Author: Evan Kilgore
Writer’s Potential: 5
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When his parents disappear on the hunt for a mystical gemstone, a high school student is led on a wild adventure on a mysterious island.
Three men and one woman are in a private plane, approaching an island. JUAN SANCHEZ pilots the plane, COLIN SCUDDER and BEN SHAW are explorers, and BETHANY SHAW is Ben’s wife, tagging along for love of her husband. As they approach the island, huge fireballs shoot from the tip of a mountain. Juan loses control of the plane, and it crashes.
JACK SHAW, 17-year-old son of Ben and Bethany, has a rough time at school. He’s a geek and, aside from TREVOR (his one good friend) and LOREN (his bitter ex-girlfriend), he’s lonely. He’s bullied and humiliated by obnoxious athlete LAWSON SCUDDER. He has a job at the zoo, getting paid almost nothing to take care of monkeys while overseen by a penny-pinching, discompassionate manager. Jack’s befriended a monkey called RUPERT, and after being chewed out by his boss, Jack gets angry and kidnaps Rupert. When they arrive at Jack’s house, Jack discovers an eviction notice posted on his front door. He calls the offices of Scudder Search & Salvage and speaks with PAULO SANCHEZ—Juan’s brother—who has no information.
When Paulo asks MIRIAM SCUDDER—Colin’s cousin, and the mother of Lawson—about it, she gives him an ultimatum: “Help me if you want to see your brother alive again.” She lets him think about that while she goes into a board of directors meeting. The board gives her an ultimatum of their own: either she finds a mystical gemstone—the same one that the team at the beginning are searching for—or she’s fired. With limited resources and the help of Paulo and Lawson, Miriam sets out for the island.
Meanwhile, Jack has called ALAN CARVER, an old family friend and fellow explorer. Carver arrives and explains to Jack the Legend of Fireball Mountain: the island is supposedly the last resting place of a “dark god” called Draccon, who fell in love with a human girl and carved a gemstone for her. If any mortal finds the gemstone, the wedding ring, and recites their vows on this island, they will be embodied by Draccon and have godly powers. It can either be used for the forces of good, or pure evil, depending on the person Draccon embodies. According to Carver, Ben has been seeking these artifacts for most of his career. Ben’s found the ring, which has really set him off on the quest for the gemstone. Loren interrupts, arriving unannounced to complain to Jack that she’s been expelled forced to go to a teen boot-camp. The two of them convince Carver to fly them to the island to rescue Jack’s parents. Jack brings Rupert with them.
Fireballs nearly bring down Carver’s plane on the way to the island. They make a crash-landing in the sea and swim their way to safety. Neither Jack nor Rupert can swim, so Carver and Loren have to drag them both to the safety of the beach. Rupert disappears into the jungle in search of other chimps, who are fierce and frighten him away. The three humans set out into the jungle, where they almost immediately bump into Miriam, Paulo, Lawson, and a group of Scudder employees. As Jack tries to make his way across a rickety rope bridge over a crevasse, Miriam orders her employees to cut the ropes. They do so, nearly causing Jack to plunge to his death. He’s rescued by Loren and Carver, who found a way to the bottom of the crevasse. Lawson is horrified by his mother’s willingness to have nonthreatening people murdered. She explains that the gemstone will make them rich.
The Scudder group is led by IATU, an island native. When Miriam finds and pockets a shard of gem, Iatu explains that the island does not like it when things are removed from his island. Miriam scoffs at island legends, but her removal of the gem causes an earthquake. The quake kills Carver, and Jack and Loren barely make it out alive. Miriam reluctantly puts the gem shard back, and the island settles a bit.
