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ZvG: Zombies Vs Gladiators
Glen's 1st Draft
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August 17, 2011
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Winner: Script Spotlight: Zombies vs. Gladiators Rewrite
Finalist: Script Spotlight: Zombies vs. Gladiators Rewrite
Semifinalist: Best Script, Script Spotlight: Zombies vs. Gladiators Rewrite
August 14, 2011
This is indeed a page-one rewrite. Only the concept and the characters of Titus, Lavinia (now a concubine) and a few others remain from the original. Even the title has been changed.
Although this draft addresses the AS notes, it throws out almost everything from the original that AS and everyone else liked – including those alligators. Even the new elephants aren’t as good as the old elephants.
The zombies now have a supernatural origin; Hades (via Orcus) unleashes a plague to punish Justinian for breaking his oath. However, after Orcus launches the plague on page 18, he just sits on the bench until page 79 -- ONE YEAR LATER – waiting around for Titus to be delivered to him. If he’s a GOD, why wait? Titus doesn’t actually confront him until around page 80. Also, Orcus doesn’t want to kill Titus because he has anything against him – he’s just collecting on Justinian’s debt. It’s not a personal or direct confrontation, and thus this conflict doesn’t drive the story.
Though there's an early reference to Hades "coming" to Rome, we never actually see him -- just Orcus.
Titus has a new origin story, and is indeed the emperor’s son. However, his character is even more under-developed than in the original, and he’s almost AWOL in the first act. The other characters, and Lavinia in particular, are equally thin – and there are too many of them to follow.
But my main problem with this draft is that it didn’t make sense to me, logically, emotionally, or historically.
Even though Hollywood routinely reinvents history, I see no value in using a “real” plague but then ignoring other historical facts about that era. Among other things, by 540 the capital of the Holy Roman Empire had moved to Constantinople, the last gladiatorial combat was around the year 404, and the Empire was Christian, not pagan. The Coliseum isn’t domed and never was, though it did have canvas awnings over part of it.
Perhaps in an attempt to avoid modern anachronisms, much of the dialogue is stilted or even incoherent.
The tone is much darker than in the original version. This draft simply isn’t as much fun, and the ending makes it a tragedy, which is a hard sell. (Yes, Maximus dies at the end of "Gladiator" -- but this counts as a happy ending because he's reunited with his family.)
I liked the opening super: simple and elegant and creepy.
I found parts of the script to be overwritten, starting on page one:
“A HORSE carrying a soldier rides into the streets of a small village. The soldier steers the horse full speed through the village, nearly missing villagers and tables.
The horse stops in front of a tavern. BELISARIUS, 30’s, dressed in battle gear, dismounts the horse in a fluid motion and storms into the tavern.”
54 words, which could be replaced with 19:
BELISARIUS, 30’s, in armor, gallops his horse into a village, dismounts in front of a tavern, and storms inside.”
Also, my logic issues start in the first few pages. Why is a Roman general drinking in a village tavern? Doesn’t he have a private tent where he could get sloshed far more privately, and more safely, and on better quality wine? (Also, the way the place was described I was picturing bar stools, rather than rough-hewn tables and benches…)
You’ve got a super stating that it’s 540 AD, but lack one stating when it’s 520. Also, it’s 21 years later but Titus is described as 25.
The idea of a child as a pledge to supernatural forces is a classic one, with many examples from Samson to Rumplestiltskin. The “hidden prince(ss)” is also classic, with examples from Oedipus to “A Game of Thrones.” However, leaving a baby in the Arena was practically like exposing him on a rock – not the act of a father who wanted to protect his child. (We learn very late that maybe Justinian didn’t want to protect him…) Who actually raised the kid? Was there ever a mother figure in his life? Who was his birth mother and what happened to her?
Titus’s initial battle in the Arena was fun, with almost Matrix-style action sequences, but the senator’s dialogue didn’t make sense to me – plus all the boring talk took the focus off Titus.
Philips’s comment on page 5 (“Quite the barbaric sport, yes?”) seems rather dim and on the nose. It’s like someone going to a football game and mentioning that there’s a lot of tackling going on. Maybe establish that he’s from some distant province and new in town?
The new tattoos on page 8-12 seemed to require too much explanation and slowed the story down.
