Thursday, June 18, 2009

Script Review – “Mine”

Hey guys,

I was so exhilarated by Darabont’s Fahrenheit 451 that I thought I’d read some of his other scripts I have lying around here beginning with his February, 2008, adaptation of Mine. This story is based upon the
book of the same name by Mr. Robert McCammon, who claims on his book cover and website that Mine “rivals Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs for sheer, riveting storytelling power.”

Come, come, Mr. McCammon. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

This is the story of Laura Clayborne, a journalist who gives birth to a baby boy and has her child literally stolen out of her hands in the hospital by Mary Terrell, otherwise known as “Mary Terror.”

Stop right there. What’s a more intriguing title: Mine or Mary Terror?

Mine makes me think of old WWII land mines or a maybe a big underground tunnel built for digging coal or something. If he had written the title as Mine! he may have conveyed better his intent.

What about Mary Terror? Now that piques my curiosity a little bit. This title practically guarantees big thrills and chills, and sort of like Planet Terror has an air of B-movie horror, which is really all this story could ever hope to become. Granted, Mr. McCammon has won some awards. Mine received the 1990 Bram Stoker award for Best Novel. But these characters and this story has no hope of reaching the heights of Silence of the Lambs on any level.

I can pinpoint where the story lost me. It lost me in the 80-page range. It really lost me in the 90-page range. Then it pulled me back somewhat with a thrilling car chase sequence. After that, I was just waiting for the predictable events to play themselves out. And then I was disappointed that those events played out as predictably as I thought. At least Silence of the Lambs had the twist ending with Lecter free. The problem here is that once Mary takes the baby and Laura goes after her, the script regresses into a big chase movie, about 50 pages of chase sequences, with a baby as a McGuffin. After the third or fourth time Mary gets away, you feel like the story’s being drug-out unnecessarily and, like me, you might find yourself disappointed that the story never aspired to be more than chase sequences.

Let’s talk characters. First, Laura, the “sympathetic” protagonist. While I was somewhat intrigued by Mary, I never crossed that threshold where I actually cared about Laura or her predicament. And I’m wondering “why is that?” We first see her sitting outside a café with her friend, Carol, who feels a bit like a wasted character as she reappears only one other time in the story. In any case, the scene, which was all dialogue, establishes Laura’s pregnancy, that she’s a journalist, that her husband works long hours, that they’re having problems, and that she’s having a baby mostly because she realized that she didn’t truly have anything in life “that’s mine.”

All in all, the scene is flat and unconvincing because it’s all a bunch of on-the-nose verbal exposition from Laura about her own motivations. We just have to accept it at face value. Words alone in the form of on-the-nose verbal exposition does little to persuade audiences to sympathize with a character. It’s actions that persuade. Put that character under a little pressure and watch her fight for what’s important to her. Then, you will get people to support her. Say, for example, that Doug, her cheating husband, was sitting with her at that café instead of Carol, and we had a scene of Laura desperately trying to salvage her marriage. Or something. The fact that she’s actively doing something to get what she wants persuades us to support her.

In a situation in which the protag is the one who has been wronged, like Laura who has been wronged by her cheating husband, I think one has to consider how well that character handles the situation. Because a sad, whiny, moaning, bitchy protag tends to turn off people even if that character’s mood is justified. Here, Laura kinda tells off Doug and argues with her annoying mother, which is understandable. Many people would do that. But what is Laura doing to really earn the support of the audience? In a scenario like this, I would have Laura rise above the situation and her stupid husband and her annoying mother, which I think would’ve earned some more emotional support from me. She’d avoid telling off her husband or arguing with her mother. She’d be putting on a strong front to Doug, act as if she doesn’t care, that she isn’t hurt, but when she’s alone, she weeps. Perhaps she does something extraordinary like wishing him a good time with his mistress. Something different, ya know? To be above the situation would add some layers and some subtext into those scenes to make them more interesting. Besides, she has what she wants. She has her baby and she doesn’t care about anything else in the world and nothing will ruin her time with her new baby.

That is, until Mary comes along.

I’m not saying that THIS is the solution to those scenes. I’m just saying that everything is so on-the-nose and so predictable and so flat, a writer should try to find ways to add layers to those scenes and
the dialogue. Even better, why address the affair at all? Why not have this couple living one big lie, which doesn’t get addressed until the end of the story? There are so many possibilities.

Now let’s talk about Mary Terror. Since Mr. McCammon felt the need to compare himself to Silence of the Lambs, let me ask a question: what made that film so great? Characters. It was the well thought-out evolving relationship between Clarisse and Hannibal Lecter, the head games, and the
depth of its characters, particularly Lecter. Remember what our good friend,
Pat, wrote about Hannibal:

That a sociopathic cannibal could be brought to tears by beautiful music, recall with delight the fate of a census taker who had the temerity to disturb him, behave so tenderly toward Clarice (the finger touch as he hands her the file), take such pleasure in tormenting Miggs, salivate at the thoughts of eating Dr. Chilton, patiently explain the delicate flavor of (human) brains to a child, gently guide Will Graham toward death, and disfigure himself instead of his captor (who happened to be the only person he loves or has ever loved) makes Hannibal Lecter my nominee for the most interesting and complex character in modern cinema, the only character I've loved, feared, admired, and despised all at the same time.

