Angels & Demons: Three Drafts from a Script Postponed

Surely the American public supports the Hollywood writers in their labor struggles and fervently hopes that the writers’ strike be made permanent. Writing is work, and work is a dignified contribution to society. Making someone write for CBS’s drama Cane is an inhumane labor practice and I hope this strike puts an end to it once and for all.Angelsanddemons

All joking aside, the Hollywood writer’s strike has already begun to affect not only television but also moviemaking. The first high-profile casualty, Angels & Demons, the Prequel to the Da Vinci Code, has been postponed by Sony Pictures because they haven’t yet ironed out the script. Now, all due respect to the scriptwriter, who was awarded an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind, a challenging adaptation from a nonfiction book. In perfect sincerity, adapting something as dumb as Angels & Demons is quite a difficult task. Scriptwriters are actually performing a public service in helping us not read this sort of book. They should receive the literary equivalent of “combat pay” for added trauma in the line of duty, which I’m sure takes months or years off their lives. The writers, of course, are entirely in the right in their labor dispute: if they are going to sacrifice themselves in this fashion, the least Hollywood can do is pay them fairly.

But about Angels & Demons. Its main character, Harvard “symbologist” Robert Langdon, is the same protagonist from The Da Vinci Code, although A&D was in fact written first. The two stories – calling them “novels” would be pretentious, they are fictionalized bargain-basement conspiracy theories – couldn’t be more different. The secret society battling the Catholic Church in Angels & Demons is called The Illuminati, and its female lead is a mysterious and sexy Italian babe rather than a mysterious and sexy French babe. G32151975550770

Here is part of one of the opening chapters of Angels & Demons, excerpted from Dan Brown’s official website:

Robert Langdon awoke with a start from his nightmare. The phone beside his bed was ringing. Dazed, he picked up the receiver.

“Hello?”

“I’m looking for Robert Langdon,” a man’s voice said.

Langdon sat up in his empty bed [sic] and tried to clear his mind.

“This…is Robert Langdon.”

He squinted at his digital clock. It was 5:18 A.M.

“I must see you immediately.”

“Who is this?”

“My name is Maximilian Kohler. I’m a Discrete Particle Physicist.”

I imagine the screenplay adaptation of this early, crucial scene was trying. Perhaps the first draft read something like this:

Langdon awakens from bed, dazed. A phone is ringing.

Langdon: Hello?

Kohler: I’m looking for Robert Langdon.

Langdon sits up, trying to clear his mind.

Langdon: This…is Robert Langdon.

Langdon squints at his digital clock: 5:18 A.M.

Kohler: I must see you immediately.

Langdon: Who is this?

Kohler: My name is Maximilian Kohler. I’m a Discrete Particle Physicist.

Okay, this needs some refining. The Hollywood Guild writer’s craft involves compression, the deft conveyance of information within an aura of suspense. Here’s a hypothetical second draft:

Langdon awakens from bed, dazed, and picks up a ringing phone.

Kohler: This is Maximilian Kohler. I’m a Discrete Particle Physicist. I’m looking for Robert Langdon.

Langdon sits up, trying to clear his mind.

Langdon: This…is Robert Langdon.

Langdon squints at his digital clock: 5:18 A.M.

Kohler: I must see you immediately.

By the third draft, a sort of buzzing elegance must pervade a Guild-quality script. Perhaps something like this will emerge after hours of painstaking work:

A phone rings. Robert Langdon awakens from bed, dazed, and squints at his digital clock: 5:18 A.M.

Langdon: Langdon.

Kohler: Max Kohler here. I’m a scientist, but I badly need the help of a detective.

As long as these fictional drafts of the Angels & Demons script are being published in advance of the movie’s release, why not add a fictional Post-It Note to put on the very first page, reading, in the scrawl of a triumphant American craftsman and scriptwriter: By Jove, Dan Brown, I’ve made your characters sound human!

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