I posted my 100th review on TriggerStreet. (I've lost track of the number of private, unpublished reviews I've done for friends since I started my blog.) In any case, my reviews usually range anywhere between 2,000 to 5,000 words, and it could be argued that I've contributed nearly half a million words of analysis on the art of screenwriting in the last two years. Reviews for me were never about gaining credits but studying the craft and keeping my skills sharp.
My 100th review was of Mickey Lee's superb Operation: Atomic Blitz, which is about a British commando team (and one particular member - Garrett Davies) who has to rescue a beautiful atomic physicist during World War II in order to stop a rogue German General from creating a superweapon. It's a fun and kitschy action/adventure story in the vein of Indiana Jones meets 60s-era James Bond.
Below is not only the review but photos from Mickey's research of all the planes, weapons, and equipment referenced in the story.
Hope you enjoy it.
From England With Love
This was an assignment I couldn't resist! I read the first draft twice, read this second draft once, and skimmed it a second time, because well, I practically have it memorized by now. It's a much tighter script than I remember... I've read all the reviews since this script was posted, and I'd like to do something different. I'd like to talk about all of the issues the community raised about Operation: Atomic Blitz.
There were two issues I recall the community raising about the protagonist: 1) that Garrett didn't take the lead or be the leader at times in act two, they're probably thinking of the scenes where he went to the Furry Kitty with Dukes who did all of the talking, and 2) that we should've seen more of his backstory in the beginning. Now, I raised both of those issues in my first review, and I've changed my mind. I'm sorry I ever brought them up. On the issue of Garrett being a leader, I don't think a lot of us realize after one quick pass through his script that, as a franchise starter, Garrett's arc has been constructed as the birth of a new hero. In the beginning, he's just a hard working grunt with a dirty past as part of 39 Commando and in the end, he's "just the chap to put 39 Commando back together." In the sequel, if we're ever so lucky, we're going to see a different side of Garrett than what we saw here, and that's exciting. Everyone's trying to squeeze Garrett into the familiar cliches of action films when, in fact, what we have to do is consider the story that the screenwriter wrote on its own terms and not complain about what WE wanted to see. It's kind of funny how we, as writers, will behave like the pro readers and the studio executives we hate because they only want the same formula over and over again. Even Roger Ebert said of other critics in his Darjeeling Limited review, "Why do we have to be the cops and enforce a narrow range of movie requirements?" Exactly. Now, the second point about seeing Garrett's backstory in the beginning is something I wrote about earlier, which I regret now. The fact that we didn't seen his backstory in the opening makes the scene with Johanna on the fishing boat that much more fun because THEN it's revealed WHAT he tried to steal and then you get that great line from Garrett, "If you're not going to have a whack at the best, why bother trying?" I think people wanting to know more about Garrett is a good sign and all the more reason you don't give it to them so that they'll come back in droves for the second film.
By my count, there were three that really stuck out - the secret passage in the castle in the opening sequence, the manhole in Copenhagen, and the bomb dropping in the exact location of Derica's plane. It's really personal preference to keep these or not, because it's an homage (or a riff) of the genre that those convenient moments are even in the script. Whether they stay or go is of no consequence, and it certainly doesn't take away from the charms of the story. I wrote about this kind of thing before, and it's worth repeating:
"Many film critics and TS reviewers behave like merciless logicians by pointing out each and every plot hole and logic flaw and thereby rejecting entire stories because of said plot holes no matter how small they might be, as if that's the only thing that matters in a movie. Well, it all depends upon the size of the holes, doesn't it? Most film students know that almost every thriller under the sun has plot holes and flaws in logic in them but they are still accepted and beloved by many because of so many other elements of quality craftsmanship. I think there's a sliding scale involved. If a movie takes itself seriously and yet you can't buy into its incredibly flawed plot, then yeah, it officially sucks. Unless, of course, it is a movie that doesn't really take itself too seriously and is INTENDED to be wildly impossible but entertainingly so, like, say, a James Bond movie, then okay, no problem. If a serious thriller can hold water for the most part (or not leak too quickly), I won't condemn a script over a few minor leaks."
The more I read this script, the more I like this relationship between the Johanna and Garrett. This is not a love story. Their sexy banter yet non-existent love story is a twist on genre conventions. In fact, I love the revelation on the fishing boat that Johanna's with Dukes and we get the funny line, "Bloody spies, always get the girls." In the end, all Garrett gets is a quick poke in the pod and then she's off to blow up New Mexico. Beautiful! Just great, man!
A lot of people brought up Mickey's technical terms in the script. I don't think there's anything wrong with it. You can't get around them in a WWII story, and even if you don't know exactly what those terms are, you should get a sense generally that it's a boat or a car or a plane or something and you can just go with it. Naturally, one shouldn't overkill technical terms in a spec but having them is good. It only proves that you did your homework and you really know what you're talking about.
I certainly did not think, as one guy wrote that "the action overpowers the other elements of the film," because... hello? it's an action film.
Bob, I really love you, man, but since when did the science behind those world domination plots in James Bond films ever make sense?
I did agree with Peter and David's reviews about needing a bit more gratuitous cruelty from Von Kiel, and I think that this section in the early 20s when Manfred visits is just the place to do it. Either Von Kiel kills off Manfred or he tortures a captured British troop or he kills a Captain Guard for failing, or something like that. Manfred does die, of course, but I think it should've been at the hands of Von Kiel.
I recall David writing, "I would cut back on some of the honorific exchanges between Royal Marines, like 'ya manky git,' 'ya tossers,' etc. It was the only time the dialogue sounded a little too mannered." I have to say, I liked it, and I'll get hammered for this, but I'm going on record as saying I liked the "Alas, poor Yorick" line. Hehehe...
AND FINALLY -
My dear Duncan Andrew, what are you smoking? "Unfortunately, the humorous dialog, Shakespearean references (example pg. 46 & 50) and overall tone of the story do not match the seriousness of its subject matter." Are you kidding me? Dude - rent a James Bond film immediately and then re-read the script. Thank you.
Good job, Mickey.