AICN EXCLUSIVE!! Moriarty's Been To JURASSIC PARK 4 And Returns To Tell The Tale!!
Published at: Aug. 13, 2007, 7:04 p.m. CST by staff
Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
Okay... before I begin the review today, there’s something I’d like to get off my chest. If you’re just interested in the review, skip down to the red text below that says “REVIEW STARTS HERE.”
Lately, there’s been a bit of commentary around the web on the politics and ethics behind reviewing screenplays. I didn’t comment at the time, since frankly it’s been a while since I read something that felt like it was worth writing about. That’s changed in the last week, though, so before I dig into the review, I want to address those comments here, once and for all.
It’s no secret that David Poland dislikes Ain’t It Cool News. Oh, sure, he couches it in other terms, but what it comes down to is he doesn’t agree with our editorial policy, and he’s beat that same drum since at least ’99, when I first met him. In all that time, he’s added nothing new to his initial complaints. He uses both of his websites, The Hot Button and Movie City News, as bully pulpits where he endlessly blathers on about how he sits in moral superiority over the entire online film community, and most of the regular media as well. This past week, he took the New York Times to task, and the worst insult he could muster was comparing them to us. Of course, if he truly believes that we’ve had a detrimental influence on the editorial policy of TIME, NEWSWEEK, and The New York Times, that’s quite the backhanded compliment.
In writing about us, David said the following:
”I would argue that AICN is completely about the distribution and discussion of illegally acquired materials from the film business.”
Fascinating. Provocative. And totally untrue. It’s the kind of comment he loves to make, knowing full well that no one is going to watchdog him or call him on it, but it’s not only factually inaccurate (as are many of the things he writes about us), but it’s also hypocritical. The rules apply to David when he wants them to, but when it’s convenient, he abandons them completely and then petulantly points the finger at others to divert attention. Writing what he did demonstrates an almost infantile misunderstanding of our site and the way information is passed along in Hollywood. Considering how self-aggrandizing his coverage of the industry is and how he sets himself up as the only voice of authority, you’d think he would have a better handle on the way things actually work.
When I review a script or sneak a peek at a film outside the normal review window, there’s nothing illegal about it. I repeat... nothing. Go into any development office in town. You’ll see giant snowdrifts of screenplays, and they’re not all for the projects that particular company is developing, either. Why? Are they all reckless lawbreakers, or are they keeping abreast of what various writers and directors are doing by sampling their work? Does Poland seriously believe that all development happens in a vacuum, and that no one reads anyone else’s work? How does he think that those screenplays circulate? Does he imagine Watergate-style break-ins involving geek commando teams? Information is a commodity in this business, and it’s traded on a daily basis without any laws being broken. Poland’s comments suggest that he knows how I get the scripts I read and review, and that’s hogwash. I get the scripts I get from people intimately involved with the projects, at every level of the food chain. I think he’d be shocked if he actually knew who my sources were, and how freely things are given to us without attached strings. I understand that he doesn’t want to read scripts for films in development. I can respect that. Unlike him, I don’t think it’s a reflection on his character if he makes a choice different from mine. Roger Ebert once compared reading a script for an unreleased film to cutting open a woman for a look at her womb before deciding whether or not to fuck her. I have totally different reactions to scripts and feature films in many cases, and I think there’s real merit in the discussion of screenwriting as a craft. On giant-budget pictures, sometimes great drafts get lost along the way, and covering that is something that interests me and many of our readers.
As far as his charge that we are somehow involved in the distribution of these things we discuss, it’s another blatant falsehood. One of the things that many of my sources depend on is knowing that when something comes to me, it stays here. I can’t tell you how many times readers have asked me for THE FOUNTAIN or WATCHMEN or THE VILLAGE or SUPERMAN or whatever, but I’ve never sent out a copy to any of them. Nor has Harry. Even when other members of the AICN staff, like Mr. Beaks or Quint or Obi-Swan, want to read something, they come to the Labs or to Geek Headquarters. It just makes things simple, and it reinforces the trust placed in us by our sources. If I started posting those scripts on this site, or even if I posted giant serialized chunks in an effort to play coy with copyright law, I’d get a big fat boot up my ass, and I wouldn’t be able to hide behind “fair use,” no matter how hard I tried.