Jack, who studied the maps on the plane ride to the island, leads Loren through the jungle. They simultaneously find Rupert and are nearly killed by a giant fireball. To escape it, they dive into a river. A giant snake slithers toward them, and Loren kills it with her bare hands, impressing Jack. Rupert saves them from another snake. Meanwhile, the Scudder group has found the wreckage of Ben’s plane. They find a fresh grave, which horrifies Paulo. Miriam offers her henchman $1000 for each person they kill, from both Ben’s team and Jack’s.
Jack and Loren get into an argument about their past relationship as they make camp for the night. The next morning, they stumble upon an ancient village built around an amphitheater that, according to Jack, is where the Draccon ritual must be held—there’s an altar specifically designed for the mystical gemstone. They’re interrupted by a Henchman shooting at them. Lawson witnesses this, and watches them narrowly escape death. Jack and Loren are chased into a cave, which is a dead end. Jack insists there should be tunnels. He find hieroglyphics on a cave wall that match a necklace he has been wearing since the beginning. He holds the necklace to the wall, and it rumbles open. They disappear through the doorway, which seals behind them. They navigate the cave tunnels until they come out at Ben’s crash site. They watch silently as Paulo digs up the grave.
When Paulo is safely away, Jack and Loren head through bushes and find Juan Sanchez, murdered by Ben’s hunting knife. Jack is horrified. In the wreckage of a plane, they find a barely functioning satellite phone, which Jack uses to call Trevor. He explains the situation and tells him to get help. Trevor reluctantly agrees. Paulo hears static from the phone and comes running back. Jack and Loren get back into the cave tunnels, but Paulo finds Juan’s body.
In the tunnels, Jack and Loren find Lawson, who says he’s come to warn them about the Henchmen who want them dead. Meanwhile, Paulo has found Miriam. He blames her for Juan’s death. She tells him that once they find the gemstone, they can bring him back to life. They defile a statue of Draccon, which causes another earthquake. Jack, Loren, and Lawson narrowly escape the collapsing cave tunnels, and they come out right at a gem shrine near the Draccon statue. They watch as Miriam approaches to take the gemstone, but Loren realizes it’s an intentional decoy. Paulo fears something’s wrong and tries to stop Miriam. When he’s distracted by the kids running from the cave mouth, Miriam shoves him out of her way and takes the decoy gem. Paulo chases Jack toward a waterfall, where Jack sees the real gemstone shimmering behind the water. Paulo runs past him, gets the gem. Loren and Lawson try to lunge the fake out of Miriam’s hands. She fights them off and rushes away. As the stone bridge across the waterfall crumbles, Lawson tries to save Jack from plunging to his death. He doesn’t, and Jack drops into the raging river below, rushed off and unable to swim. Lawson and Loren realize what the earthquakes are doing: sinking the island. Loren wants to find Jack.
Colin Scudder saves Jack, who forces Colin to take him to where he last saw Jack’s parents. Jack narrowly escapes a fireball, only to discover he’s been saved by his father, Ben. Ben tells him that Bethany died in the crash, which prompts some angst between them. He explains about Miriam and Paulo, and they rush off to stop them, leaving Colin behind. They see Miriam doing the incantation with the decoy, and Ben explains that using the real gemstone without the ring may open a hole to hell itself. Paulo overhears this, threatens them with guns, and steals the ring from Ben as he delivers both of them to Miriam. Miriam finishes the incantation, which causes Paulo—not her—to gain godlike powers. He rushes off into the lavastream, which parts for him. Jack and Ben chase him, and as Paulo is about to transform into a god, Jack bravely swoops out, steals the ring away, which causes both Paulo and Draccon to disappear. Now they’re all forced to run like hell to make it to the Scudder seaplane before the island fully sinks. They narrowly make it, and discover Colin Scudder is already there and prepping for takeoff. Lawson and Rupert barely make it, and against the protests of everyone on the plane, Jack lets down a rope to grab them.
They fly off, but only for a little while. The plane runs out of fuel, so they skid to a stop in the middle of the ocean…where Trevor and a rescue team come to save them. It turns out Ben has taken the gem, which means they’re all filthy rich.
