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Script vs. Movie: THE SHALLOWS Jul 07

Script vs. MovieHere’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.

The Setup

Movie Poster: The ShallowsScript

  • 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.

Movie

  • 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.

Analysis

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

Sid... Or is it Steven?Characters

Script

  • 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

Movie

  • 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)

Analysis

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

Script

  • 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).

Movie

  • 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).

Analysis

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

The Ending

Script

  • 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.

MovieThat ending though...

  • 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.

Analysis

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…

Intangibles

Script

  • At only 85 pages, the script is simpler, slightly less thought-out than the movie.

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:

The MOVIE!!!

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?

Script vs. Movie: ARMORED Dec 20

Script vs. MovieThis is the first in what may become a series of articles where I’ll take a look at an early version of a script and compare it to the resulting movie.

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! This article discusses everything from plot twists to the ending of the movie.

Today’s Battle: Armored

In the blue corner, the SCRIPT: Written by James V. Simpson (Feb. 5/07 version)

In the red corner, the MOVIE: Directed by Nimród Antal (Released 2009)

Quick Synopsis (courtesy of IMDB)

A newbie guard for an armored truck company is coerced by his veteran coworkers to steal a truck containing $42 million. But a wrinkle in their supposedly foolproof plan divides the group, leading to a potentially deadly resolution.

The Setup

ArmoredScript

  • The protagonist lives with his wife and his brother.
  • The brother is feeling the pressure over losing his house
  • The cops who stumble across the armored guards aren’t mentioned until the second act

Movie

  • The protagonist doesn’t have a wife. He just lives with his brother.
  • The brother is feeling the pressure over losing his house and having child protective services threatening to take Jimmy away.
  • There’s only one cop. You get to know him in the first act.

The added element of the wife doesn’t add anything to the script. In fact it’s a character that simply disappears after the first act. Without the wife, it makes Ty’s (the protagonist’s) job of raising his younger brother on his own, much more difficult. Which sets up the reasons he must participate in the heist much more believable.

Having just the one young cop also works well. You have more invested in the character as you get to know him earlier. You also empathize with him because he’s working on his own and still trying to do the right thing.

Edge: MOVIE

Characters

Script

  • I had a hard time distinguishing a number of the characters. Both in terms of individual dialogue and character traits. This was especially true for the characters Quinn and Palmer. In fact, there were many scenes where they were almost treated like one character. For example, on page 90 the phrase: “Quinn and Palmer [insert description here]” appears four times.

Movie

  • The characters are well distinguished. Quinn is an old codger with an accent. Baines is a hardened gun nut. Palmer is a bit of a religious freak, etc.

Edge: MOVIE

Believability

Script

  • One part, especially, left me scratching my head. Ty exits the armored vehicle through a trap door on the roof and then jumps up to a platform. Keep in mind that the bad guys are right behind the truck. There’s even a line: “All they have to do is look up and they’ll see him!” That type of suspense may work when a hero has no other choice, but it seemed really strange that Ty would put himself in that situation.
  • Both cops die — which is fine. But the older cop, who survives the longest, dies somewhat suddenly and unbelievably.

Movie

There were so many unbelievable moments in the movie that, quite honestly, ruined it for me. I was eager to read the script after seeing the movie, because all of these things smacked of director or producer tinkering. Boy was I right.

