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
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
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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