Here’s another edition of Script vs. Movie, where I take a look at an early version of a script and compare it to the resulting movie.
Today’s Battle: THE SHALLOWS
SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!
This article only discusses the differences between the script and the movie. But even so, that means everything from plot twists to the climax is fair game. You have been warned!
In the blue corner, the SCRIPT: Written by
Anthony Jaswinski (May 29, 2015 revision, titled IN THE DEEP)
In the red corner, the MOVIE: Directed by
Jaume Collet-Serra (Released 2016)
Quick Synopsis (courtesy of IMDB)
A mere 200 yards from shore, surfer Nancy is attacked by a great white shark, with her short journey to safety becoming the ultimate contest of wills.
- In the opening scene, a young boy finds two dead bodies of men washed up on the beach. He also sees a young woman with a star tattoo lying on the shore. We don’t know if it’s a flashback or if it’s happening in the present, perhaps even at another beach.
- In the next scene, the protagonist, Nancy, is visiting a remote tropical beach alone because her best friend went back to medical school a few days earlier and Nancy decided to stay. She’s being driven there by a stranger.
- On the beach, Nancy has a conversation with her older brother back home. Their mom has been trying to get in touch with Nancy and shes’ been avoiding her. Nancy sends her brother a few pictures from the desolate beach, on which there are a couple of male surfers in the water.
- There’s no real motivation for Nancy being at this particular beach, other than she’s not ready to go back to medical school.
- In the opening scene, the young boy doesn’t see any bodies — but he does find a helmet with a GoPro camera that’s washed ashore. There’s also a surfboard with a winking smiley face painted on it. The boy watches the film on the GoPro, which depicts a shark attacking and killing two surfers. Is it a flashback? Something from later in the movie? Similarly, we’re unsure. And that’s okay.
- In the next scene, Nancy is visiting a remote beach alone — but has a much stronger justification for that. It doesn’t make her look like she was being foolishly reckless (i.e. her friend was supposed to go with her/meet her there, but cancelled on her).
- On the beach, Nancy has a conversation with her younger sister instead of an older brother. The younger sister refers to her as “Momma-sister” or something similar, indicating that their mother is deceased and Nancy is looking after her. The phone is passed to Nancy’s father, who gives her a pep talk about going back to medical school. “Your mom was a fighter.”
- There’s some really nice motivation for Nancy to be at this beach. It was her mom’s beach that she used to surf at. We get the sense that Nancy is using this vacation to help deal with the loss of her mother from cancer — a loss that Nancy couldn’t prevent, so why bother with medical school.
Changing the opening so that we don’t see a young woman washed up on the beach adds much more mystery. In the script, when we see the girl with the tattoo, our minds fill in the blanks. But in the movie, we don’t see a girl, so we’re not sure what happened, or when it happened.
There’s no strong motivation for Nancy being at the beach, let alone being there by herself, in the script. The movie does a much nicer job of showing us why Nancy has to be in this particular place at this particular time.
Having Nancy communicate with her younger sister, instead of her older brother works better as well. Now the stakes are higher. If Nancy dies, she’s not leaving behind an older self-sufficient brother with his own family, she’s leaving behind a younger sister who she still looks after and depends on her. She’s someone Nancy needs to stay alive for.
Round Winner: MOVIE
- Nancy, the protagonist
- Older brother back home (with an extended family and an alive-and-well mother that are referenced but never seen)
- Local surfer dudes
- Rando, who shows up on beach
- Seagull, who is trapped on the rock with Nancy (called “Sid” throughout the script)
- Big ass shark
- Nancy, the protagonist (same as script)
- Younger sister and father (mother is dead here; no older brother)
- Local surfer dudes (same as script)
- Rando, who wakes up on beach intoxicated (mostly the same as the script)
- Seagull, who is trapped on the rock with Nancy (seagull’s name changed to “Steven Seagull” and only referenced late in the movie)
- Big ass shark (same as script)
While changing the older brother to a younger sister and father in the movie works better, at times it felt a little heavy-handed. I went to see the movie with another professional screenwriter who just rolled his eyes during these (at times overly sentimental) moments.
