Today’s script comes from writer Gary Whitta. He was kind enough to post it online by way of his twitter account. One wonders what would prompt him to do such a thing, but not everyone who wonders something is fortunate enough to receive an answer. Anyway, last time I checked, the link to the script is still live. Only Gary Whitta knows how long that link will last, so I’d suggest hurrying on over to twitter—as soon as you’re finished with this review.
1. Is the dialogue (a) free of exposition and (b) rich in subtext? This will include (c) unique voices for each character. (each part worth 10 points)
Part A) As you might expect, since we’re dealing with science fiction, there is quite a bit of exposition in the opening pages. Pages 3 and 4 even subject us to competing television news feeds explaining the doomsday scenario which our unfortunate pale blue dot has no defense against. This is immediately followed up by a televised interview between a moderator and Mission Commander Jeremiah Washington. The dialogue develops in expository fashion:
The theory is that the propulsion
technology described in The Signal
will allow the ark to travel at
speeds approaching half the speed
of light. That puts numerous star
systems within our reach – any of
which might contain the habitable
world we’re told is waiting for us.
But your destination remains a
mystery. You’ll be headed into the
unknown, with no real knowledge of
who or what might be out there.
After this back and forth, we get a title card announcing we have moved forward in time ten years. Also after this, the exposition in the script [for the most part] dries up.
I don’t think four pages of exposition is excessive considering the proportions of the doomsday stage which needs to be set.
7 out of 10 points.
Part B) The best subtext in this script comes from the relationship between Dakota and the artificial intelligence she creates, Hope. Hope’s job is to pilot the ship while her human passengers wait out an interstellar voyage in cryo-sleep.
Dakota created Hope shortly after the death of her infant child, and it doesn’t take long to realize Dakota thinks of Hope as a surrogate for the daughter she lost. She loves Hope as though she were a person. She teaches, encourages [and occasionally] scolds Hope like she were a ten year old child. The fact that Hope is actually a ten year old super computer does not register in Dakota’s mind.
So, like I said, there is good subtext in this relationship, but I can’t say that Homeworld is a script to read in order to sharpen your subtext skills.
6 out of 10 points.
Part C) I do feel the script successfully individuates its characters. Dakota and Hope are the best, but secondary characters like Rand, and Meretzky are also suitably drawn. The only person I think feels more cardboard than three dimensional is ship security detail leader, Shaw.
9 out of 10 points.
2. Do the first 10 pages make me want to read to Fade Out? (20 points)
In the first ten pages the impending catastrophe gets described, the dead daughter backstory between Dakota and Rand is detailed, and Hope is introduced as the dead daughter’s replacement. We are brought to rest on the island of Hawaii, where humanity has built a shuttle to take it to the space-ark which will save it from extinction.
The author uses some smoke and mirrors to ratchet up the tension in these scenes… allowing them to move quickly even though they are primarily exposition. In retrospect, a reader knows that he was tricked into a feeling of momentum, but momentum [even when it’s smoke and mirrors] still counts as momentum. These pages read quickly, the sure sign of an expert in our field.
Upon further review, the most interesting thing [for this reader] in the first ten pages is the source of the knowledge of impending catastrophe. Our “Benefactors” reveal a way out, but they do not tell us who they are. I’m sure that the reason I read this whole script is because the author introduced a mystery in his first pages which he didn’t answer until his last pages. This is what we ask author’s to do.
16 out of 20 points.
3. Does the structure of the story have (a) a suitable number of reveals (b) an engine that fits its protagonist (c) a pinch point the engine funnels toward and (d) a thematic underpinning which, by Fade Out, explains why THIS engine and THIS protagonist were the subject of THIS story. (parts a and d worth 10 points, parts b and c worth 5)
Part A) There are a suitable number of reveals in this script but [in my opinion] not all of them are satisfactory. Since I don’t want to spoil the script for anyone who hasn’t read it, I’ll speak about them generally.
I have let this script sit for over a day without writing about it, and I remain convinced that the pivotal decision in this story [made by Hope] is very hard to rationalize. There is a sense in which it sort of works if you squint really hard, but I just don’t buy it. This is a very sophisticated AI, she has to realize that telling the truth about the Benefactors has the same result as concealing it.
When squinting, I can see that the author means for us to believe that Isaac’s arc will not happen without the deceit, but this requires a view of temporal events which is stunning in its determinism.
Also, the second most important reveal [it turns out to be the pinch point] falls flat too. There is no possible world in which the inhabitants of this ship readily accept Meretzky’s fate. The author again employs smoke and mirrors to try and distract from the implausibility of this scenario, but the initial response is so out of proportion to what these humans should do, that the reveal carries no water.
I will say that the final reveal works well enough.
6 out of 10 points.
Part B) The engine of this story is: Can Dakota reconnect with her nurturing side following the loss of her child? The script gives her two candidates, Hope and Isaac. Hope is an AI, and Isaac is autistic and motherless. For sure, this engine is well-suited to this protagonist.
5 out of 5 points.
Part C) The engine also funnels very nicely toward the pinch point. Dakota is the reason the crew responds to Meretzky’s situation the way they do. She is inspired in her choice of reaction by her love of Hope, and the ensuing script focus on Isaac derives from her choice with regard to Hope. So, although I am not buying this plot point, the script mechanics which support it are sound.
5 out of 5 points.
Part D) I believe the author intends for the theme of his script to be about faith. I say this because of these lines from page 97-98:
I’m sorry. I know this is all
difficult to understand. And I know
it’s asking a lot. But you have to
trust me. You have to have faith.
Faith in what?
HOPE takes a moment, thoughtful, before answering:
I hate to be contrary, but I don’t think this script is about that abstract noun. For this reader, Homeworld resolves into a discussion of THE PRICE PAID for nurturing things. Dakota is destroyed and rebuilt by her capacity to love others. Her lesson is that:
Love hurts as much as it heals, but it is always better than not loving.
That’s a third again as long as I recommend, so it is not without cause that I posit this script has not yet ironed its theme.
6 out of 10 points.
4. Is there (a) anything unique in the story being told or (b) in the writing itself? (each part worth 5 points)
Part A) I can’t say there is anything completely original in the story. Each of its main plot points caused me to think of another movie which used some variation of the same idea. These storyquarks do get reshuffled into an entertaining package—a fact which can’t be denied.
3 out of 5 points.
Part B) I did enjoy reading this story which tells me that the writer has a great deal of talent. The script moves. I’m sure if this came across my desk from an unknown writer, I’d sit up and take notice.
5 out of 5 points.
5. Are we inspired, for however brief a time, to live in harmony with the theme of the script? Did it make us want to be a better person? (10 points)
If the theme is about faith, the answer is a resounding, no. If the author revisits his theme and reinforces his script so that it draws on the latent theme of nurturing as risk and reward, yes. I’m forced to end at slightly less than half because I believe the non sequitur about faith is intended.
4 out of 10 points.
Total Score: 72