Sunday, February 14, 2010


The more difficult, and more original, that you can make your hero’s problems, the better your screenplay is going to be. In Oz, Dorothy certainly encounters her fair share of problems, including, of course “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” Part of what makes Dorothy’s story so great is that it’s at once very simple and intrinsic – all she wants is to go home – and surprising and fantastical. The world she must navigate to reach the wizard is fraught with interesting peril.

But, that’s been done. Lions, tigers, bears, witches…they’re all still threats, but you can’t successfully employ your everyday dangerous carnivores or wicked, magical women without some kind of twist. Say, for instance, that Dick and Jane are in an Oz-like world. They’ve already encountered some giant, scary animals and the audience is terrified of what else lurks in the shadows. You spring a witch out, that’s no real surprise. Even a cannibalistic witch…see Hansel and Gretel. But say all of a sudden Dick and Jane are just confronted by an innocent looking little kid.

Dick and Jane slowly make their way through a tangled jungle thicket.

Do you hear that?

F***. What if it’s another oversized, man-eating wasp?

No…it sounds…smaller.

Suddenly, a SMALL CHILD, 8, emerges from the bushes wearing a chef’s hat and apron and smiling broadly. Dick and Jane breathe a sigh of relief.

Aw, hello. What’re you doing out here? Where’s your mommy?

Without warning, a few more SMALL CHILDREN materialize, all holding various kitchen utensils, including a butcher knife. Things start to look a little sinister.

Are you kids lost?

The Small Children begin to advance on Dick and Jane, all smiling widely and wielding their kitchen tools menacingly. The first Small Child licks his lips.

Oh. My. God. Dick, I think they’re going to eat us!

Who would expect a tribe of tiny cannibal children to be the next enemy that our brave heroes face? A masterful example of the unexpected nemesis can be found in the comedy, Galaxy Quest, when a bunch of actors pretending to be a starship crew land on a strange planet. First, the gang encounters a village of adorable aliens who seem innocuous until they start ripping each other apart. Then, the hero is trapped on the planet and faces a pig monster which he thinks is the worst imaginable creature he could possibly battle. But no, next a cluster of nearby rocks transforms into a behemoth villain and nearly squashes our unsuspecting hero like a bug. The scenes that take place on this planet, hence, are both suspenseful and comedic because you just don’t see it coming.

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