HEARTS IN ATLANTIS
April 8th, 2004
Script Review: HEARTS IN ATLANTIS (April, 2000 draft) - by William GoldmanReviewed by Christopher Wehner
WARNING: SOME SPOILERS!
HEARTS IN ATLANTIS is based on a book of the same name published in 1999 by Stephen King. It consists of five stories that follow three childhood friends, and more specifically it deals with the changes that Vietnam had on each of them as they grew into adults.
Before discussing the script it's important to discuss William Goldman's unique screenwriting style. He does not use slug lines. "I write my screenplays to be read," says William Goldman. "What I mean is that, from the very beginning, I've tried to make my screenplays reading experiences, much like a book or a play."
As a result Goldman's screenplays are breezy, easy to read, and utterly the wrong example to follow if you're still trying to sell your first screenplay. Here's a sample from his BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969) script:
A DOOR. It is thick and solid metal and strong.
PAPER MONEY being counted by ten skilled fingers.
A GUN IN A HOLSTER, belonging to a MAN in a guard's uniform.
As you can see, a very informal, almost conversational way to write your script. But it is not generally an accepted format and therefore I suggest not copying the style no matter how tempting.
In order for this to be even the slightest bit acceptable screenplay structure, under each "CUT TO" would be required a slug line. An example would be:
INT. BANK/1897 - DAY
Dimly lit, dust in the air is illuminated by sunlight. The cashier and a bank manager are busy helping customers. A SAFE is in the corner, opened. TWO BANDITS, pistols drawn, enter.
You really need to include slug lines in your screenplay. As for reading a screenplay, it makes no difference to me, but Goldman's style is much easier on the eyes.
As for Goldman's script for HEARTS IN ATLANTIS, it opens with a Fade In on a newspaper headline. Someone has died in a car accident.
The main characters of the story will be Ted Brautigan (who we meet a little later), Bobby Garfield, John Sullivan ("Sully") and Carol Gerber. Bobby Garfield is the main character of the story. He is opening a box. In it was the newspaper clipping and an old baseball glove.
Bobby holds the baseball glove for a moment. We learn that John Sullivan, his childhood friend, has died in the apparent auto accident. Sully as he was called, was a Vietnam veteran. What's immediately clear is that this glove represents something to Bobby. But more importantly, it will represent something in the story as well. It's important to note that Sully willed the glove to Bobby.
Bobby is taking a journey back to his hometown for Sully's funeral, but more importantly he's taking a journey back in time. On page 2 of the script Goldman writes, "BOBBY GARFIELD, beginning the journey of his life."
Bobby grew up in the small town of Harwich, Connecticut. When he arrives he realizes everything has changed. He attends the funeral, standing on the outskirts and out of the way.
After the funeral Bobby is informed that his other childhood friend, Carol Gerber, his childhood sweetheart, died while protesting the Vietnam War. Apparently she was involved with a sixties militant group. One day a bomb they were building blew up in the basement of their house, and Carol went with it.
Bobby's world collapses upon hearing this news. He manages to pull himself together. He leaves the funeral and begins his journey back in time. He's on foot walking the streets. Still in a daze he wanders around his old neighborhood and ends up at his old house. It is here that we are transported back in time with Bobby and his recollections.
It is now the 1960. And we meet a much younger Bobby (to be played by Anton Yelchin), and his mother. Right away we get a sense for what we can expect from Bobby's relationship with his mother. We learn it's his birthday. All she gets him is a library card. That's all she can afford. But it's not all she afford as the story unfolds we find her buying herself new dresses and going out of town to conventions Though she is completely unlikable it is incredible how dead-on Goldman is in capturing this character. As the story developed I truly hated her, but there were also times I felt a lot of sympathy for her.
Bobby's father passed away and his mother has struggled to support them. All he has are his two best friends, Carol and Sully. They mean the world to him, to each other for that matter. They were inseparable.
Though we get to learn a lot about these kids, I still found myself wanting to learn more about Sully. But the story belongs to Bobby, and to a much lesser extent Carol, so Goldman had to focus on them. But Sully plays an important part, which we will see.
