reunite, and he's introduced to Judy Dench... who is an "elemental" - a race that can disappear and seems to float when she's visible. Judy and David want Riddick to help them fight the Necromongers. Though you'd think Holy Man David dealing with forced religious conversion would be a good idea for a movie, it's hardly even mentioned. The "elemental" thing is also an idea that is never really explored - what the hell *is* Judy Dench? Why is she even on this planet? Why is she even in this story?

So now we have Riddick - an anti-social nonconformist - being asked to help a society fight against a conformist religious sect. That's a danged good idea - and it's too bad they don't really spend much time on it. That's an interesting variation on the idea behind ROAD WARRIOR (MAD MAX 2). In fact, the idea of the conformist religious sect is better than those scummy bikers and thugs that Mad Max had to deal with. You can imagine the scenes with Riddick and Keith David fighting the crusaders, and maybe David is captured and fights against the conversion process... And the cool scene where Riddick comes face-to-face with David *after* he's been converted. Twist! Plus the whole anti-social guy reluctantly becoming part of a society, which was done so well in ROAD WARRIOR. But, that idea is quickly tossed aside...

After the Necromongers take over the planet, a bunch of Necromongers surround Riddick with pointy sticks and demand that he go into the mothership for conversion. He refuses, kills the biggest one, and you just know he's going to escape and go into the hills to form a resistance that will come back and whip the rest of the Necromongers.... but instead babe Necromonger Thandie Newton hootchie-cootches in front of him for a *second* and he willingly accompanies her into the mother ship! Again, doing exactly what the antagonists want him to do. Is he a wimp?

But wait! The lead bounty hunter and his new crew steals Riddick from the Necromongers, even though there's no longer a paying customer in the wings. These bounty hunter dudes go up against this unstoppable army - just because Riddick stole the guy's space ship. So, will Riddick convince the anti-social bunch to help him rescue the planet's society from the Necromongers? Nope - that idea is never even brought up. Instead Riddick asks them to take him to a prison colony where the *other* living survivor for PITCH BLACK is doing time. Okay, we have an escaped prisoner *asking* to be taken to the ultimate maximum security prison. Why? Because some kid he helped rescue years ago is now confined there. So, is Riddick anti-social or not?

Now we've had a bunch of ideas, a couple might have made good movies, and the one that appears to be dominant is the Necromongers (though the good parts of that idea are never explored). By the end of the film, Riddick will go back to Keith David's planet to kick some Necromonger butt. We just keep getting side tracked by other cool ideas that don't really pan out. But here's where the film runs into big trouble...

This whole prison planet thing seems like an Act 2 stall - something to hold off the inevitable battle between Riddick and the Necromongers (which was prophesied by Judy Dench's "elemental" character decades ago)... but the prison planet is the coolest idea in the entire film! You want to spend more time there, but the film has other ideas... lots of them. As we get off the prison planet and zip back for the big battle, you realize it can never be as cool as that prison planet. It's anti-climactic.

Okay - the prison planet: It's kind of the opposite of the PITCH BLACK planet. Where *night* was the problem on the PITCH BLACK planet, *day* is the big problem here. Morning temperatures are in the hundreds of degrees - when the sun comes up, anything in its path gets fried! The prison is in a cavern deep underground, and if a prisoner escapes? Well, they're toast. Unless they escape during that narrow band of pre-dawn where it's warm enough to survive, but not so hot that you burst into flames. So that's when Riddick and his gang escape... Only problem: now they are racing against the sunrise! If they slow down, they're toast! Not only is this a cool idea, it plays right into Riddick as a character because his night vision isn't an asset in a world of bright daylight... it's a liability. Of all the ideas they throw against the wall to see if they stick in CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK, this is the winner. You want to see an entire film about the prison break race against the sun - throw in some evil guards and you might end up with an amazing sci-fi version of NAKED PREY. Throughout the rest of the film, you keep thinking about that race across the planet - trying to outrun the sun. What a great idea!

Unfortunately, the race is only a few minutes long... then we get back to the Necromonger story. The best idea in the film is nothing but padding for the main story!

THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK never finds a better idea, though it burns through a half dozen more, and even manages to rip off THE WIZARD OF OZ and CONAN THE BARBARIAN at the same time at the end. After this mish-mash, the "Riddick Franchise" was toast... until Vin's huge hit FAST FIVE (Wait long enough and they forget.)

One of my early scripts was a spy thriller about a stolen high-tech weapon. Our hero was sent to recover the weapon, and evil villains tried to kill him at every turn. Sort of an American James Bond story. Two thirds of the way through the script we discover what this weapon is capable of. Since this weapon was worth killing for, I needed to come up with something amazing... and that was my mistake! My high-tech weapon was so cool that it overshadowed the whole script! Everyone who read the script wanted more of the high-tech weapon and less of the hero battling the villains. The secondary idea completely overshadowed the script!

That's probably the reason why we never see what's inside the briefcases in PULP FICTION and RONIN - the idea might have been more powerful than the rest of the films. Much better to keep it vague and mysterious! Whatever is inside those briefcases are never given a chance to overshadow the rest of the stories.

Remember when you're creating your story that the best idea wins - so make that the concept of your screenplay. The best idea shouldn't be a subplot, or a MacGuffin, or a threat made by the villain that's never acted upon. The best idea in your script... that's what the whole script should be about!




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