Ive had the script for CAST AWAY for quite a while now. I never reviewed it because I was asked not to. The person who handed it to me intoned, ‘Fox is being very secretive about this movie.’ I let the script sit and never gave it a second thought. Then two days ago I caught the trailer for the film and was a little shocked to see that they blatantly give away the entire movie. The ending of the movie is so explicitly ruined the thought process must have been: We have Hanks — we have Zemeckis — who cares? More on this trailer in a moment. But now to the script…
The studio may have had high hopes for this film. But I didnt. The last Zemeckis-Hanks extravaganza was FORREST GUMP. A film I felt didnt work. But since so many love it I wont get into the why. Zemeckis is an extremely talented director (he can work that Steadicam like a Kubrick incarnate).
But when working with Hanks the person who crafted the swoops and dives of CONTACT seems to be smothered. I was right about their next collaboration. But I had no idea just how bad it would be. Was the script for CAST AWAY bad? Put it this way: Ive read thousands of scripts (most voluntarily, it should be said).
And only about seven or eight times have I thought about tossing it aside before finishing it. CAST AWAY belongs on that list. But I suffered through it because I owe writer William Broyles (APOLLO 13) that much. Im sure you all know this, but Ill spell it out anyway: Tom Hanks plays a man named Chuck. Chuck is a workaholic problem-solver for FedEx who, because of the importance of his job, can fly off to Russia without so much as packing a bag.
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Obsessed with his work, he ignores the love of his girlfriend, Kelly (Helen Hunt).
She wants marriage, she wants kids, she wants a life with him. But Chuck wont commit. Soon enough Chuck is on a plane that crashes into the ocean and washes up on a deserted island. Now, children, the problem here lies squarely on the shoulders of William Broyles. I dont know how much actual writing hes done in Hollywood, but hes clearly not mastered the art of screenwriting.
The setup of this script feels slapdash and arbitrary. Its also much too long. We learn a needless amount of information about how FedEx works. But who cares? Is this just padding for the one-man act to come, or did Broyles really think wed want to see Fedex Russian offices? You have to set up who Chuck is. So these scenes before hes trapped on the island are monumentally important. But even when Chuck is finally home with his family they still feel artificial and we never learn anything important about Chuck.
His farming family thinks hes ‘uppity.’ Great. That tells us a lot. How does Chuck feel that his family thinks hes aloof and they dont approve of what he does? We dont know. The entire point of these early scenes (which are painfully protracted) are to set up Kelly, his long-suffering girlfriend. Chuck is emotionally distant. And Kelly is…
boring. Shes dull. A total cipher. Shes nothing more than a yes-woman, an Ill-do-anything-for-you-no-matter-how-you-treat-me mannequin, for Chuck. No wonder he doesnt want to marry her.
Broyles creates a population of dullards around Chuck and its no surprise to us why he escapes to his work. Considering how void these people and these scenes are, its downright baffling that it stretches to critical mass the way it does. And it also makes the brevity of Chucks plane crash nearly incomprehensible. Im sure in the film the crash is something spectacular. But the screenwriter has to entertain, too; he cant wait for a director. In the script the plane simply falls from the sky and we see Chuck wash up on a beach.
Thanks, William, you squandered the one chance you might have had to shake us up a little. Okay, students, were now on the island. Our movie is going to actually start. This is not a new tale. Certainly not. And since we just had a reality-based show with the same premise (city people in the wilderness — watch them survive) it feels downright ancient.
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But that doesnt matter. What does is the scenes. Any script / movie set up with a single plot line (two men are stuck together trying to get home for Thanksgiving; two workers in a convenience store all day; a man walking cross-country because of his dead wife) comes down to the scenes the author can come up with. The hoops he can make his characters jump through. In this case the author blunders. In my opinion Broyles mistake was to take his premise and its points (cooked up by Hanks five years ago, by the way), hit them on their heads, and walk away happy.
