I felt more like an industry reader than I ever have before. I pretended the Black List was my slush pile and I was going to find something interesting, or exhaust the pile. The first four scripts were open and shut cases. Maybe I missed the big hook on page three, but this was an experiment, and one that taught me a lot—about myself anyway.
At the time I had no idea this script was riffing [in some way which is still unknown to me] on the Superman comic books. I’ve never read any, so I didn’t recognize our title as A Title In The Series. I still don’t know what to say about the relation between the iconic character and this script. I am at a loss. I grew suspicious when the story I recognized from the first film was recounted as the origin story for our gangster-good-guy, Tommy. I stopped reading and googled the script, but information about the comic book series took precedence.
I was too far in by that point to hang up my reading glasses, but, man was I disappointed. I wasn’t looking for ANOTHER super-hero movie when I made it past page two of this script. [Of course, by page 8 there’s no doubting what were in for when Tommy catches a ROCKET from a ROCKET LAUNCHER with his bare hands.] There is nothing wrong with super-hero movies, but I sure hope this premise was sanctioned by whoever holds the rights to the Superman franchise. Otherwise this feels a lot like fan fiction—on The Black List???
There is one major point I’d like to make about the mechanics of writing before we get into the structural mumbo-jumbo I like so much more. I’ll quote an example from page 39:
A flicker of emotion crosses Harrigan’s face. Knowing some of
those bodies belong to the agents he left behind.
This was about the 19th time today’s writer hit us with something completely unfilmable in the first 39 pages. I’m no Nazi about this [and if I were, Tommy would likely twist my head off after catching a rocket], but this is TOO much. Not one word in those two sentences is going to show up in the film—I don’t care who you have playing Harrigan.
Now, I am in no way recommending cutting all your unfilmables. I am not saying that you can’t make it on The Black List if you also write a script with 19 unfilmables in the first 39 pages. I’m just asking that people who want to write novels, write novels. If you want to write scripts, respect the format. (1)
So, now that I’ve stepped down off my soapbox: was there any subtext in this script? Yeah. There was a little. It mostly centered on people saying [and doing] things which were untruthful. Important people in this script who seem like bad guys always turn out to be good guys. Important people in this script who seem like good guys usually turn out to be bad guys. There was nothing special here. I would not add this script to the queue if dialogue is a struggle for you.
On the other hand, the script does do an effective job building its reversals. Basically, by trading on the idea mentioned in the previous paragraph. Everyone lies in Man of Tomorrow. The script makes you believe its characters have certain properties and [invariably] these properties get negated. This is a great technique for setting up modest twists. If you design a character who is loyal, and then spend enough time convincing the audience that character is actually loyal, it’s always a surprise when she turns out to be a betrayer. Man of Tomorrow employs this trick with three different characters. The law of diminishing returns predicts [accurately in this case] that the twist will become less moving each time it’s deployed, but, if you want to see this technique properly used, Man of Tomorrow is worth reading.
Thematically, this script has no center. I could spin everything I just said about appearances not matching with reality into a plausible theme, but it wasn’t intended.
Man of Tomorrow is rescued by the standard theme which ends up in all scripts that forget to start with theme beforehand… and then search around for anything worthwhile to throw in at the end:
True Love redeems all sins.
The reason this theme is the catch-all for theme-meandering scripts is because it’s very easy to sort back through a completed THEMELESS script and add it to the rest. You just have your main character fall in love with another character. Then, you make your main character appear to sacrifice herself for the life of that other character. Add Fade Out and sign on the dotted line.
Rating: Read Something Else
1 I don’t often go on an “unfilmable” rant. Source Code is my favorite example to cite as counter-point. The first 17 pages of that script contain more unfilmables than the entirety of Man of Tomorrow. In Source Code, however, they fit the bottled-up context. The mystery in the scenes overwhelmed the novelistic elements.
My issue with unfilmables arises when screenwriters use them in order to avoid being screenwriters.