Monday, November 8, 2010

William Goldman SHAZAM script review

Recently, I was able to get a hold of the infamous William Goldman Captain Marvel screenplay. Having read it, let me tell you, all the "insiders" who have said this is the greatest superhero script ever written.... sorry.... they lied.

This is not the greatest superhero script ever written... it's certainly not the greatest Captain Marvel story ever written. I would consider it "slightly below average". But that's not to say it doesn't have its moments. There are a few scenes that are actually close to brilliant. But over all, the script does not have the tone or flavor of Captain Marvel's rather off-the-wall world. It is also missing many of the well loved characters from the comics. And the main reason this script was most likely rejected: no Black Adam. In many ways, this script is too similar in tone and narrative as Superman The Movie. But let me break it down for you.

The script opens with one of its better scenes. A prison warden and several guards are racing through a long series of tunnels to an extremely isolated cell. When they get there, they find the prisoner in that cell dead, covered in the cockroaches he kept as pets. That prisoner is Dr Sivana. The warden has a hunch Sivana is faking being dead. He attempts to strangle the corpse, only to be pulled back by the guards. He orders tests on the corpse to make sure he really is dead.

Then we get our first view of Billy Batson. This is not the Billy of the comics. This Billy is 11 years old, and has lived his entire life at the Gates Orphanage, a very nice place in New York (yeah, no Fawcett City here), run by a billionaire, Agustus Gates, who himself grew up an orphan. We meet Billy as a he is being interviewed by prospective parents. Billy purposely blows the interview by swearing, burping and making fart noises. We find out why he doesn't want to get adopted. Jenny Richee, a 15 year old tomboy/knockout who is Billy's best friend and unrequited crush. They've been together their whole lives (it was a 5 year old Jenny who found the abandoned infant Billy on the Orphanage's front steps during a terrible blizzard), and they don't want to be separated. Now why Goldman didn't use the name Cissie Sommerly is anybody's guess. Later in the script, Jenny also sabotages an interview by doing an overtly sexual Lolita bit aimed at the husband, and making the wife jealous and insecure.

So, then Gates takes the kids on a field trip to a museum. At one point Billy stumbles down some steps, hits his head on a brick wall and is knocked out. He wakes up to find a mysterious stranger summoning him into a subway terminal. The origin sequence sticks fairly close to the comics, except we are cheated out of seeing Billy transform into Captain Marvel for the first time. When Billy says the magic word, there is the storm clouds, thunder and lightning, but then the scene cuts to Billy back on the spot where he was knocked out, where he wakes up again. Was it all a dream?

Then it's back to the prison, as all the tests conclude Sivana is dead. Then it's back to Billy and Jenny, as he has told her everything that happened, and he isn't sure if he should say the word or not. Jenny makes fun of him, thinking he's made the whole thing up. Billy says the word, and finally we see him transform into Captain Marvel. And this is where I turned against this script, because CAPTAIN MARVEL STILL TALKS WITH BILLY BATSON'S VOICE!!!!! Goldman gets really descriptive with the sexual attraction Jenny has for Captain Marvel, as he tries to come up with a more mature sounding voice. They do some goofy testing of Captain Marvel's powers, and then the scene shifts back to the prison where Sivana's children, Beautia and Magnificus, claim their father's body. Then we go to Jenny's bedroom where the two kids are on Google researching the elders. Billy changes to Marvel, and there's that sexual attraction again, as Marvel wants to take Jenny for a fly. Jenny, unsure, refuses, so Marvel tests his powers of flight himself with some rather Greatest American Hero type results.

Then it's to the Sivana house, where Beautia restores life to her father, and then Sivana, who blatantly favors Magnificus, makes him a super steroid protein drink that gives him super strength.

Then there is a long, rather dull sequence where Billy and Jenny are at a comic book store, doing more "research", when Billy changes to Captain Marvel (with an OVERCOAT covering his costume, no less) to make some fast money by playing Speed Chess with some Chess hustlers (no, really, I'm's in the script), and then Marvel plays baseball with some college kids. At this point the script is at the halfway mark, and there still isn't any action sequences. There's a scene where Marvel and Jenny attempt to apprehend a trio of punks, but it all goes wrong. Then we get a long scene that establishes Sivana's character as a brilliant, yet warped, scientist/criminal.