Other than the shark, the character with the most screen time was the seagull. Nancy’s relationship with the seagull really forms the heart of the script, and it worked very successfully. The seagull gets much more interaction time and because of that you become more invested in both characters. In the movie, Nancy’s emotions are split between the seagull (barely) and memories of her mother. Having said that, Nancy’s memory of her mother, and her father’s words about how her mother never stopped fighting, serve to give much more emotional resonance and meaning to the movie, and especially in the last act.
In the script, we get more insight into the Shark’s mindset. It’s not just a mindless killer. This is a battle-scarred warrior who has survived its own life and death battles. The script also does a far superior job of presenting things from the shark’s point of view. For whatever reason, in the movie, we don’t get a ton of those freaky shark POV shots that ramp up the tension. Instead we get a lot of shots from the protagonist’s POV and a few close-up underwater shots suggestive of the shark’s vantage point, but not believably coming from the shark.
However, the main character, Nancy, does come across as much smarter in the movie. There’s a brilliant device they’ve used to allow Nancy to talk to herself. She pretends that she’s talking to a patient. So this one’s a tough call. But by a hair…
Round Winner: SCRIPT
Action and Plot
- We learn that Nancy has the same tattoo as the woman we see wash ashore at the start of the movie. From that, we know it was a flash forward we were seeing in the opening scene.
- Nancy’s a bit of a bumbler in the script. She falls off her surfboard on a run that might have taken her to shore.
- “Sid” the Seagull, who shares the small rock island with Nancy, was very clearly attacked by the same shark who attacked her. All of his flock were eaten, and he’s the sole survivor. His wing is obviously broken.
- Nancy doesn’t spend a whole lot of time attending to her own wounds. She simply puts her wetsuit top around her leg and that’s the end of it.
- She does, however, use her belly ring to help mend Sid’s wing, along with a seaweed wrap.
- There’s no real sense of time or urgency. Nancy doesn’t really have a plan, until she needs to do something about the tide rising.
- When an opportunity comes along where a random dude on the beach decides to go into the water to steal Nancy’s surfboard, she uses the well know Spanish word for shark: “Tiburon!” to warn him. But he can’t hear her.
- The final battle with the shark is comprehensible albeit unbelievable (more on that in the next section).
- We learn that Nancy has the same surfboard as the one we saw in the sand at the start of the movie. From that, we know it was a flash forward we were seeing in the opening scene. It’s a better call than the script because it’s easier to identify a unique surfboard than a tattoo.
- The shark actually knocks Nancy off of the surfboard as she’s heading to shore.
- “Steven” Seagull, who shares the small rock island with Nancy, has some really fake looking red blood on one of its wings and chest. We’re never really sure what the hell happened. There’s a frenetic scene with the seagull in the water shrieking and flying away, but it happens too fast to make sense of it. The seagull’s wing doesn’t look broken (probably for the safety of the animal and the lack of budget for CGI). It just has some really bright blood on itself (that stays bright red for the entire duration of the movie). Because of the way the scene played out, I thought it was Nancy’s blood on the seagull and the bird simply decided to hang out with Nancy… for whatever reason.
- Nancy spends a lot of time attending to her own wounds. It’s much more believable and innovative in the manner that she uses to fix herself while stranded on this rock, using only the tools she has at hand — like a necklace, earrings and eventually a shark tooth that she fishes out of an ill-fated surfer’s GoPro helmet (a helmet that still had the surfer’s head in it in the script).
- Nancy also helps mend the seagull’s wing that is simply dislocated — not broken — in the movie.
- There’s a great scene in the movie, that doesn’t exist in the script, where Nancy ventures out into the water, thinking that the shark is gone — only to find that it most certainly is not.
- Nancy uses her watch to time the shark’s patterns, and spends time calculating distances, etc. She’s a much more active protagonist, always strategizing for ways to survive.
- When an opportunity comes along where a random drunk dude spots her on the beach and decides to go into the water to steal her sufboard, Nancy inexplicable doesn’t communicate the word for shark to him — even though we’ve seen her proficiency with Spanish earlier in the opening scenes of the movie.
- The final battle with the shark is incomprehensible and unbelievable (more on that in the next section).
