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6 out of 9 people found the following review helpful:

interesting but risky take with third act problems

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August 24, 2011
This draft had an energy and a creativity that I liked a lot.

The zombies have a supernatural origin in West Africa, which fits with zombie/voodoo mythology. The “cure” (such as it is) is also supernatural and based on Christianity.

The new Flavius is much like the old, but scarier and crazier and under the sway of Orcus. Orcus plays a small but important part, and can be considered a co-villain, or at least a tempter.

However, I thought that Titus was under-developed and out of focus until about pg. 82, when he starts to get interesting. Up until this point, Constantine seems like the hero: he’s against the barbaric games, he wants to do great things for Rome, and he’s sympathetic because his father is unfairly mean to him. Titus, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have any goals or wants. He doesn’t even care about being free and he tells Lavinia to leave him alone. It seems like this should be Constantine’s story with Titus in a supporting role.

Thus, although two of the AS notes have been addressed, the character of Titus still needs work.

In many ways the new material integrated smoothly. However, the interaction of African magic (voodoo) with Roman mythology (Orcus) with Christian belief (Christ and Lucifer) seems quite sketchy. I want to know what the “rules” are and who the players are. If there’s a battle going on in the supernatural world for the souls in the real one, I want to see it.

Mixing zombies with Christianity is an interesting choice, but potentially a risky one. Back in the heyday of sword and sandals movies, many like “Ben Hur,” “Quo Vadis,” and “The Robe” had Christian themes. This hasn’t been tried in a long while, but maybe it’s time for a comeback. Of course “The Passion” (which was extremely violent and graphic) made tons of money – much more than gentler Christian-themed movies like “The Nativity.” But I don’t know if the audience is ready for a Christian zombie movie.

Also, although I liked many things about this script, I felt that it collapsed in the third act, and that this was really fatal to the story.

Some specifics:

Of course I love how you used “my” psalm to open with. :)

The first four pages are new and I liked them. This sets up the supernatural origin for the wolf without a bunch of exposition and dovetails nicely with the original opening.

Pg. 2: “She exhales smoke and at the same time of the downbeat of the drum, she opens her eyes. They are pale white.” Nice image, but it’s not developed. What exactly happened to her?

Pg. 4: “The High Priest and a few of the survivors are taken captive for slave trade.” Per below, we need to see specific survivors taken captive and then taken to Rome.

Jumping to Jerusalem, you have them taking out the crosses whole. After 300 years, the wood wouldn’t be in the original condition. Maybe have them find chunks of rotten wood, so it’s not so clear what they once were. And the spikes would be rusted. They could even find an ankle bone with a spike through it(there’s one in the Israel Museum). Then they find the plaque. It would be written in Latin, but you can have Helena read it aloud in English. Also, I think she would get VERY emotional at that moment. She seems too matter-of-fact.

Pg. 6: Back to the original opening here. I think you need to specify that one or more of the slaves were ones we saw in the prologue.

Pg. 10: “Now in addition to being gladiators, we are baby-sitters.” Nursemaids or wet nurses would be better for the period.

Pg. 11: “The sole blood heir to the Roman Empire, their personalities clash.” This is telling, not showing. HOW do they clash?

Pg. 16: “Constantine, observant, intercedes before there is any unpleasant scene...or worse.” Not clear what he’s observing that suggests there will be a scene, or what “worse” is.

Pg. 18: “Every battle and every man that falls should be remembered.” I liked this line, but you need to show his arms COVERED with tattoos in this case.

Pg. 19: “Lavinia holds her stomach and lowers her eyes for such a possibility.” This is an odd description. She sounds like she’s going to barf.

Pg. 26: “Titus’s and Lavinia’s eyes don’t fool anyone. They know each other. They love each other.” Again, telling not showing. We haven’t even seen them talk yet. You keep suggesting they have a history, but we never see it or learn any of the details. Might even be worth a flashback. Maybe she was the girl next door to the blacksmith shop and saw him taken?

Pg. 27: “It seems your world will soon be at an end, sire.” Dissing the Emperor like this could get both him and Lavinia killed – and does in fact get her killed eventually. Seems dumb and foolhardy.

Pg. 30: Golgotha scene is repetitive. I’d put the injured guy back on page 6. Also, Helena and the others need to react to this miraculous healing.

Pg. 37: “Where is the honor in this Doctori?” What’s a Doctori?

Pg. 41: It was too easy for Titus to kill the first zombie. On the other hand, it’s an opportunity for Flavius to create a bigger obstacle for Flavius. But I’d still make it harder for him here.

Pg. 44: Titus says:

“Life and Death, freedom and slavery; they bear very little difference, don’t they.”

Earlier, he told Lavinia to go away and leave him alone. So what DOES he want, if not freedom? Doesn’t he have a goal? Is this another Zen gladiator?

The slave says:

“The ritual was not complete. His soul is trapped between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead. His body will not die.”

Again, you need to establish that this is one of the Africans who was present at the initial ceremony. You need to show him seeing the wolf eating the meat, and you need to show him seeing the wolf bite Cassius, and you need to show him seeing Cassius as a zombie. And with all that, you should really give the guy a name and a bigger part.

Pg. 45: I like raising the stakes here with Flavius ordering the Africans infected. But you might want to establish earlier that these guys are really fierce warriors. For example, they could be the ones that defeated the village in the opening. Also, you say on page 15 that Titus kills the “final” African warrior. Maybe use some different warriors in that scene and save the Africans for later?

I think this is very late to bring in Orcus… Also, why does Flavius have to pray to Orcus to defeat Titus? He hasn’t tried very hard yet to kill Titus via conventional means, so this seems like swatting a fly with a catapult. It seems like Flavius and Orcus have a “relationship,” but it’s not clear what it is.

