Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 252 - Thinking about Threats

It's not fun to be threatened in real life (unless someone is threatening to buy you a shot or make you eat another bite of dessert), nor is it fun to watch a movie in which there's no threat posed to the protagonist. Every good protagonist needs a good (or maybe even great) antagonist. Otherwise, what's the point? If Batman had no Joker or Zsasz or Bane, he'd be just a guy in black tights fighting pickpockets. That would be dull. But that's not the case. Batman's villains are - literally or not - more colorful than him, and they provide the driving force behind his continued crusade against crime. So, too, do the heroes of our stores need someone or something to work against them in order to challenge them and force them to become the champions we want them to be.

My sci-fi spec has an antagonist, a really pretty interesting antagonist at the end of the day. He's twisted, warped, and a hero in his own mind. If the shoe was on the other foot, we would probably root for him over the protagonist. He's compelling and driven and has goals that make sense to him and within the context of the world in which he lives. He's also wickedly violent.

A lot of that of that violent nature will be toned down in the second draft of the script. My writing partner and I discussed it, and given the scenario that we've established, it doesn't make sense for either our protagonist or antagonist to be awesome combatants. That trait is not inherent in either of their characters, and neither my partner nor I want to write a movie in which an ordinary person becomes Rambo. That's just not the kind of film we're doing, and especially because our sci-fi is heavy on the "sci" portion, we need people who are smart first and physically threatening second. It doesn't make sense that our scientists would be able to pick up a gun for the first time and hold their own in a shootout. 

We were wrapping our brains around what exactly this would mean for our film, trying to make connections to established work we could point to for comparison. The Matrix is not quite sciency enough, and though we have an alternate earth situation like Children of Men, the threats are too common, too human for what we're doing. Finally, I thought of it - Jurassic Park! No, we don't have dinosaurs, but what we do have is a group of scientists who are thinkers, not fighters, and who are dropped into a world that is very far from their day-to-day realities, but still connected to them. In that world, very much as in ours, there are human "antagonists" of a certain sort, but the real threats come from within the world itself. The environment (and in this case, the inhabitants that come with it) causes the most compelling peril. And, in the midst of all of the action and nail-biting, there's a film with some humor that can be enjoyed by the whole family. That's what we're going for.

A tall order, for sure, but I think that we can do it.