  • Wow, where to begin… Ty almost escapes from the warehouse in one of the two armored cars. Cochrane chases him down and then they somehow arrive back at the same location that they left from. This was a surefire sign that they were trying to keep the budget down — but it was completely unbelievable. (In the script, the chase lands everyone in a different location)
  • Palmer kills Dobbs with a small knife by stabbing him in the stomach. That only kills people right away in the movies. (In the script, Dobbs gets shot by Cochrane)
  • Ty takes great pains to exit the armored car (through the floor — which works better) without being seen, but then when he reaches the trap door in the roof of the warehouse, he lets it slam down, alerting the bad guys. (In the script, Cochrane figures out that Ty’s no longer in the armored truck because he hears Ty’s call over the other dead cop’s radio.)
  • When Palmer goes to investigate the sound and finds Ty trying to get a signal on the radio, instead of shooting Ty, he — I’m not kidding here — jumps off the roof and kills himself because he’s now suddenly distraught over killing his friend Dobbs (who he seemed to very easily kill moments before). (In the script, there is an excellent action chase sequence through the warehouse complex on foot with two guys chasing after Ty)
  • Ty tells his brother and the shot police officer whom he just rescued to “stay here” while he goes to get the police car. Why the hell would he do that? It was obviously a contrived set up to give Ty a mano y mano moment with the bad guy Cochrane. (In the script, the cop is dead and Ty takes his brother with him)
  • There’s a final chase sequence where Cochrane is in an armored car and chasing Ty (who is on foot) down a path. You know those scenes in the cartoons where all the character needs to do to avoid the falling tree is to jump off to the side? Yeah, it was like that. The path was flanked by low cement walls on either side that would make it easy to escape from the truck had Ty simply decided to hop over the wall.
  • To make matters worse, when Ty jumps into a pit to avoid the truck, Cochrane drives the truck off the edge into this pit (instead of calmly stopping his truck, pulling out his gun and shooting Ty). (In the script, there’s a hand-to-hand combat fight scene inside one of the armored trucks)
  • The cop, who appeared to be on death’s door, is bright eyed and bushy tailed once he gets to the hospital. He’s so alert, he’s even able to sit up and give the police a statement.

Edge: SCRIPT

Action and Plot

Script

  • There’s a nice sequence where a couple of the bad guys go after Ty when he escapes out of the top of the armored truck.
  • The sequences with the protagonist stuck in the armored car trying to figure out what to do, were quite realistic and comprehensible. Attaching a flare to a fire extinguisher and then using that to light the money on fire was very clever.
  • Ty puts a flare inside the money box to superheat it, along with his remaining ammunition and coins, effectively turning it into a bomb. It was easy to understand and worked really well.
  • Ty’s brother Jimmy (who’s a street tough 15 year old) fights to escape from one of the bad guys who is sent to apprehend him. He’s then cuffed with tie straps.

Movie

  • Only one guy goes after Ty, and as we learned above, commits suicide. (Seriously, WTF!)
  • Without any explanation, Ty sneaks out of the bottom of the armored truck (something he did a number of times I might add, without simply looking for a way to escape) then somehow blows up the hidden money with a flare. We never get to learn how he would actually cause the money bags to explode the way they did.
  • When the money box explodes, we have no idea how he rigged things up to explode. Sure we saw the flare, but it simply wasn’t comprehensible without knowing about the ammunition that was placed in the box as well.
  • We don’t see any fight scene with Jimmy and when he arrives back at the warehouse with the bad guys, he’s not in tie straps. This kid was a delinquent — it seemed too easy for the bad guy to manage him so easily by himself.

Edge: SCRIPT

The Ending

Script

  • Ashcroft, the boss at the armored company, turns out to be in on the heist.
  • The cop (both cops) die. One cop dies only moments after he was talking coherently and moving around.
  • The bad guy doesn’t die, he’s just left handcuffed to the armored car.
  • The final scene has Ty and his family moving — I guess he was forced to sell his house after all. Overall, it’s kind of a downer.

Movie

  • Ashcroft, is actually a good guy. These days it’s almost a bigger surprise to have a pivotal character actually be what he seems. That was a nice touch.
  • The cop survives — which works much better. It leaves the story on an up-ending, and makes the protagonist look more heroic.
  • True to Hollywood bad-guy-death form — the bad guy dies by falling into the pit inside his armored truck. (There are typically only two ways that Hollywood movie bad guys die — by falling or by fire. Think about it.)
  • In the final scene we learn that Ty will actually qualify for a reward (and therefore save his house and brother).

Edge: MOVIE

And the Winner is…

THE MOVIE!

While the script was definitely more believable, the movie had a stronger set up, more fleshed out characters and a much stronger ending. Ultimately though, the lack of believability of the movie means that the audience (and box office) is the real loser.

As well, there were too many scenes where the protagonist was simply left to wonder, “What should I do?” and wasn’t coming up with any suitable answers. You’re not going to see that in a comparable (and superior) movie in terms of format — Panic Room, with Jodie Foster.

Many of the elements of the script were changed for the better. Unfortunately, many things were also changed for the worse. That may help to explain the abysmal box office gross of the movie ($14,195,000 vs. $20,000,000 budget) according to Box Office Mojo.

Was this article helpful/interesting? Let me know if you’d like to see more Script vs. Movie battles.


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