Besides, if Poland’s really got such a stick up his ass about “illegally obtained materials,” maybe he shouldn’t review bootlegs of studio movies prior to release and then tell his readers where to buy them. And maybe he shouldn’t publish unsanctioned publicity photos on his site that studios haven’t cleared for release. Not that I care if he does or not. It just strikes me as bizarre for him to behave one way, then pretend to police the rest of us. It would be like me picking on him for his RAIN MAN-like obsession with box-office numbers, then writing a column in which I make largely inaccurate predictions of my own, along with endless overanalysis that ultimately illuminates nothing. Like I said... if that’s what interests him and his audience, then great. Maybe I’ll just never understand the need to not only dictate what someone else is “allowed” to cover, but the drive to lie about it to make your points.
REVIEW STARTS HERE
So... now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about JURASSIC PARK 4 by William Monahan and John Sayles. We’ve been hearing vague rumors about this one for a while now, and I mean vague. There’s not a solid piece of information out there so far, based on the Google search I ran earlier tonight. I can tell you that a few of the rumors I read are close to right, but nothing had the details nailed down.
Steven Spielberg has been quoted as saying that they had the “mother of all ideas” for this sequel, and that if they’d come up with it earlier, this would have been the third film. He claims this will completely reinvigorate the franchise, and Kathleen Kennedy promises that it’s nothing like the other films so far. Normally, those sorts of comments could be dismissed as hype... but in this case, they’re not kidding around. Bill Monahan wrote the first draft based on a story by Spielberg. Monahan’s a busy guy, but most of his stuff hasn’t hit the screen yet, so don’t feel bad if you don’t recognize his name. Ridley Scott’s wrapping up work on his KINGDOM OF HEAVEN right now, and wants to make TRIPOLI at some point, while Martin Scorsese is just gearing up to make THE DEPARTED, which Monahan adapted from the Hong Kong thriller INFERNAL AFFAIRS. As a result of all these other obligations, Monahan moved on after that first draft, and none other than John Sayles was brought on to bat clean-up. I know that most people think of John Sayles as Mr. Indie Cinema if they know his name at all, but he’s also a big-time script doctor and, more importantly, he came from an exploitation background. ALLIGATOR, PIRANHA, and THE HOWLING are all great early genre scripts that he wrote, smart and funny and very aware of what they’re supposed to do.
I’m pleased to report that this second Sayles draft of JURASSIC PARK 4 sees him working in full exploitation mode. I’ve talked to a number of people about this draft, and it seems to radically divide them in terms of reaction. Some people adore the premise and get excited as soon as they hear it. Some people (including the person who gave it to me) are convinced it’s the worst thing they’ve ever read and a signpost on the road to Hollywood Hell. Personally, I think it’s well-written and certainly inventive, but I also think it just might be the single most bugfuck crazy franchise sequel I’ve ever read, and I’m not sure we’re ever going to see this thing onscreen. It just doesn’t seem possible that Universal would make something this vigorously whacked out.
I spent the entire first act of the script thinking I had it figured out. I knew where it was going. Problem was, every time I thought I had it figured out, something happened that seemed to change the entire premise of the movie.
The script starts at a Little League game somewhere in America, an idyllic scene that quickly goes bad when pterosaurs attack the kids and their parents. It’s a cool scene, and I couldn’t help but immediately anticipate what might lay ahead. Dinosaurs in America. All-out warfare on home soil. This should be fun. In a series of television clips, we learn that this is the first attack on North American ground following months of this sort of thing in Central America and Mexico. The UN has created a task force to exterminate the dinosaurs. Awesome, I thought. A bad-ass heavily-armed United Nations task force versus the dinosaurs. Bring it on! But then the script throws its first major curve ball, introducing Nick Harris, an unemployed soldier of fortune. Nick’s the lead in the movie. Not Alan Grant. Not Ian Malcolm. Despite all the rumors to the contrary, those characters are not back for this film. Instead, we meet Nick as he watches those same reports on TV that we are. He’s approached by an ex-commander of his and offered a meeting about a job. He’s warned that the guy he’d be working for is a little bit strange...