While some elements like the execution of the seagull’s injury and the ludicrous ending of the movie work against it, I feel that the movie had more strengths overall in the action and plot department, giving it the edge.
Round Winner: MOVIE
- In Nancy’s final battle with the shark from a large metal buoy (that was 30 yards from the rock she was stranded on), she decides to catch a ride to the ocean depths on a chain — that she calculates the shark will rip off of the buoy. Nancy holds on tight as the chain carries her to the bottom of the bay (maybe 50 to 100 feet below), with the shark racing after her. At the last moment, before the end of the chain reaches the bottom of the bay, she lurches to one side, narrowly missing a sharp anchor point that the chain was attached to. The shark, who apparently has the underwater maneuverability of a tank, and the eyesight of a potato, flies straight into the anchor point, impaling himself on it. A flashback makes it clear to the audience that Nancy saw this sharp anchor point during her swim to the buoy.
- After Nancy makes it to shore and is rescued by the boy (from the opening scene) and his father — the man who drove Nancy to the remote beach, we discover that the shark has in fact survived! One of the final shots is of the shark swimming out to sea, with another battle scar to add to its collection.
- Nancy is also reunited with her seagull, who she clutches in her arms as they’re driven away to safety.
- There’s a really cool twist in that we see a flashback of Nancy’s brother thumbing through the photos that his sister sent him from the beach. He spots the large dorsal fin of a shark in the background and rushes to call Nancy back… But Nancy is already heading to the water and decides to ignore the call.
- The same setup of the buoy is in place, except this time the shark runs into an assemblage of some type of gnarly wreckage at the chain’s base. She shark manages to swallow the rebar and metal scrap abomination in such a way that it amazingly fits inside its mouth but makes his body look like a snake who’s swallowed a large porcupine. To make matters worse, no flashback is given to explain how Nancy knew this water hazard was there. It’s honestly ludicrous, absent the flashback. Why would any person hold onto a chain that’s sinking to the bottom of the ocean, while being pursued by a shark. And how would that person reasonably expect to see better and maneuver better than a shark at those dark depths?
- The shark does not survive… that we know of.
- Nancy spots her seagull friend on the beach, recovering nicely from her having fixed its wing.
- Nancy has a great line at the end of the movie: “I’m okay.” It sums up her entire struggle with coming to terms with the death of her mother, her desire to run away from her responsibilities and her incredible (albeit preposterous) survival from the shark. That beat isn’t present in the script.
- What also isn’t present in the script is a completely unnecessary scene at the end of the movie. We see Nancy back with her sister and father in Texas. The two girls run into the water for some surfing. I get why it’s there, but to make a whole separate scene of it feels like overkill, especially when you already have the great ending of Nancy on the beach being rescued and saying, “I’m okay.” That’s the point where she won, not several weeks later when she’s back home. Something like that may have worked well simply for some visuals to play over the end credits, but in its current form, it feels tacked on and unnecessary.
A movie sinks or swims based on its ending. The shark may have inexplicably survived in the script, but the movie’s version is simply too preposterous for words. To not even explain how the protagonist knew about the dive hazard at the bottom of the bay, especially without a diving mask, is simply unforgivable.
Round Winner: SCRIPT
So far it’s a tie, so for the final round, we have to look at the…
- At only 85 pages, the script is simpler, slightly less thought-out than the movie.
- The visuals in the movie are sumptuous: An island that shields the bay (that Nancy sees as the silhouette of a pregnant woman reminiscent of her mom); the glorious blue water and underwater shots of surf rolling over the surfer; Blake Lively herself, managing to look stunning in her bikini, despite her shark bite; the clever visual effects that show the time remaining until high tide or the superimposed Skype calls with her family back home. A script of this nature can’t compete with those visuals.
So the Winner is:
It was a very close call. Five rounds were needed to determine the outcome of this contest and the movie won by a very small margin, possibly a split decision. The combination of the visuals, the more fleshed out action set pieces and the emotional underpinnings of the deceased mom and family stakes allowed the movie to come out on top… despite the ending.
Have you seen THE SHALLOWS? What did you think?