Having said that, the reason I’ve chosen this script is I stumbled upon this contest on Amazon Studios. As we research our target demographic, Amazon Studios is a prime location where I think new writers will be interested in getting some detailed notes when the price is right. Or in our case, free.
I’ve chosen to review the contest winning rewrite of Zombies vs. Gladiators by Lauri which you can find here, and have not read the original script so I don’t know how it differs. Essentially I picked this rewrite as it was an award winner, and with other sites having reviewed the annual award winning script, I wanted to do something different.
Enough chatting, let’s get to reviewing.
1.) Can we visualize the description?
Lauri did a really good job of researching the terminology of both the setting and culture of the time. I’m not a historian, but the way she describes things likes palaces, slaves quarters, etc. it’s more than just, “They walk past a pillar.”
10 out of 10 points.
2.) Does the author use an acceptable format?
Formatting is also acceptable. As there’s no “set in stone” exact format, I’m not going to pick her apart. There are certain things Lauri uses like, “we see,” parentheticals, and ellipses that I don’t necessarily agree with, but she uses them sparingly, so like I said, it’s not worth deducting points.
10 out of 10 points..
3.) Is the dialogue free of exposition and rich in subtext? Does each character have a unique voice?
Here’s where things start to unravel a bit. Hermann has his own unique voice, and is crafted well. After that though, the rest of the characters begin to fall flat with the way they speak. The easiest example of this is Titus and Daria interacting, especially when trying to develop a romance. It was painful.
Dialogue is hard for almost every writer, so I feel bad being critical about this, but as it’s been said countless times before, we should be able to tell who is speaking even if a character’s name is covered.
3 out of 10 points.
4.) Does the writer understand the challenges and rewards posed by the medium in which they’ve chosen to tell his/her story? Shorthand version of this is: Is it a movie and not a play?
The name itself generates a basic trailer in the mind of the reader. With the large setting and even larger action scenes you’d have a hard time fitting this on a single stage. However, I will deduct a few points as at times I felt I was reading more of a realty TV series script than a character driven screenplay.
8 out of 10 points.
5.) Is there anything unique in what the writer presents? Are the writer’s idea, based on this sample, likely to continue to be original?
I mentioned above I enjoyed that Lauri had a bit of knowledge for the setting she was writing in, but that enough doesn’t yield originality.
The first opening scenes were easily regurgitations of Gladiator, Rome, and even Spartacus (the Starz series). We’ve seen gladiator movies before, and we’ve seen zombie movies before, but what we haven’t seen is a movie that blends the two. This is what people are longing to see, and within the first 15 pages I was yawning, having seen very similar situations in previous works.
What would be more interesting (and original) is having the zombies present in the very first scene. Instead of Titus and his buds fighting slaves, have them fighting captured zombies for sport. This creates an alternate Rome, where zombies are a nuisance, but kept under control to entertain the masses.
2 out of 10 points.
6.) Does the script have a hook?
Again, the title is Zombies vs. Gladiators. Nine out of ten people will instantly perk up when you say the title alone and ask about it. I think this is one of the reasons Amazon Studios was so interested in it in the first place.
15 out of 15 points.
7.) Is that hook effective?
The hook itself is effective, but it takes us a while to get there. Lauri set’s up a B story with Titus being the actual father of the next emperor. Although I think this idea is effective, it takes too long to set up, and thus takes too long to get to zombie fighting. Just as effective would be Flavius knowing his wife’s lust for Titus, and seeing the similarity in his child’s face to that of the gladiator.
Once the zombies show up though, the characters’ goal is pretty self explanatory, stop the zombies.
10 out 15 points.
8.) Is there enough to maintain the hook? Reveals, conflict, etc.?
This is another problem I had with the script. Although there are a decent amount of good scenes, especially when taking into account the genre, they don’t flow well. There isn’t a steady build up.
The best analogy of this was when I heard someone describe Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. The story was hard to follow, and it felt like they just wrote a bunch of REALLY EXCITING scenes and then had different production companies try to outdo each other when shooting those action sequences.
Zombies vs. Gladiators felt like that, and there wasn’t a steady build up to a climax. Although there were good scenes, characters got out of trouble too easy.
For instance, one scene has the main characters riding two war elephants through a horde of zombies. Cool setting, especially when zombies start climbing the elephants’ armor. Uh-oh. But our main gladiator, Titus, just flips a pachyderm bitch, and squishes the zombies off as the elephants pass by each other.
A simple way to improve the scene is have one of the elephants get overrun, and just when all seems lost, have Titus ride his elephant over. Right as the elephant loses balance, being brought down by the zombie horde, the two remaining main characters jump, with Titus struggling to pull them aboard his elephant while zombies nip at their sandaled heels.
Another example of “too easy” is just how willing everyone is to let the empress escape with rough and tumble slaves.
Pg. 40ish, where they escape the Senate. These are senators who consider themselves the elite of Rome. When confronted with the idea of staying to “die in the name of the empress” they should at least put up a fight. Not one of they or the soldiers argue that it should be Titus and his team of gladiators that should be staying. This would add much needed conflict. It should also develop how Lavinia is able to coerce others to get what she wants.
One last note on this topic is character development. Titus felt flat. I get that killing has become boring to him, and I like it, especially with the idea of his love for Daria making him feel alive, but that needs to be developed more. Also, if he’s going to have the son angle, he should want to become a man that his son could be proud of.
An example of how to fix this is have he and his friends get their papers to be free in the troop garrison. They’ve escorted the empress to safety and she releases them, but when Hermann turns to go, Titus chooses to stay behind, to save Rome and it’s people. Using this idea also adds more of a payoff when the empress betrays he and Daria later in the story and makes us cheer for Titus to succeed.
2 out of 10 points.
9.) Does the story play to a target audience, and have the elements demanded by that audience?
Although I think Lauri got the gladiator part down, with epic fighting and such, I think she missed the mark on the zombies.
Having zombies with glowing red eyes, uncanny healing abilities, and the ability to communicate and reason felt unnatural. Almost as unnatural as vampires that “sparkle” when they’re in the sunlight.
Flavius’s plot was decent and helped move the story along, but I think he needs a slight change. Making him into a jealous brother type character works better, where he can choose to control the zombies and unleash them as a horde in a play to become emperor. This way he can do cool things like drive a zombie driven chariot, but the zombies stay mindless which gives out characters the opportunity to defeat them.
Another example common to horror/zombie movies is having characters split up. This could easily be worked into scenes like where the fleeing Romans enter the brothel. Having Hermann go off on his own, and teasing him (and us) with the three naked girls could have been built up a bit more. Especially when you consider we can’t seem them through the steam so it’d scare the hell out of him and us as the audience. Ideas like this combine the old of zombie flicks in the settings of Rome.
*EDIT* Something I forgot to mention. VERY much disliked the cure being “what all men need” part of the script, and then it turning out to be salt. At first I was expecting “love” and rolled my eyes, but then when it was salt, I was almost wishing for love. The whole thing felt like the Signs “swing away Merrill” plot point. We all know how fast and far M. Night Shyamalan has fallen by rehashing the same “crazy twist” plots, so it is my suggestion (take that for what it’s worth) to rework the salt angle, or consider dropping that type of cure altogether.
5 out of 10 points.
65 out of 100 points.