127 Hours – Script Review
Script: 127 HOURS by Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy
Logline: A mountain climber becomes trapped under a boulder while canyoneering alone near Moab, Utah and resorts to desperate measures in order to survive.
So Simon Beaufoy.
Author of The Full Monty and Slumdog Millionaire.
Both good movies. Some might even argue one or both are great (not me, but some).
Now we all know I’m clueless with associating writers’ names to talent, but I’d assume having a writing credit on those two other movies means one has a decent skill with the craft.
127 Hours. Roy gave it to me saying it would help with writing my contained thriller, so of course I was thankful and excited to check it out.
Roy, old buddy, it WASN’T a contained thriller.
It had the potential to be, but ran out of interesting things to happen while being stuck in the canyon, so other parts were included that beefed up the page length, but left much to be desired in the story department.
It almost made me wonder if Mr. Beaufoy only lent his name to this script, not his talent.
Anyway, here we go…
1.) Can we visualize the description?
Sure, as we’re told on a REGULAR BASIS how we should look at things.
Right on page 1 it’s a WE-SEE fest:
Huge, molten rocks tumble towards us out of the dark. We
don’t know where we are, just that it’s terrifying. Were one
to hit us, we would be obliterated in an instant.
This continues throughout the entire script, and got old after page one.
On top of that we were treated to thick and chunky which is okay for a hearty soup, but needs to be cut down in description.
…more crowds. Thousands and thousands of people, all having a huge, huge night. A Mexican wave erupts. A soccer crowd roars its approval at a goal. An army of fans stretch their yearning hands towards the singer on stage, a million Indians at the Kumbh Mela, a rave in a field, a subway party, a flash mob in Victoria Station, faithful singing at a midnight mass in St Peter’s Basilica…
Then a hand reaches high and opens a cupboard door. Picks up a mini cam-corder off a high shelf. Drops it in a back-pack. Reaches in again, gets a climbing harness. The jingle of carabiners. The hand clips a descender onto a loop on the harness. A Camelbak pouch of water, another water bottle. All drop in the rucsack.
Tidy, clean surfaces. The hand reaches up, grabs a neatlymade burrito wrapped in a transparent sandwich bag, goes into a cupboard and takes three energy bars, a bottle of Gatorade. The hand shuts the cupboard, skims the spotless surface, picks up a grapefruit on the way past and moves towards the door. We hear a door shut. A key turn. The sound of a truck door opening and shutting. An engine starts with a roar.
Notice these three examples are only from the first two pages.
No offense, but since most of us DIDN’T write either of the two movies I mentioned in the beginning of this review, we’re in deep bantha poodoo with a reader this early in the game.
Rule of thumb, keep each block of description to a shot or two.
This will break up those larger chunks AND make it more digestible for the reader. (Sorry, Tim Allen is really in my head after college football this weekend and all the Campbell’s commercials.)
But just in case you don’t believe me, one more from page 21:
Aron’s eyes. We see what really figures in his day. His hands grip small holds. His feet smear on smooth rock. He is moving traversing across steep rock towards a water-worn, S-shaped log trapped across a narrow fissure. His mouth sings along to the music. He reaches the S-shaped log, crouches down, gives it two firm hits with his palm. Solid. He drops all the weight onto his arms, allows his body to dead-hang from the log for a couple of beats and then drops the four feet to the sandy ground below. His feet neatly hit the sand with a puff of dust. Nothing to it.
I suffered through all of it, so the least you can do is suck it up for these few examples.
There were a few good examples, and I wish they’d have been more, regardless, page 26:
He stares at it all, neatly laid out around his feet. It all stares back.
Again though, this GOOD line came after a really long wall describing what Aron has with him.
What would have been nice is listing each item on it’s own line, and then giving us this good line.
More digestible AND the beauty of this line is that Aron’s alone, with only inanimate objects as company. The description reinforces that.
He feels alone, so we’ll feel alone. Powerful.
The one last problem I’ll mention is from page 7. Aron wears a bandana over his mouth to keep the dust out, but then suddenly we see his smile. How can we see a smile under a bandana?
I guess we could, as the rest of James Franco’s face would semi light up, but it took me out of the story as I sat and considered how this was possible.
Overall, the description was plain, but got the job done. Nothing to write home about, and if we as amateurs try it, I doubt readers will continue past the first few pages.
4 out of 10 points.
2.) Does the author use an acceptable format?
This was odd.
It was almost as if the writer was trying to write a shooting script.
Problem with that was, we are told to see some shots that don’t make any real sense and would be hard to do given that fact.
For instance, shots of water going down the inside of Aron’s throat?
The water bubbling inside his Camelbak?
