Tuesday, December 11, 2018

RIP: William Goldman. Wrote many great movies, and a SHAZAM! movie script

William Goldman's SHAZAM! script.

William Goldman was one of the great novelists and screenwriters of the second half of the 20th century. He wrote many of the modern classics that either redefined or reestablished how great and how much fun a movie could be. These included many that I have seen and enjoyed and a few I want to, such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Stepford Wives, The Great Waldo Pepper, Marathon Man, All the President's Men, A Bridge Too Far, The Princess Bride, Twins, Misery, A Few Good Men, Last Action Hero, and Good Will Hunting.

Of course, not every one of these screenplays was an Oscar-winning hit, and he did a bunch that were never used, such has screenplays for Flowers for Algernon, Papillon, Grand Hotel, The Sea Kings, The Right Stuff, and one comic book property that goes under the title SHAZAM!

Of course, plenty of writers have written screenplays that were never produced. But beyond that, there have been plenty of writers who have written or started to write scripts for SHAZAM!

But of them all William Goldman is the one who died most recently (Nov. 16, 2018), and is the one with the most accomplished career, so I thought I would take a moment to discuss his place in Captain Marvel history.

The story of the script is pretty simple, keeping with the general pattern of superhero origin movies as they had been established in the latter part of the 20th century. Billy is lured into the hall of the old wizard, gets the power to become a hero, battles the villain, Dr. Sivana, wins the day. There are further details, such as the fact that Billy is a foster kid/ problem child who has a close friendship (foster sibling/potentially more?) with an older girl, Jenny, who can be characterized by the same terms (this girl happens to be the one who found him in the snow as a baby and brought him to the orphanage). Dr. Sivana's two beautiful children are part of the story. Captain Marvel has a battle against the son, Magnificus, but the daughter, Beautea, eventually rejects her father's objectives and falls for Captain Marvel.

Like many movie adaptations of comic book properties, there are dome deviations from the source material. these include:
Billy in a foster home.
The character of Jenny.
Billy finds Shazam through a museum incident.
Jenny's romantic attraction to Captain Marvel.
Billy gaining the powers of the Elders one by one, as he needs them.
Captain Marvel has super-breath.

There is one very cute reference to the original Fawcett comics: in one scene Billy is taking a test. He whispers the magic word, and the ghostly visage of Captain Marvel shows up to give him the answers.

Some readers of the script claimed it was the greatest superhero movie ever. Certain, more recent reviewers, such as Scriptshadow and SHAZAMAHOLIC! have been less kind.

It is not a perfect script, even if you discount the differences from the comics. There is too much exploring of the powers and not enough superheroics. A fight between Captain Marvel and Magnificus has a lot of creative dynamics to it, but the triumphant climax to the movie, while clever, is not a visually exciting feat (unless you find chemistry visually exciting).

This was neither the first, not the last, time an acclaimed non-comics writer wrote a superhero movie script. Remember, Mario Puzzo wrote Superman: the Movie. While long considered (and deservedly so) the greatest superhero movie ever made, that film, which kicked off the modern age of superhero movies, is a bit uneven and has a plot hole you could push Krypton through.

The trouble is that great writers, great as they may be, may not have the life-long understanding of a comic book property that can enable them to make such necessary departures from the comic book canon as the medium and differing audience of the medium of film may need and still serve the message of the original character or enamor the fans who go to see something with which they are already familiar.

David Hayter on the other hand, was able to write a script for X-Men that made the departures specifically relevant. Most notably, the character of Rogue and her relationship with Wolverine..

In the comics, Rogue was a young woman who had been part of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. She had stolen the powers and memories of Carol Danvers (at the time Ms. Marvel, today Marvel's current Captain Marvel), but left the Brotherhood to join the X-Men.

Also in the comics, Wolverine had a sidekick, a teenage girl named Jubilee, whose superpower was shooting dazzling light shows from her hands.

In the movie, Rogue was a young teenage runaway who had discovered she had the power to absorb people's minds when she touched them. She freaked out and ran away after nearly killing her boyfriend the first time she kissed him, and wound up being a sort of sidekick to Wolverine.

Replacing Jubilee with Rogue enabled Rogue's powers to be a sort of metaphor for the alienation of youth, particularly those youths who felt themselves "different" because of their gender identity, homosexuality, race, interests, etc. The X-Men, a team of mutants,. were always about being a metaphor for disaffected youth, afraid of hurting their loved ones with what made them different, hunted by a word that feared what they did not understand.

The stories of both of these movies, however, where created based  on the characters, but not a specific story about the characters that had appeared n any comic.

Now, the upcoming SHAZAM! movie will probably not need much in the way of "departures from canon" for the purpose of constructing a story, mainly because it is an adaptation of the specific story that appeared as a back-up to several issues of Justice League from DC Comics. It was, however, directed by someone who admitted having no experience with the hero before getting this job. Though he apparently did a lot of research, they are going with the New 52 version of the hero.

It is interesting to note, at this point, that there are actually some things in the Goldman script that are in the New 52 version, particularly the orphanage origin and Billy's resistance to getting adopted. Also the focus o the value of family, and how "family" does not have to be the one you were born with. I'm reasonably certain this is a coincidence (where else is an orphan going to live?), but interesting that more than one writer has decided to go this way with the character.

Here Are 10 Commandments On Writing From William Goldman:

  1. Thou shalt not take the crisis out of the protagonist’s hands.
  2. Thou shalt not make life easy for the protagonist.
  3. Thou shalt not give exposition for exposition’s sake.
  4. Thou shalt not use false mystery or cheap surprise.
  5. Thou shalt respect thy audience.
  6. Thou shalt know thy world as God knows this one.
  7. Thou shalt not complicate when complexity is better.
  8. Thou shalt seek the end of the line, taking characters to the farthest depth of the conflict imaginable within the story’s own realm of probability.
  9. Thou shalt not write on the nose — put a subtext under every text.
  10. Thou shalt rewrite.

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