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Director's Cut: Script review of Rendezvous with Rama

Posted by Patrick Sauriol on Saturday, February 2, 2002

Howdy all. It's been about six weeks since my last Director's Cut, and I hope you've been groovin' with the film updates as well as what Dayna, Reg and the other hombres are doing with Test Pattern. So far 2002 has been a turbulent year for myself, in-between juggling time to update CA, fill my duties as the News Editor of Universal's 13th Street and run the business side of Corona. Somewhere in there I also managed to find the time to pitch a comic book series (my first since I wrote Technopolis for Caliber Comics back in '98), so I'm crossing my fingers and hoping to hear good things back from the editor. And if he likes my proposal, you better believe you'll hear about it from me, so send good thoughts my way!

Later this morning I get to hop onto a plane and fly off to Prince George, a town situated in the interior of British Columbia. There Warner Bros. has set up camp and is filming Dreamcatcher, the latest Stephen King book adaptation, starring Morgan Freeman, Tom Sizemore, Thomas Jane and Jason Lee. It should be fun and I'm looking forward to having an early look at the film.

It'll also be a great opportunity to speak with Morgan Freeman about another film project of his based on a popular novel. Of course I'm referring to Rendezvous With Rama, the movie based on the classic sci-fi novel by one of my favorite writers of all time, Arthur C. Clarke (2001: A Space Odyssey). Freeman's production company, Revelations Entertainment, has been working on the project for a number of years, with Freeman slated to star in the film's lead role as well as produce. Freeman has also managed to attract the interest of one of my favorite directors, David Fincher (the guy behind Alien 3, Seven, Fight Club and next month's Panic Room). It's no wonder then that I've been closely following the Rendezvous With Rama movie and waiting to see what happens to it next.

Lucky for me then that I've gotten my hands on this sucker's screenplay, huh?

Adapted by first-time screenwriter Scott Brick, last I heard this November 1999 screenplay is still the one Revelations is working from. In fact, last year at the San Diego Comic Convention Smilin Jack Ruby bumped into Andrew Kevin Walker, the guy who wrote Seven and did some work on The Game for Fincher, and who was also rumored to be helping with Rama. When SJR asked Walker about the Rama script, he said that he wasn't doing a Rama rewrite because he heard Brick had nailed it.

I'm happy to report that Scott Brick didn't just nail Rendezvous With Rama; he hit this mother right out of the ballpark. This has the potential to be the mainstream sci-fi hit that eluded Clarke when 2001 first came out in theaters. Rendezvous With Rama the movie promises to be a "hard" science fiction film filled with tension, action, thrills and above all else, a profound sense of wonder. In the hands of Fincher, this promises to be an absolutely amazing sci-fi picture, one that will live up to fans of Clarke's novel as well as audiences who don't know who the hell he is.

In a nutshell, Rendezvous With Rama tells the story of Mankind's first encounter with aliens. Set a couple of hundred years into the future when people travel between our solar system's planets and moons, the Spaceguard ship Endeavour is rerouted to check out Stellar Object 31/439 (nicknamed "Rama"), some kind of weird asteroid headed for the inner solar system. Under the command of Captain Norton (this would be Morgan Freeman's character in the film), the Endeavour encounters the mystery object and discovers it to be a massive cylinder, jet black, dozens of miles long. It obviously wasn't made by human hands.

The Endeavour crew finds a way to land on the gigantic structure and eventually discovers a way inside the vessel. Once they reach its interior an even more amazing sight awaits them: Rama is hollow and inside is a self-contained world. As the Endeavour crew slowly start to explore Rama more questions arise: where is the crew? What is the purpose of the ship? Where is it headed? And is there anyone living on-board, and if so, where are they?

Describing the story any further will just spoil the surprises, but if I've got you curious now, I urge you to go buy Clarke's book and discover the adventure yourself. It won't take away from your enjoyment when Rama eventually gets made as a movie; in fact, I can hardly wait to see how the world of Rama is created. In addition to being a talented writer, Brick is obviously a big fan of the source material and sci-fi in general. When Captain Norton, after entering Rama and finding himself facing a door that opens into a featureless black void, throws a flare into the darkness, Brick's description of what we'll get to see is simply jaw-dropping. I'd love to print it for you to read for yourself, but that would be copyright infringement and a world of hurt would arise. If you get to see it on the big screen, this one scene would rank right up there with the Mothership descending over Devil's Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Brick's adaptation of Rendezvous With Rama is filled with these kinds of visual epiphanies, like when the ice breaks across the Cylindrical Sea, or the first appearance of the Biots, or the first glimpse of Rama as the Endeavour approaches Jupiter. Amazing eye candy awaits.

But in addition to being able to adapt Clarke's grand imagery from prose to script, Brick did a favor for the science fiction grandmaster. I've read almost all of Arthur C. Clarke's novels (Childhood's End being my favorite), but one complaint I've had of his writing is Clarke's characters. In many of Clarke's books his characters are secondary and could be interchanged with any of the other characters from the author's other books. While Clarke injected a little more humanity into his Rama characters than, say, Dave Bowman or Heywood Floyd from 2001, Brick manages to add to that and give his Rama movie characters a little more flavor. I consider it a very wise move, especially when adapting a hard science fiction project like Rama. You get the sense as to why Captain Norton is a hard-ass when it comes to following rules and regulations on his ship, or why Jimmy Pak, the team's hazardous environments officer, likes to play it fast and loose. I also liked the small touch of including a crewmember who was devoutly religious and who also offered his own ideas as to why Rama has come to Earth. The Endeavour crewmembers all get their opportunity to become three- dimensional, living, breathing characters, and that's precisely what James Cameron did with his space marines in Aliens.

One thing that did take me by surprise is the amount of action contained in the script, especially the second half. Once Norton and his crew start venturing deeper into Rama and into the southern hemisphere things start really happening. There seems to be more opportunity for the movie to have action sequences than I remember from the book's story arc, but I write that off as part of the financial necessities of adapting a novel into a mainstream cinematic story. As for the mysteries of the Rama ship, the screenplay does solve some of them but leaves a good many enigmas unresolved upon its conclusion, including an interesting final scene that differs from what I recall of the book's ending. I hope that this will also be the case with the final product; too often everything gets explained in movies, especially in the sci-fi genre. Again, using Close Encounters as an analogy, it was better when Steven Spielberg didn't show what happened to Richard Dreyfuss' character when he walked inside the Mothership. It would be nice to end the show with some of the mysteries still a mystery. I'm hoping that with strong creative forces like Freeman and Fincher involved with the project, that will be the case.

There'a also a nice homage that fans of the original Star Trek TV series would enjoy: the three probes used to map and explore Rama are named after a certain captain and his first officer and chief medical officer!

Rendezvous With Rama needs to get made. Revelations has all the ingredients to make the new century's first science fiction classic; I think it could be a twenty-first century Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I'm dying to see David Fincher's approach to this kind of sci-fi story. I'd love to see how the interior of Rama can be realized using today's computer graphics. And Morgan Freeman is the perfect guy to play Captain Norton; this project is tailor made for his commanding voice and presense and I can see why he bought the film rights to this book. It's about time another movie was made from an Arthur C. Clarke novel, and between this project and Kimberly Pierce's Childhood's End, I'm starting to get excited. Someone at Beacon Pictures needs to get their hands on the Rama screenplay and hire Scott Brick right now to do the screenplay for Childhood's End. If this is what he can do with Rendezvous With Rama, I can only imagine what he'd do with Childhood's End.

It's time to ask Morgan what's up with Rama.

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