On page 12, I don’t buy that Lavinia could take down Titus, even unarmed. They both seem slutty in this scene, and why is the Emperor’s concubine hanging out at a party with gladiators? And since she IS the emperor’s concubine, presumably they’re risking their lives for this roll in the broom closet – why? She refers to “gypsies,” who originated in the 11th century. And why would “gypsies” (a term offensive to some) want Titus’s head or pay a bounty for it??? Titus’s line about Lavinia being raped by a bunch of prisoners was neither funny nor endearing.
On page 13, Quintus has the line:
“We’ve made the people witness these spiritually harmful acts. And now gladiators have become instruments of pagan human sacrifice.”
First of all, no one “made” Romans come to the games -- they were a hot ticket. Second, on what basis are the games “spiritually harmful” from a Roman point of view? (Maybe if you made Quintus a Christian...?) Third, the games did not “become” pagan human sacrifice – they started as funeral commemorations, and became popular entertainment combined with capital punishment. I’m not aware that they were ever considered “human sacrifices,” and human sacrifice was not something the Romans routinely practiced.
On page 16, you have the gladiators living in the palace. Why? (They lived in gladiatorial schools.)
Titus flees the city when he hears Quintus’s threat, even though Justinian has ordered that he not be harmed. Learning that he’s the Emperor’s son is a big deal. Why doesn’t he approach Justinian, or seek his protection directly, rather than leaving town? He seems to assume that his father is powerless to protect him; why? Also, he’s not afraid of fighting in the Arena, but he’s afraid of a bunch of old senators?
Also, on pages 16-17 Justinian visits a “sanctuary” and sits in a “pew.” Is this a Christian chapel or a pagan temple? If the latter, to what god? (Also, “alter” should be “altar.”)
On page 18, you have them burning corpses INDOORS in the palace dungeons. Unless you give them a heavy-duty industrial fan, that’s going to fill the entire palace with smoke and the stink of burning bodies.
Even if the Coliseum had a dome (which it didn’t) why would they take the trouble to light it up in the middle of the night?
On page 21, “Leviticus” is a book of the Bible, not a Roman name.
On page 22, Octavius says:
“Whatever mystery follows Titus into the arena, do not let it be your last visions.”
What mystery is he talking about? What does he mean “do not let it be your last visions [vision]”? If he’s talking about the zombies, how does he know they’re coming?
On page 23, the image of zombies running amok in the dark Arena is good and creepy, but the games weren’t fought at night. Without artificial lighting, people wouldn’t have been able to see the arena floor except for tiny pools of light around each torch. Also, how did all those zombies get out of the palace dungeon (where they were locked in), through the streets, and to the Arena without anyone noticing and raising the alarm?
More awkward over-writing: “Octavius brings his sword from the torso of a zombie on the ground and slices backwards and cuts the head of a zombie off” could be “Octavius yanks his sword from a zombie’s torso and backhands the head off another one.”
Page 27: why is this small family so heavily armed, crossbow and all? It’s like someone in Encino having a bazooka.
On page 29-30, is the family pulling Jorgen INTO the midst of a zombie horde? How do they survive? And with the door open, don’t the zombies pour into the house?
Page 30: I think taking Titus away from Rome and the zombies for an entire year is a really bad idea. It kills the energy/urgency and minimizes the plague into a manageable public health problem.
Page 33: The environment in the city isn’t clear. Is it all zombies and just a handful of humans? The zombies are clearly able to get out of the city; why are the humans sticking around and what are they eating after a year? Maybe even the humans are reduced to living on human flesh?
Page 34: Darian blaming Titus for “deserting” them is like blaming a Superbowl quarterback for “deserting” the country during a swine flu outbreak. A gladiator was an entertainer – not a general or the chief of police. Why was it his job to protect people? Same issue on page 45.
I assume Titus’s return to the city on page 35 marks the start of the second act. Titus is barely present in the first act: in 34 pages, he appears on only 17 and has lines on only 10.
On page 36, it’s not clear how Titus is able to free himself from under a trapped horse with a mob of zombies on top of him, without getting bitten. And he then does one of his gravity-defying Matrix movies, which don’t actually work so well in the real world.
On page 37, why does Jorgen punch Titus?
There are several mentions of “the others” here but they aren’t identified.
Page 38: How likely is it that Titus doesn’t recognize Lavinia at close range in daylight or at least ask who she is?