From there we go to a "Can You Read My Mind" type moment as Marvel and Jenny are flying through the clouds, when Marvel accidentally says "Shazam" and transforms back to Billy. Now both kids are falling to their deaths. Billy cannot catch his breath and say the word. Jenny is headed toward jagged rocks below. She knows she is going to die. Then she hears a roar of thunder and sees a flash of lightning. But Marvel is too far away. He speeds down to Jenny, but he knows he won't make it in time. We see Jenny, in what can be the last moment of her life, as her skin begins to be pierced by the rocks. Blood begins to flow out. But then we see a space between her and the rocks, and that space begins to grow larger. Then we see CAPTAIN MARVEL USING SUPER BREATH TO DRAW JENNY BACK INTO THE AIR. Yeah, you read right. In this script Marvel has super-breath. Except for the super breath, this is actually a good scene.

Billy is so shaken up by this, he goes back to the Wizard to return the powers. The Wizard reveals Billy doesn't yet have all of the powers, as Zeus and Solomon will come to him when he really needs them.

Then there is a cute scene right out of the comics where Billy is taking a test, and he doesn't know the answers, so he WHISPERS "Shazam", and a ghost-like Captain Marvel appears to give Billy the answers. After that, Gates and a couple other billionaires are kidnapped by Sivana. Marvel rescues them, and we finally get a real action sequence, as Magnificus and Marvel have an all out fight...and get this, Magnificus beats the crap out of Marvel, because he's STRONGER THAN CAPTAIN MARVEL!! Marvel needs Zeus, so Zeus comes to him, Marvel gets more power, and defeats Magnificus by flying him several miles into the air, and dropping him, where Mag breaks every bone in his body. Beautia gets really hot for Marvel, and Sivana figures out Marvel must be a child and reveals it was the Wizard Shazam who has, in previous years, thwarted Sivana's crimes. Having Beautia take a photo of Marvel and using a computer to make him look younger, they figure out he's really Billy Batson.

Sivana and Beautia then pose as a couple who adopt Jenny. Gates and Billy realize something is wrong when Jenny never calls from her new home. Sivana uses a potion on himself that gives him the ability to erase people's minds, turning them brain dead. He does that to Jenny. Marvel races to save Jenny, but Sivana has her locked away in a tiny cell at the end of a tiny tunnel. Marvel changes to Billy to get to her, Sivana knocks Billy out. When Billy awakes, he finds Sivana used a potion to remove Billy's ability to speak. Jenny is brain dead, Billy cannot speak, and Sivana goes to a Jets game to erase the minds of all the people there.

Beautia helps Billy get his voice back (in a scene very similar to Miss Tesmacher helping Superman get rid of the kryptonite chained around his neck). As Sivana returns from wiping out the minds of half the city, he finds Captain Marvel, who challenges Sivana to a duel of wits (why ruin the movie with another action sequence?). They will race to find an antidote to Jenny's condition. If Marvel wins, Sivana will go back to jail. If Sivana wins, Marvel will give up his powers. Now Marvel needs Solomon, who comes to him. As written, I can't tell if Marvel can now figure out the antidote, or if he has the power to read minds, and gets the antidote from Sivana's thoughts. In any case, Marvel wins, saves Jenny, restores the minds to the people at the Jets game (using another bizarre power that comes from his lightning emblem on his costume), Sivana goes to jail, the Wizard knows he can now leave Billy, and the granite rock crushes him, and Beautia gets a job as a teacher at the orphanage. The end.

All in all...I'm glad this script was rejected. Besides the lack of action and lack of the uniqueness of Captain Marvel's world, one of the script's biggest problems is that although Goldman does a good job of keeping Billy/Captain Marvel the focus of the script, its quite obvious he seems to be more interested in the character of Jenny.

Now if I can only get a hold of the rejected John August script!!!!!

1 comment:

Sanghad said...

Thank goodness this script was rejected! It definitely would have killed the franchise right off from the start.