Pg. 46: I like the image of Orcus from Flavius’s POV, suggesting that this is all in his head, but again I think Orcus (or Flavius’s belief in Orcus) needs to come much earlier.

Constantine says:

“The day will come where you will cease to pit man against man for blood sport. I wish to see that day.”

By Flavius is right: in the meantime, why does Constantine keep watching the games?

Pg. 48: Drusis says four is all he could “conjure.” That suggests that he thinks he’s working magic. Since he’s a doctor, maybe he could say something like “infect”?

The African zombies don’t seem very skilled here. It seems like Titus should be able to defeat them easily. Could use more details on how they fight.

Pg. 52: I liked the marsh scene. Also, I think it’s cool that Flavius CHOOSES to be a zombie and that's an elegant explanation of how he's able to control the others.

Pg. 54: “During Armageddon, Constantine realizes something. Rome needs a leader.” How can we tell by looking at him what he realizes? Just show him taking the ring.

Pg. 62-3: “Fear not, my fellow Romans. I am here to restore order. Rome shall prevail over this tragedy.” Constantine sounds like a pompous ass here. Consider making him more modest? Ditto with the “city to save” line on page 64. You’ve plugged him into the Quintus role, but it doesn’t fit well, since Constantine (up until he plugs into Quintus) seems much more noble.

Pg. 65: I loved Lavinia’s “point and shoot” line and am willing to forgive the anachronism. :)

Constantine yells that they should save the Republic – but it wasn’t a Republic, it was an Empire. So he could shout “save the Empire” instead. But what does the Senate building have to do with the Empire or the Republic? The building itself can be rebuilt and they can always recruit more Senators.

Pg. 75: Nerd note: Romans wouldn’t actually use the word “spa” to refer to a tub. A spa was a resort. They’d refer to the “baths.”

Pg. 82: This is the first we’re hearing about Titus’s connection to Christianity. Also “convert” doesn’t sound like the right word to me. Maybe just “Christian”?

The focus really snaps to Titus for the first time at this point, but it’s too late. Also, we don’t get a sense of how he feels about Christianity or any other religion. He might even be angry at his father for making the choice that led to Titus being enslaved, which could lead to an interesting conflict with Constantine, and then the birth of faith in the Lavinia scene.

82-83: This version of Titus’s back story has more emotional weight than in other drafts.

Pg. 83: The audience isn’t going to know what a Ludus is. Just call it a gladiatorial school.

Pg. 84: I liked the love-making scene (and the delicate way you described it), but I really want to know more about the history between these two.

Pg. 87: Constantine says “Praise the Lord!” But we don’t know yet that he’s a Christian, even though his mother sent him the relics. I want to see his interest in Christianity early on, perhaps as a source of conflict with his pagan father.

Pg. 91: How and when did Helena get back from Jerusalem?? This is the first we’ve seen that she’s in the city and Constantine doesn’t act surprised. How likely is it that she could return and no one would notice or tell him? But on page 99 he asks when she got back. And why would she refuse to leave the Pantheon? (We only learn the reason later.) This is making no sense to me at all and it’s when the third act starts to fall apart.

Pg. 95: This “let’s go to the Pantheon to meet mom and get the cure” thing isn’t working for me at all. This seems like a clumsily forced plot point.

Pg. 99: I have mixed feelings about the flashback. I like the idea and the visuals, but it somehow seems clumsy and expositional. Maybe if it came earlier? And how does Orcus relate to Lucifer? Different name for the same guy? What about the other Roman gods? Are they still in the game? If not, why is Orcus the only one standing?

This is also very late to bring in Lucifer. I think you need to bring in the whole pagan-vs.-Christian thing earlier and be clear about who’s on which team.

Pg. 102: Nerd note: If you want him to pray in a foreign language, Hebrew, the holy language, makes more sense than Aramaic, the everyday language. Or just have him pray in English or Latin, or even the Greek that the Christian Bible was first written in.

Having Lavinia die here is a bummer and Titus doesn’t have much of an emotional reaction.

Pg. 104: “We were given what He saw fit. The light of goodness shall shine on the darkness.” This felt a bit sanctimonious to me.

I’m not really digging the “save their souls” bit.

Pg. 109: “Sin creeps at our door. This is not a battle of greed for money or land.” This seems like a non sequitor.

Pg. 111: Collapsing the bridge into the bloody river was cool as well as practical. But here Titus and Constantine seem to be at cross purposes: Constantine wants to save zombie souls, and Titus wants to just kill them. Maybe develop that conflict?

Pg. 114: I like having Titus and Flavius fight in single combat. Traditional for hero and villain, because it works.

115-116. I am totally confused by the ending. Titus rejects Orcus, even though Orcus seems to have Lavinia. But if Lavinia’s soul was saved with the blood of Christ, how did she end up in the power of Orcus? And then the story just stops at a very unsatisfying point.

I love the creativity in this, and many things work well. But I felt that the integration of pagan and Christian beliefs was under-developed and that the third act just fell apart.

There were also quite a few writing issues. Some examples follow:

A small distance behind the men is [are] the women and
children of the tribe.

Chopped off hands is [are] discernible.

The side of this rocky hill has [a] stone that protrudes and resembles the features of a human skull.

Your faults as a son is [are] my failure.

The injured man breathes shallow and labored. [The injured man’s breath is shallow and labored.]

There have been many a brave warrior who’ve come to taste the tip of my sword... [There have been many brave warriors who have…]

He looks at his own blood soaked cloth. [clothes]

Creatures slither through [over?] Flavius’s feet.

The peddling of flesh is an issue that will change now that
I am in command. [I will forbid the peddling of flesh.]

He refused to make anymore [any more] weapons.

Her soul, like the others, are [is] trapped in hell.

We came here to help [save] Lavinia from the sins of my father.

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