Page 38: If there’s this fortress outside the walls, why are Jorgen and Lavinia and “the others” staying in a cottage surrounded by zombies INSIDE the walls? And how do they go back and forth without being attacked?
Page 40: Since Bellisarius actually knows that the Emperor is responsible for the plague, why doesn’t he just say so, rather than talking about “legends” and the circumstantial evidence that the Emperor is staying in his palace – which seems sensible under the circumstances? Also, this scene is very heavy on the exposition.
Page 41. Titus asks “This fortress holds you?” which seems pretty obvious. Maybe he means to say “This fortress protects you?”
Page 42. This is a reasonable explanation of how it’s possible to kill a god. Seems pretty risky for the god to walk around in human form, however, and you’d think a smart god would minimize this.
Page 43. The plan to bring the Emperor to Orcus seems based on assumptions and weak evidence because Bellisarius hasn’t admitted (why not?) that he knows why there’s a plague.
Page 44: AGAIN Titus doesn’t recognize Lavinia or bother to find out who this cloaked woman two feet away is? Nor does he recognize her voice?
Page 45: WHY did Titus think Lavinia’d be happy with children by now? She was the Emperor’s concubine; why would that change? And unless she had twins, how would she manage to have “children” in a year? I don’t understand their relationship in general – as far as I can tell, they didn’t know each other before the party and just had a one-hour-stand in the closet; where does “love” come into it?
Page 46: This is the best scene so far, in part because it’s not over-written. But it comes too late – Titus is VERY thinly drawn up to this point and remains so afterward. (Also, vengeance and survival are not “feelings.”)
Page 47: This is a very crowded scene. It’s not clear why you need all these people. Also, this planning scene reminded me too much of every heist movie ever made, plus the attack on the Death Star.
Page 48: I liked the bowels line.
This scene confuses the aqueduct (which carried fresh water INTO the city) with the sewers (which carried the sewage OUT). Also, there’s too much of a fast forward from the plan to the execution.
Titus refers to any of “us” who spent time in the dungeons, implying that he had. Why would he?
Page 49: What’s the logical reason for Lavinia, who has not demonstrated any military skills, to go on this mission, other than to get captured? Re page 50: when did she acquire the ability to behead people? Those swords were HEAVY.
51-56: This action sequence is dull and a weak substitute for the much stronger action scenes in the original.
On page 53, Titus says, “If there are dead walkers, the emperor must still be alive.” I don’t follow his logic.
Good question about Orcus: since he’s a god, why does he need help finding the Emperor or Titus? And why would he need to shed blood to get to him? (As a god, Orcus seems both powerful and oddly limited.)
Page 56: I don’t buy Titus taking the time to manufacture a Frisbee. And a shield wouldn’t be razor sharp on the edges.
Page 57: This is the first and only mention of a formal trial – which never in fact happens.
Page 58: Even if Rome and Titus didn’t know that Titus was Justinian’s son, wouldn’t the “all-seeing” gods know?
Finally an explanation of WHY Justinian dropped his baby off at the Arena – he was gambling that whatever didn’t kill him would make him stronger, so that he could fight off Hades when the day came? (But there was still a very good chance that Titus wouldn’t survive the Arena, so it’s quite a gamble.) Or maybe he wanted him dead, but didn’t want to give the order? Both motives seem to be at work, which seems muddled.
Page 59: Justinian has ignored Titus pretty much his whole life, has failed to train him how to rule, got him a job that was likely to kill him, and suddenly he wants Titus to be his heir – so much so that he’s willing to wipe out the entire population to save him? Who is Titus going to rule if everyone’s dead or a zombie?
Page 60: Titus sees Jorgen and the others BEFORE the doors open?
Page 63: Who’s driving the chariot and blowing the horn? Also, chariots don’t pull wagons – horses pull wagons.
Page 64: It’s very easy for Titus etc. to leave the city. Don’t they run into any zombies?
Page 66: Samuel asks if Dominic was speared. Doesn’t he mean bitten?
Page 67: Who is Jorgen quoting here and why?
Page 72: I thought Samuel’s speech was especially nonsensical: “The government will never know sacrifice and honor as a gladiator does. They made us to see you as selfish warmongers. Glorify the art, but disgrace the artist.”
