Originally published in Script Magazine Online in 2005 in a slightly shorter form here.
Below is the full article…
M. Night Shyamalan is the modern master of the high-concept thriller. He is also a mad scientist. A tinkerer.
With each new film, he’s gone back into his lab and concocted some new experiment in suspense storytelling. This is a screenwriter who has mastered traditional narrative and gotten bored with it, so he’s decided to consistently take chances with the form. From his sub-basement sanctum sanctorum, amidst the smoking beakers and jarred brains and that lightning-rod thingee, adjacent to the plasma screen playing non-stop Hitchcock films, he straps standard three-act structure down onto a slab of unforgiving granite and goes to work. With The Village he shocks his most bold experiment into life.
Shyamalan has always enjoyed playing the puppetmaster of our emotions. Don’t kid yourself — he may be fascinated with the retooling of narrative structure, but ultimately, he’s experimenting on us, the audience. Like Hitchcock before him, Shyamalan is the Great Manipulator. Manipulation is not a bad word to M. Night; rather, it’s his raison d’etre. He loves it, gets off on playing us like a marionette. And considering his four straight commercial successes (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village), it’s safe to say we keep coming back for more.
My take on the success of this film is that it was Casablanca for gay men. It’s a classical period “doomed” romance in a unique milieu that had never been presented in this way, at least not in a wide release with major movie stars. Put simply: its time had come. This was great writing about two people in quiet desperation (actually, four people), one of whom is a man so beset by guilt and fear and held to a code of ethics formed in his youth that he absolutely CANNOT allow himself to be with the person he truly loves the most.
I don’t think the ‘shock factor’ had as much to do with the phenomenon as the press would have had us believe. And for some viewers who didn’t “get it,” they complained that not much happened. But this film is not so much about actions — it focuses on theme, character and inner conflicts. Subtext is a huge factor in this story, and the writers (Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana adapting Annie Proulx) use it to create great depth from what seems to be a narrow-focus story. read more
The Big Idea has replaced the term “high concept”… they essentially mean the same thing. The big idea is the first and maybe the only thing that will get your script read if you’re a new, unproven writer…the big idea is not just a stringing together of familiar elements from other hit movies, as many newbie writers think.
Story Map beats for Rapunzel (original Grimm’s Fairy Tale, source material for Tangled):
Opening: A WIFE convinces her HUSBAND to steal the delicious rampion from the garden of the powerful WITCH that lives next door.
Inciting Incident: The Husband goes back for more rampion and he is caught by the Witch.She puts a curse on him — he must give her his first-born child. RAPUNZEL, a beautiful, golden-haired girl is born and given to the Witch.
Strong Movement Forward: When Rapunzel is 12, the Witch locks her in a cell at the top of a tower with no stairs or door, only a single window. Rapunzel’s only visitor is the Witch, who climbs up Rapunzel’s long hair to reach her cell and bring her food.
End of Act One TURN and DECISION: The PRINCE is riding by one day and he hears Rapunzel’s lonely singing coming from the top of the tower. He can’t find a way into the tower so he rides by every day listening to her song.
First Trial/First Casualty: The Prince observes the Witch call out “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair,” and climb up the hair. The Prince does the same, tricking Rapunzel and putting them both in danger.
Midpoint: They fall in love, get engaged and come up with a plan. The Prince will bring a piece of silk rope each time he visits, and over time Rapunzel will sew a ladder from the rope that she may climb down to escape.
Declaration of War: Just as the escape ladder is almost ready, The Witch learns of Rapunzel’s engagement to the Prince and she cuts off the girl’s hair and casts her into a desert.
End of Act Two TURN and DECISION: The Witch tricks the Prince into climbing up the cut hair to the top of the tower — she tells him Rapunzel is dead and he leaps from the tower in grief. He survives the fall but blinds himself on thorns.
True Point of No Return: The Prince wanders blind, for years, as Rapunzel bears two twin children in exile.
Climax: The Prince hears her voice and reunites with Rapunzel and their two children. Her tears cure his blindness.
Epilogue: They return to the Prince’s kingdom and live “long and happily.”
Like many of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, it’s got some pretty dark moments. There’s a lot of people dying “miserable deaths” in Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Not exactly the stuff of Disney, huh?
You’ll notice, however, that Rapunzel is almost completely passive. No wonder they’ve given her SUPER-HAIR in this movie!
The trailer suggests that the Prince is the protagonist of the movie, but we all know that Disney’s princess line generates billions of dollars so it would seem to behoove their bottom line to appoint Rapunzel as the character who drives the story with her active decisions. But what’s better for the story? We’ll see. (sound off in the Comments below)
The original fairy tale also says nothing of the fate of the Witch. (If anyone needs to die a miserable death, it’s that bitch.) We all know that if the villain goes unpunished in a movie, we tend to leave the theater unsatisfied, so I’m guessing they’ll make sure she gets hers.
I look forward to this new take on the classic tale.