THAT is a character with depth. Unfortunately, Mary Terror pales in comparison. She is,
according to McCammon, “a scarred and battered survivor of the radical ‘60s. Once a member of the fanatical Storm Front Brigade, Mary now lives in a hallucinatory world of memories, guns, and above all, murderous rage. Prompted by a personals ad in Rolling Stone, she becomes convinced that the former leader of the Brigade, the man she knows as Lord Jack, is commanding her to bring him the child she was carrying when her life and the lives of the other Storm Front radicals exploded in a bloody shootout with the FBI.”

Yeah, she’s a crazy little bitch, but so much of what defines her as a character is her backstory. It’s what she does in the present that truly impacts how an audience feels about her and, for the most part, she’s flat as a character because she’s mostly psychotic most of the time. She can just barely hold a conversation before knocking off that person, usually with a shotgun. Lecter could carry an intelligent conversation, read you like a book, get inside your head and under your skin right before he feeds off of your body. With Mary, it’s just a few words and – BOOM – you’re done. The point shouldn’t be how psychotic the antagonist is or how quick she is to kill or what’s going on in her hallucinating mind, it’s in the interactions with other characters that molds great antagonists and great drama and great suspense. It’s hard work thinking through those scenes and giving them layers and making them somewhat unique and interesting.

But that’s what we have to do.

I’m not so sure what I’d do to fix this story. I’d cut much of the chase and save the best sequences for last. I might re-think Laura as a protagonist. I’d probably look for ways to allow Laura and Mary to talk and have some kind of evolving relationship. I might even let Mary live in the end. I’d probably cut Carol and expand Doug’s role. And I would seriously tone down Mary and make her less psychotic, at least, she could carry a longer conversation and have some

I’d like to end this on a note of praise. The opening scene was quite gripping – the dark room, the crying baby, the concerned mother trying to calm the baby, which gets worse and worse, until the mother totally loses it to the point where she slams the baby’s head down onto a fired-up stove burner. Only to find out that the crying was all in her head and the baby was actually a doll. Very cool.

There was also a gripping scene, which was a flashback of Mary giving birth. She was pregnant and her belly cut up after the FBI invaded her home, and she was lying on the floor in a gas station bathroom and she gives birth to her own baby by pulling it from her body with her own bloody hands. EW.

The highlight has to be the thoroughly gripping car chase scene that started around the mid-90 page range. Man, it had a police car in hot pursuit, a big-rig, which explodes, and two more cars chasing Mary, who is throwing grenades out of her window, and which bounces down the highway until it lands on your windshield and you’re toast. And all the while that baby is so close to death. Great stuff.

Shame about the characters, though.



Scott said...

I am a touch confused. Might be because I am stupid, but were you reviewing the book or the script? If its the script, then I am sorely disappointed in Darabont. Seems like a pretty average read.

Mystery Man said...

Scott - my apologies. I was reviewing the script. I was a tad disappointed, too. But, then again, F451 is a tough script to top. That sucker's more exciting to me than "Shawshank Redemption."


[thiago] said...

mystery man, i have to make a confession. i've been reading your archives for some time now, and they simply became the best screenwriting class i could ever attend, and much, much more than i hoped for. you are a truly amazing "teacher" and i can't thank you enough for your efforts on sharing so much with us. i know this have been said a lot of times before, but i felt the need to join the chorus.

it's a shame the script was a letdown, but the review is great as always. and i didn't even know this project existed until reading your post.

Anonymous said...

SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is perhaps the most overrated POS in terms of thrillers. When someone says that something is 'in the tradition of SILENCE...', it's shorthand for "This is a suckfest."

Terrell said...

McCammon is one of my favorite authors. I particularly enjoyed the novel, "Mine", and based upon your review of Darabont's script, perhaps it's better suited as a novel than a movie.

"Boy's Life" is classic, as is "Gone South". "Wolf's Hour" and "Stinger" are also great B-movie concepts turned into entertaining, adventure-horror novels. Stephen King-ish, but McCammon has a flavor all his own.

Given Darabont's love for Stephen King, I'm not surprised he's taken with McCammon as well.

Mr. Word Player said...

Love your blog MM. Thought you'd want to know that when you write "Now that peaks my curiosity a little bit" that "peaks" is incorrect- should be "piques." Keep up the good work!

Mystery Man said...

[thiago] – you’re SO very kind. That’s so much.

Anon – I love Silence of the Lambs.

Terrell – I’ll have to give him a read.

Word – Thanks so much. Feel free to correct me anytime!


Hunter said...

I feel compelled to point out that Mr. McCammon is not the one who wrote that text comparing MINE to Silence of the Lambs. That was the Pocket Books editor and/or marketing department who wrote the synopsis and made the comparison. MINE came out shortly after Silence, and publishers were eager to jump on that bandwagon....

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