Page 72: 60 elephants appearing out of the blue precisely when needed seems like just a teeny bit too much of a coincidence. Not to mention that Vikings (who didn’t exist at the time), didn’t have elephants. Mammoths, maybe – it’s cold up there in Scandinavia. ;) And what inspired Rorik, when he heard that Jorgen was a gladiator, to show up with elephants of all things?
Kabuka and the Vandals seems equally random and deus ex machina.
74-79: The elephant scene in the original was more fun, more exciting, and more plausible.
Page 80: The pillar scene is straight out of Samson and Delilah.
Page 81: Whom does Titus think Bellisarious is betraying? Bellisarius already announced his intentions, and he seems to care more about Rome than anyone else. Does Titus think that he’s so important that everyone else should die to save him? Ego, much?
Page 82: I like the image of the zombies filling the arena. But the population of Rome, even undead, was much greater than the capacity of the Coliseum (about 50,000).
Page 83: I have no idea what this line means: “The plague was not a punishment that Belisarius could claim. He has doomed us.”
Page 84: As far as we’ve seen, Titus only slept with Lavinia once, over a year ago. And now she’s pregnant by him – but not yet showing. That’s an awfully long gestation period…
Page 85: I really hated the scene with Lavinia killing herself – and so will every woman in the audience. Why didn’t she do something useful – like kill Orcus or whack the chains off Titus?
Page 89: Those pillars couldn’t have had the structural integrity to hold the dome up if Titus was able to pull them down. Also, the point of a dome is you don’t NEED a pillar in the middle to hold it up – look at the Pantheon in Rome, which predates this story by hundreds of years.
Page 92: This line is especially awkward: “He weeps the losses from a greedy oath.”
93-94: I don’t see the point of this tacked-on scene, other than to set up “Zombies v. Knights.” What does it have to do with Orcus, or the plague, or anything else in the main script?
Although writing mechanics are a minor issue compared to story, character, etc. the script has so many errors and awkward lines that it’s distracting. Following is a sampling, with suggested edits, from just the first act (to page 35):
He’s drunk with a discontent [discontented] stare on his face.
Justinian continues to stare ahead only to give a half head
turn for his reply. [Justinian barely turns his head as he replies.]
If the men are to give their lives for you, they need to know [they have] the confidence of their leader.
I thought the god’s [gods] were surely ready for you this day, Titus.
JORGEN, late 30’s, a bright red haired Viking,… [Is he a smart guy with red hair, or a Viking with bright red hair?]
Vikings are forged from the irons [iron] of the earth.
Your body will be a favored prize among the prisons [prisoners].
The others have voted, the gladiator games should be
eliminated. [The others have voted. The gladiatorial games…]
Octavius lies on the floor passed out from the nights [night’s] drinking.
He pulls his broad sword from it’s [its] sheath and admires it.
Titus walks to Jorgen’s bed - who is also passed out. [The bed is passed out?]
To cradle your deceit? [???]
You receive promise, but do not repay debts. [You received what was promised, but do not repay your debt.]
The guard rushes passed [past] the others and retreats down the hall.
A guard runs passed [past] the cell opening; [,] followed by Cassius who leaps onto him.
The crowd[s’] cheer[s] slows [slow] to a halt.
The crowd attempts to exit the stands and causes a clogged
group. [The crowd clogs the exits.]
Justinian remains in shock while he sits in [on] his thrown [throne].
My mind is unbecoming. (???)
Your death will come by honor. [Your death will be honorable.]
Jorgen bursts [kicks] the door open with his foot. [Delete “with his foot”]
Jorgen is pulled from the room and [pushed] outside.
He looks down at his fingers that have cramped
into an open fist. [“open fist” is an oxymoron. And why does the man stop to break his own fingers?]
Suddenly, an ARROW pierces from behind the man’s head
through to the front. [Suddenly an arrow pierces the man’s head.]
Music and speak [speech] by dying moans and screams.
“phased” should be “fazed” in several places
Personally, I don’t like using “a beat,” which seems artificial and “screenwriterish” to me. I prefer to say something like “a moment.”
It's clear that a lot of work went into this draft. Sorry I can’t be more encouraging.
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ZvG: Zombies Vs Gladiators, Glen's 1st Draft
Glen A Bramlitt
Horror, Action and Adventure
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