Soon we meet Ted Brautigan (to be played by Anthony Hopkins). An odd man in his 60s with white hair. He moves in above Bobby and his mother, in the upstairs. Bobby and Ted strike up a friendship.
It's not long before the story changes from a drama to a much different one when a paranoid Ted tells Bobby he is on the run from "low men in yellow coats." Ted then strikes a deal with Bobby, who desperately wants a bike. His mother won't buy him one. If Bobby will read the paper to Ten every day and watch out for these bad guys, he will give him a dollar a week. Ted then tells Bobby how to spot these guys, "lost pet posters tacked to trees or telephone polls strange hopscotch marks on sidewalks." Okay, very strange fellow indeed.
This is the first plot point that obviously spins the story in a totally new direction. Stephen King fans will love it, I on the other hand did not. Oh it was interesting. But it was completely what I expected form a King story. I hate not being surprised. I was looking for a SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION type movie and instead got THE GREEN MILE again. A kind of supernatural thriller gone off the deep end, rats. At one point, all I wanted Bobby to do was go to the drug store and get Ted some Prozac. Okay, I don't mean that and besides it was the sixties.
There is a nice twist and surprise in the story that everyone will love towards the end. The story is magical, and extremely moving. The writing is of course excellent. The character interaction and development are masterful. My sense is that Goldman's adaptation will be admired by King fans, and those who by choice are not familiar with his work.
The theme of the script for me is redemption, innocence lost, and the transition between childhood memories and adult realities. Wanting to go back in time, even if just for a short while. If only we could change a few things once there. Sullys character centers the story keenly on its theme, as does his baseball. Together they represent innocence lost.
This is a wonderful story and I think this is the kind of story that William Goldman had no trouble writing. It had to be a story Goldman loved writing. The writing feels like it was from the mind of someone who was extremely passionate about the story. There was great care taken, and attention to detail, especially with the characters.
This is also a time period for that him is most likely filled with fond memories of his own. I don't think a younger writer could have written this story as strongly as Goldman does. If you know anything about the man you know he was a sports writer for a time. He grew up in Chicago watching Bronko Nagurski with his uncle Victor. He even has a scene where Ted describes a game in which "The Bronk" lifts the Bears to victory. A game that I believe Goldman saw in person as a kid. Anyway, it's no surprise Goldman nailed this story, he should have.
That's about all I'll say for the writing. I've written enough about Goldman's writing, hes truly a master.
I don't read much Stephen King, gasp, and I know I should as what little I have read Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption for example, have been moving experiences for me as a reader. I'm not into the horror thing, so for many years that was all I thought he could write. HEARTS IN ATLANTIS should be another example of the diversity King has displayed time and again.
Castle Rock Entertainment is the company doing the picture with Scott Hicks (SHINE) directing. Hicks seems like a perfect choice. Look for this film at a theater near you in 2001, no specific date as of yet.
Note: Since the ending in the script does not exist in film I will share it with you. The ending as written by Goldman had Bobby and Carol finding each other in a park. She is alive. Though on the run as she is no longer Carol Gerber. But lets flashback a moment. In the script Carole is beaten up by the neighborhood bully. She left at the bottom of a steep slope. Bobby finds her and in a dramatic transition carries her up the slope. It is this act that marks a transition in Bobbys life from a weak, powerless kid to a man. He later confronts the bully and beats him up. That was a visual image repeated in the script. To me it represented the soul of the story and without the ending in this script the story looses something. Later we learn that Carol was also deeply moved by Bobbys heroic act. The script looses several beautiful moments from this draft.
Later, when they meet as adults, the relevance of the title is even explained. When you watch the movie its elusive. But in the final scene, now near the ocean, Bobby and Carol as adults walk and in the background we see Bobby as a young man, carrying Carol up that hill. That whole visual dichotomy is missing from the movie. It connects the dots. There is a more powerful and clearer thrust to the narrative, and at the core is a much more emotional story. As the movie finished I found myself feeling completely robbed. Its still a wonderful movie, but some of the richness is lost from this early draft of the script.
I also highly recommend reading an interview with William Goldman in Creative Screenwriting Vol. 8 No. 5. In it he discusses the script changes I mention above.