They add no value (other than “hey check out this cool shot”), and should just be thrown out.
I’d also tie in the “we-see” fest from above. No one likes to be bossed around, even if it is only an 84 page script.
There were also some typos, but I’m not taking off for it after last week and what is now being dubbed the “Prize” Fiasco of 2012. Especially since this writer is also English, and says things like “tyres” and “stand everyone a beer.”
I’ll just assume I’m not learned enough to criticize that. (And there weren’t that many typos anyway.)
Page 60. Format hits the fan on page 60.
I’m not sure what happened, if it was a copying error, or what, but the spacing goes all wonky.
I’m taking off points, because it seems another artistic liberty is taken to make this part a confusing hallucination (Aron is at his wits end).
If I’m wrong in that, let me know, but as the format resumes normally several pages later I’m going to assume it was a conscious choice.
It was crap.
Since it was broken up by page breaks, I couldn’t follow it, so I just skipped it.
Call me low brow, or unintelligent if you wish, but that’s a SERIOUS foul if you believe a reader is going to take their precious time to decipher your script.
(Remember, this script was based on a book, so that gave it a leg up.)
Lastly, the scene heading format:
EXT. SPACE. NIGHT.
Is it completely unacceptable? No.
(You knew one was coming.)
If you’re going to go against the norm and take out hyphens, you better back it up with some pretty fancy writing, otherwise it’s one more thing a reader can now hold against you.
(Unless of course you wrote Slumdog Millionaire.)
4 out of 10 points.
3.) Is the dialogue free of exposition and rich in subtext? Does each character have a unique voice?
Dialogue free of exposition? Check.
Each character have their own voice? Check.
With those two questions answered the rest was “blah.”
My main problem with it was the writer KNEW to come in late, but chose not to because we needed filler to beef up scenes.
Kristi sticks hers out, equally formal.
Kristi. Allow me to introduce you
to my friend and companion, Megan.
Pleasure to meet you, Mister Aron.
I LITERALLY had almost the exact same thing in one of my early scripts (different names of course).
To prove my point, that script was QUICKLY shot down by Benderspink with one of the reasons being mundane dialogue like the above example.
Another thing that bothered me was the noobish way of including character names at the end.
Better hope you don’t sink with all
those clothes on, Megan.
Better hope I don’t land on your
The script’s dialogue got the job done, and half points for getting check’s on the expo and voice parts, but really could have used a few examples of, “What’s the most interesting way your character can say this?”
5 out of 10 points.
4.) Does the writer understand the challenges and rewards posed by the medium chosen in which to tell his/her story? Shorthand version of this is: Is it a movie and not a play?
Full points for this question. We need to be out and about in a canyon for this story to work.
(At least the non-contained part of it.)
10 out of 10 points.
5.) Is there anything unique in what the writer presents? Are the writer’s ideas, based on this sample, likely to continue to be original?
It’s based on a true story. So half points for that.
(Although that really shouldn’t count towards the writer, but I’m feeling generous.)
Unfortunately, I’ve got to say that the lackluster dialogue and description isn’t anything special, unless you count the long description, but in that case it’s special for the wrong reasons.
5 out of 10 points.
6.) Does the script have a hook?
First page was AWFUL!
We’ve got a meteor shower…..um….
Crowds at a concert…
A soccer match…
NONE of it tying into the story except to say, “This is the human race. All these people enjoy being together, but our main character doesn’t.”
Okay. He’s a loner.
BUT there’s easier (not to mention cheaper) ways of establishing that which would actually add to the story. Plus this felt forced, like the author was trying to make us consider how we tie into the rest of humanity.
Case and point, Aron’s mom calling and him being home but not answering. He’s busy getting ready and we’re left wondering why he didn’t pick up.
Other than that phone call though we’re left with over description of the gear he’s taking on his trip which is exactly as exciting as watching someone pack a suitcase.
Oh, except for the missed Swiss Army Knife, which we figure will be important later (or would have been).
To be completely honest, I wouldn’t have kept reading if I didn’t have to.
5 out of 15 points.
7.) Is that hook effective?
So the script keeps going.
It’s DRILLED into our heads like multiplication tables how sweet Aron thinks the band Phish is.
We also have some weird opening credits scene, where the author is again forcing us to call into question the way we’re bombarded with commercials and ads.
Unfortunately it’s all VERY ineffective and just confusing.
Aron getting to the canyon is alright, especially since we realize it’s very remote.
Same with his hiking and falling. These things all made sense in the story.
Then we meet the girls, Kristi and Megan.