... which brings us to John Hammond. It’s a great cameo role for Richard Attenborough, and he’s said several times that he is looking forward to it. In the script’s single wittiest scene, we catch up with the eccentric ex-billionaire who is now the most-sued man in history according to the Guiness Book Of World Records. He’s been declared incompetent by his heirs and his company has been taken over by other corporations. Technically, Jurassic Park isn’t even his problem anymore, but he still feels responsible for the dinosaurs and the damage they do. Hammond’s got a big idea: breed some new dinosaurs that can’t reproduce and introduce them into the wild population. A Judas strain that will kill off the dinosaurs within one generation. Easy enough, except the UN has outlawed any breeding of new dinosaurs by anyone and they’ve prohibited the sale, mining, or possession of amber worldwide. Hammond’s got scientists ready and waiting to go, but he needs genetic material to work with. As soon as Hammond mentions where that material might come from, I thought for sure that I was ahead of the script again. Oh, of course! The shaving cream can that Nedry stole. He’s going to hire this guy to put together a team of mercenaries, and they’re going to spend the whole film on Isla Nublar getting picked off one-by-one while trying to find the samples.
After all, the first three films are all pretty much carbon copies of each other, excuses to turn people loose on the island. I almost set the script down at that point, disappointed that they’d do something so predictable again after all this talk about how they were going to turn things upside down. Page sixteen, and I was sure I knew the rest of the script without even reading it.
But I was wrong... again.
Nick Harris does indeed got to Isla Nublar, but he goes alone. He does indeed track down the shaving cream can that Nedry stole, but that’s a mere five pages later. And as soon as he finds it, he’s attacked not only by excavaraptors (think trapdoor spiders), but also by security rangers who work for Grendel Corporation, the mysterious Swiss holding company that took over Jurassic Park from Hammond. Seems they want those genetic samples for their own purposes... whatever those may be. Nick has to get off the island, evading his pursuers, human or otherwise. He manages to make it back to the mainland just long enough to hide the shaving cream can before the security team catches up with him and gasses him into unconsciousness.
All of that happens by page 39, at which point I realized I had no idea where this thing was going, and I quit trying to guess. It kept confounding my expectations. It certainly didn’t feel like it was just another rehash of the same formula. When Nick wakes up, he’s in the tower of a medieval castle in the Alps. Seriously. That’s the precise moment when the entire enterprise goes so over-the-top loony that you’ll either go along with it for the entire insane ride or reject it roundly as a big bag of ludicrous. Nick is introduced to Adrien Joyce, the major domo henchman of Baron von Drax, CEO of the Grendel Corporation. Joyce isn’t a moustache-twirling bad guy bent on torturing Nick into revealing where he hid the shaving cream can. Instead, he offers Nick a job, and in order to explain the job to him, he has to take him on a tour of the entire castle, which turns out to be a fairly sophisticated genetics lab where Grendel Corporation has been breeding some dinosaurs of their own design, cross-breeds that never existed in any era of nature with all sorts of custom modifications.
I want to tread lightly on what happens over the course of the rest of the film on the off chance that Mary Parent or someone at Universal is seriously going to make this thing. There’s the eight-year-old-boy side of me that thinks that a DIRTY DOZEN-style mercenary team of hyper-smart dinosaurs in body armor killing drug dealers and rescuing kidnapped children will be impossible to resist. And then there’s the side of me that says... WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?! Nick is put in charge of training these five dinosaurs, X1 through X5, and the first thing he does is name them. “Any soldier worth his pay has a name to answer to, not a number,” he says. So we are introduced to Achilles, Hector, Perseus, Orestes, and Spartacus, each of them a specially created deinonychus, which is sort of like a miniature T-rex. They have super-sensitive smell and hearing, incredible strength and speed and pack-hunting instincts, and they have modified forelegs, lengthened and topped with more dextrous fingers, as well as dog DNA for increased obedience and human DNA so they can solve problems well. All of this is topped off with a drug-regulating implant that can dose them with adrenaline or serotonin as the situation demands.
And go ahead. Look at the calendar. We’re a long, long way from April 1st right now.
By the end of the film, there are set pieces that are much, much bigger than anything we’ve seen in the other films, and much crazier. They’re all well-written, and there’s a glee to the bloodletting that you have to admire. There’s also a blatant set-up for a JURASSIC PARK 5 that is just too good for the studio to pass up. That is, of course, if they actually decide to make this one.
In the end, this represents an enormous gamble for Universal and Amblin’, and I admire them for at least exploring this as a possibility. They’ve thrown some damn good writers at it so far. If they make it, it’s anyone’s guess how fans of the series so far are going to react. This is no-holds-barred SF/horror/action with none of the staring-up-at-a-special-effect-in-awe tone of the first three films. This is a drive-in movie, slightly unhinged from page one, with some truly hissable human villains and some outrageous monster characters. Will it work? Will we ever see it onscreen to find out?