This causes some structural awkwardness (not to mention vitiating the already bare-bones story) and leaves one feeling nonplussed. Take for example the fact that Chuck washes up on this island with a bunch of FedEx packages. Hes hungry and tired and scared. But he doesnt open the packages! ‘His conscience gets the best of him,’ it says in the script. What? Are you kidding me? Who knows what can be in those packages! Does he think some granny sending her grand kid a sweatshirt would mind if he wore it while he was trapped on a deserted island and could possibly die? Its ludicrous. Broyles does it only as a cheat — he doesnt want Chuck to find whats in them (and talk about a cheat: one of the bags has a doctors satchel in it! ) till later.
Also chew over this humdinger: almost immediately Chuck builds a raft out of island-ready material. He tries to get it into the water and fails. Okay, you say. He stops that day and tries again the next, right? Well… no. He waits four years to ever try again.
Are you telling me this guy would rot on an island for four years because he failed to get his raft in the water on his first attempt? Its almost surreally ridiculous. Heres the point Broyles and Hanks want you to get from this: a modern man goes into the jungle, reverts back to a primitive state, learns something about himself and is the better for it. But Broyles hasnt really expanded or fleshed out the idea of Hanks-as-Neanderthal. Instead, he takes mans evolution point by point. Watch Hanks make a sharp weapon. Watch Hanks find water.
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Watch Hanks spear a fish. Watch Hanks make a fire! Watch Hanks rediscover art as he finger-paints cave walls! CAST AWAY is like SURVIVOR without the cute-as-a-button Colleen and no petty squabbling or in-fighting. Instead you get to see Tom Hanks talk to a soccer ball he names Wilson. I never thought Id say it: but I guess you miss that squabbling.
Its better than hanging with a hirsute, rambling Tom Hanks. One other thing SURVIVOR taught us: modern man doesnt know how to do a damn thing. Including fishing. Even before Hanks goes native hes dug various seven-foot holes in the jungle floor and found water. And learned how to fish. He does this with an almost perfunctory ease, which seems wrong for a guy used to dealing with computers and manifests.
One more gripe: Chuck works for a huge corporation. Hes a higher-up in that corporation. The plane he was in, I believe, was a 737. Would they really not have found him? Did the planes bits and pieces (as seen vividly on TV all across the land nowadays) just sink without a trace? They monitor FedEx planes, according to this, even more than normal planes. So wouldnt they have a rough location of where the plane went down — from what the pilot told them and when they were cut off from communication? I just cant believe that this island is so remote that they couldnt find it in a flyby but Hanks washed up on it sans accompaniment (e. g.
, an inflatable boat, etc. ).
And so, O me brothers, Hanks finally shakes the sand from his crack and says, Hey, what about that bloody raft I built and, with almost no trouble, sails out into the majestic behemoth that is known as the sea. And here, yes indeed, we take a dive toward the even worse. You see, supposedly when people are off on their own, starving and sick, they not only talk to themselves but almost bisect into two beings. While on his raft Chuck becomes ‘Badchuck’ and ‘Goodchuck.’ And we become: the annoyed audience.
Listening to Badchuck and Goodchuck outwit each other about such exciting things as whether or not to touch his own lips is on the level of low-budget education films. Badchuck and Goodchuck get to petulantly whining at each other and it becomes irritating — like two kids bickering in the back seat of a car on a long ride. The script dips briefly into parody while Chuck floats. And its obvious why. What exactly can Broyles show us? Chuck is in the middle of the ocean! So he has every sea-creature known to man ride up alongside Chucks raft, threaten to capsize it, and move on. A whale stops by.
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A shark. A school of Dorado attack him after he kills a comrade. A dolphin lifts its head to say hello. Havent we actually seen this before, though? Man out in the sea.
Hey — it was even Tom Hanks. Remember? It was the comedy version of this and it was called JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO. I think CAST AWAYs parade of swimming-things might just beat out Hanks playing golf in JOE.