Wow, horrible. It’s pointless. Not only do they really not figure into the story at all (other than again to reinforce the fact that Aron is a loner), it was a scene that kept us from getting to our inciting incident. And to what? Show some girls all wet in their bras and panties?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m as red blooded as the next heterosexual male, but c’mon, make it fit into the story at least.
T&A without plot belongs on Skinemax.
Kristi and Megan never show up in the script again, save maybe for one brief moment where Aron’s about to rub one out with his hand stuck under the boulder as he looks at their video. (Lucky for us he passes out and dreams a lame dream of Rana instead.)
Most of these early pages felt like filler.
7 out of 15 points.
8.) Is there enough to maintain the hook? Reveals, conflict, etc.?
On page 22 the author does something cool. We’re in this movie knowing Aron’s going to get stuck, so the author toys with that idea. He has Aron get semi stuck while crawling under a giant boulder.
This reminded me of a movie from my childhood, Flight of the Navigator. Here Disney did the same thing. We knew David, the boy protag, was going to find an alien ship, so the movie kept toying with us, showing us things that looked like a space ship but turned out to be a water tower, or a frisbee.
Anyway, my childhood nostalgia over, 127 Hours had this moment too, and I chuckled as I fell for it. (I was looking for something to enjoy though, lol.)
Okay, so our inciting incident, Aron getting stuck, doesn’t come until page 24. This script is only 84 pages long.
This script should start when Aron wakes up in his truck, sets out hiking/biking the canyon, and then gets stuck.
No girls, no meteors, no nonsense.
The story is him being in the canyon, by himself, and how he deals with it.
Raw. Human. Emotion.
All the other nonsense took away from that.
Then we have a midpoint, or so one would think. But it’s a dream sequence where Aron gets free goes on for too long, and feels like a cheap shot once we realize it’s a dream. (This might fit more in question 9, but trust me, there’s going to be enough there.)
The ending is a perfect example of why you should end early as opposed to anything else.
He’s saved on page 76, but we’re treated to 8 more pages of tying up loose ends we couldn’t care less aboutt.
3 out of 10 points.
9.) Does the story play to a target audience, and have the elements demanded by that audience?
Movie cost $18 million to make and made $57 million or so. I think that’s a travesty. I’d rather see something like Transformers 3 be successful, and I disliked those movies very much.
What a reader/audience will question…
The girls going off with some random stranger in the middle of nowhere.
Him taking them to the cave paintings I can suspend my disbelief, but then he pulls out some stupid line like, “Hey ladies wanna see my secret place?”
Are you kidding me? Not ONE of them even questions if that’s a good idea or not. Especially when he cracks some joke about clothing being optional.
Aron comes off like a HUGE creep and I wanted to reach into the pages and smack these two broads.
This scene is so odd that I question if the event actually happened or if the real Aron just wanted to seem cool.
The other problem I had is Aron actually being stuck.
Sure adrenaline would be working, but your hand is SMASHED by a huge boulder and you don’t even whimper? Wow, didn’t realize he was Superman.
(On a side note, he did scream a bit while cutting off his arm. But only a bit.)
I mean, shit, I fell once while I was running, and scraped my hands on the sidewalk. I winced, and kept dropping f-bombs as I ran for the next few minutes. And that was just scraped hands.
I’m just a sissy though.
Lastly the whole Rana and Aron love story is lame. We don’t care, nor do we even need to hear about it.
He’s made of stone, she’s the girl that thought she could change him, but it’s presented in 5 pages or less which gives us practically zero room for development.
She loves him because the author says so, and he goes to her after because while he was stuck he saw a boy he thought was their child. Again, for no better reason than the author says so.
It did make a profit though.
5 out of 10 points.
It was based on a true story, and I feel for what the real Aron Ralston went through, but that doesn’t mean we need to be treated to the minute details of his day to day life before and after.
It was almost like Mr. Beaufoy went through the book written about the event, and picked out the good parts of the story, and then the original author (presumably Aron) somehow convinced everyone else involved to include all the boring hiker and Phish stuff no one but him cared about.
This should have been a contained thriller.
Unfortunately that would have made it like 50 pages or less, which isn’t acceptable.
Instead of working on a deeper story for Aron inside the canyon, the story gets fluffed up by things that happened before and after. Big mistake.
This script was very amateurish, so much so that I’d argue ANY script on our Top Ten Amateur Scripts List is better than it.
And that’s not a shameless plug, I really think this script had serious problems.
If you want to read a good script you can actually learn from, and is based solely on raw human emotion, read Buried.
Total 48 out of 100 points.
PS – Roy, the jokes on me. I snatched it up thinking 84 pages would be great, but it’s easily the most grueling 84 pages I’ve read in a while.
PPS – The picture I chose for this post displays what was happening in my mind as I read this script.
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