Friday, August 08, 2008

Yet Another "Andromeda Strain"

I spent four hours watching the 2008 version of "Andromeda Strain," not because I LIKED it, but because it was a brilliant case-study in hack scriptwriting.

Do YOU want to write a script that is guaranteed to be filmed but will be disliked by everybody?

First you should go through your files and find a script you've already written, but which you didn't like much, or maybe it got rejected. This script could be about -- for example -- a deadly organism sent through a wormhole in space, and a bunch of scientists who try to unravel the mystery of how and why it arrived.

Then, when you're reading this mediocre script to your wife, maybe she could say "Hey, that sounds a bit like this book I read once...what was it called...The Gemini Strain? The Sirius Strain? Sort of like that, but less interesting."

Brood. Feel sorry for yourself. But when you hear that some producers want to remake Michael Crichton's "The Andromeda Strain," jump in and say "I'll do it!" and then just grab the set-pieces from Crichton's novel and mix them with your old script. It doesn't matter if none of them fit together. It doesn't even matter if doing so waters down (or completely removes) any of the interesting bits of Crichton's book, such as the actual BIOLOGY of the organism or the blatant "if it can go wrong, it will" theme. Get rid of that stuff and replace it with up-to-date science, like computers you can converse with in plain English and hilarious "ePaper." Don't forget the Buckyballs.

Suddenly you find out that this is going to be a FOUR HOUR MINISERIES! Open your textbook of American Character Archetypes and assign one to each person in the script (stuff like "father is too busy but still loves his son anyway" and "would do anything for her country EXCEPT sacrifice her family" and "no-nonsense, brilliant female surgeon waiting for a man of her caliber"). You need to do this to replace all that science stuff you took out. Make everybody twenty years younger, and cute. Because the best scientific minds are always young and cute, you know. Make them fall in love.

Having done all this, choose to make the story TOPICAL, whether it wants to be or not. Throw in everything that you read about in yesterday's newspaper, especially terrorism and offshore drilling (errr, "mining undersea vents," rather). Make the script exceptionally critical of all the illegalities and excesses of the Bush administration, but because you don't want to end up defending yourself against Ann Coulter on a talk show, replace President Bush with a likable man who says things like:
AIDE: We can evacuate your wife and child immediately, sir.

PRESIDENT: And what about all the OTHER wives and children? Huh? What about them? GET OUT OF MY SIGHT!
Oh! And don't forget to Always Support The Troops. should it end? You need a climax. Better yet, you need four climaxes simultaneously! One of these climaxes should involve an acrophobic who has to catch the severed thumb of a closet homosexual war-monger, which was cut off and thrown to him by a man who is epileptic and dying in a pool of radioactive water. Because it's that kind of movie.

Finally, at the bottom of your script, write "Crap CGI only!" and underline it.


Scott said...

Laughing out loud at this at work...I think you've hit the nail on the head as to how this sort of thing works. :)

I haven't seen the original Andromeda Strain in years (for some reason I always want to call it the Andromeda STAIN, which may be a more appropriate title for the remake, according to this ;) ), but I hear nothing but Bad Things about the remake.

Still, it inspired this entertaining blog post, so it can't be all bad, right?

Anonymous said...

Gee. Tell us how you really feel!

Adam Thornton said...

If it wasn't obvious from the review...I LOVED IT!

The original Andromeda Strain was no great shakes either, but at least it had some sort of integrity that it shared with the book: an almost neurotic obsession with the hard science involved, and the desire to accurately portray the exhaustion (and subsequent problems) with intense research in a time-sensitive situation.

The Donkey Kong-ish ending was completely stupid, but just a minor deviation.

Really, I don't think there's any reason to see either movie.

Anonymous said...

In my youth, I had read the book and seen the (original) movie. I liked the premise, but was a little spooked by the bio-warfare potential (why was an alien-germ lab really set up? - for something from outer space?)

I also liked certain subtle touches, such as:

The hoarsely whispered code, "There's been a 'fire'," that gathers the scientists and starts them scrambling toward the lab;

A piece of paper jamming the teletype machine’s bell (okay, a bit outdated today);

Shelly Winters sitting rigidly in an epileptic seizure brought on by (I think) blinking strobe lights – apparently this can happen.

Recent events in the US (Dr. Ivins and the anthrax) make me think that scripting and plotting of this remake may be an exercise in recapturing more innocent times, when it was just us good guys against the bad space goop or bad space aliens (ditto the ‘War of The Worlds’ remake).

Well, in reality, we have met the enemy, and, yes, he is us! What now. Pogo?

Adam Thornton said...

Sadly, much of Andromeda Strain's charm was its old-worldiness -- the paper in the bell, the global cooperation, the trusted government.

But the remake is entirely NOT that. It's an attempt to cram the original story into a hodgepodge of current events -- terrorism, untrustworthy government, etc. It ends up being a hack job because none of it fits can't care about these scientists when they're just tools of an evil government cabal anyway.

The "Shelly Winters Moment" illustrates this perfectly. In the original, she would go into a seizure due to red flashing lights, but she'd hidden this medical problem out of shame and because she suspected it could halt her career prospects. Later, when her seizure causes her to totally miss the substance that kills Andromeda, it's another piece in the "lots of small problems cause a HUGE problem" theme.

In the REMAKE, they set up the epilepsy during the first few minutes, and then the scientist who suffers from it goes into a seizure during the climactic "have to stop the nuclear device" theme. He is incapacitated for about thirty seconds...THEN GETS UP AND HELPS TO SAVE THE DAY.

His epilepsy had NO plot significance WHATSOEVER. It was WEIRD.