This rollicking adventure is a whole lot of fun, but it has two significant problems that keep it from realizing its potential: wooden dialogue and a surplus of characters.
The dialogue doesn’t sound natural. It rings false in the mouths of 17-year-old kids especially, but even the adults’ dialogue is either overloaded with bland exposition or (mostly in the case of the villains) packed with clichés. This problem goes hand-in-hand with the surplus of characters: the main reason the dialogue is all exposition all the time is because the story is so overstuffed with people that there’s no breathing room. Not “breathing room” in the sense of pausing between each action set-piece—just in the sense that every scene fills stiff and on-the-nose because it’s trying to service so many different characters’ subplots at all times. It’s quite a feat that all the different subplots (and their motivations, backstories, arcs, and resolutions,) are clear in the end, but there’s so much going on that individual scenes, especially dialogue-heavy scenes, feel incredibly dull. The script as a whole suffers as a result.
My suggestions for streamlining start, first and foremost, with the Juan/Paulo subplot. When thinking about it, Miriam seems uniquely stupid for suggesting Paulo be her right-hand-man on this mission. It seems pretty clear that she knows Ben, Bethany, and Colin well enough to know what Juan might have been up against. Especially in light of the fact that Juan never came back, it seems irrational that not only would she drag Paulo to the island with her—she’d go as far as to tell him that the power of this gemstone/ring can bring his brother back to life. He obviously knows Miriam well enough to know she plans to screw him over, but she doesn’t realize this? And she doesn’t think he’ll use the information for his own selfish reasons? This whole subplot takes up way too much screen time but doesn’t really make much sense.
Even the story of Juan flying them to the island to kill them doesn’t hold up under close scrutiny. First, Miriam wants them dead so nobody can interfere with getting the gemstone and performing the ritual herself. The gemstone is the most valuable thing to her, so if Juan fails, he’s left them on the island with the gemstone, where Ben can perform the ritual and easily get off the island with newfound godly power. Even if Ben doesn’t plan to use the gemstone—if he just wants it to prevent others from using it—Colin is a trained pilot, and the crash-landing was unforeseen. If they had landed perfectly, killed Juan, and found the gemstone, they could have just as easily left. There are too many holes in Miriam’s original plan; when combined with Paulo’s story, it’s just a disaster.
What if, instead, Miriam has one of her Henchmen perform the incantation with the decoy? She’s supposed to be smart and clever—wouldn’t she suspect that maybe it’s a fake? That way, any harm would be done to the Henchman, and she’ll know to keep looking. From there, the ending can unfold pretty much as it does, but with Miriam in place of Paulo.
The two most unnecessary characters outside of that subplot are Rupert and Lawson. Maybe Rupert’s cute, but he’s extraneous. Aside from saving their lives a couple of times, he adds nothing to the story. Sure, he represents Jack’s own character growth in an unsubtle metaphor, but is that really necessary? Lawson’s pretty much the same way: the school bully redeemed after looking at his mother’s evil and deciding to help the good guys. It’s not bad by any means, but it’s a story that’s been told before and it just adds more convolution to an already overstuffed plot.
With the time gained by losing all the unnecessary characters and subplots, it gives the characters an opportunity to really shine within this story. Instead of spending the bulk of their time either flatly stating their backstories or what’s currently happening in the plot, they can speak like real people, have real conversations, and allow the island plot and the backstory to reveal itself in more natural ways.
It would also help to have a little bit of fun with the ridiculousness of the whole Legend of Fireball Mountain. Everybody pretty much accepts it as fact, despite how insane it sounds. If everybody has a healthy disbelief that’s maybe shaken (both literally and metaphorically) by strange happenings on the island, the goofy nature of the Legend would integrate better with characters who are rooted in reality.
The main strengths of the script are the action set-pieces and the overall adventure story. If the characters and dialogue were as well-written, this could be a great script.