The Script: Voltron
The Pitch: Adapted from the animated series Voltron: Defender of the Universe
Written By: Justin Marks 5/23/07
As always, before you begin reading any script review, it’s wise to remember that this is only a review of one draft of the script. There may be other drafts, it may change, and even if it doesn’t a lot can happen between the writing of something and the making of it into the film. Sometimes even the worst scripts can be saved by great acting and direction, and great scripts can be ruined by filmmakers who have no idea what they’re doing. On the other hand, the script for The Mummy 3 was total crap, and so was the movie. Sometimes these things work out as they should.
One thing I can definitely say for Justin Marks’ Voltron script, is that it’s a lot better than the script for The Mummy 3. That’s not a bad place to start. On the other hand, my pen broke and leaked ink all over my desk last night, and that was better than The Mummy 3. Ok, that’s not really true. I don’t actually use pens anymore (in fact lately I’ve begun to suspect I no longer know how to write in cursive), that’s why I have this lovely keyboard. But you get the point. It’s not hard to be better than The Mummy 3.
Marks’ take on Voltron has already been reviewed by at least one other person online, so you’re probably wondering why you should bother paying attention to me. Well, my goal here is going to be to offer you a somewhat different point of view. The last person to review this particular script was over the moon for it, their praise was effusive. I beg to differ. An A+ this is not, but Marks has definitely managed to create something which is, perhaps beyond all expectations when you consider what he’s up against with this property, workable. That other script review had one thing right: what he’s achieved here is nothing short of a miracle. Not because this is the best script ever written, but because it’s not the epic disaster a movie made out of Voltron probably ought to be.
Look, I was there in the 80s with the rest of you. I loved the Voltron cartoons. Scratch that, I was nuts for the Voltron cartoons. I lusted after those toys like a Labrador retriever in heat. Voltron was great, and then Power Ranger ruined it. Power Rangers took Voltron’s idea, warped it, and showed us all just how stupid, childish, and ridiculous the whole concept was. Power Ranger ruined the idea of men driving around in giant robots, which can fuse together into one super-robot, pretty much forever. Justin Marks can’t change that, the idea of guys fighting aliens from the cockpits of robot lions will always be pretty stupid, however he’s done the best he could with it. He’s made a massive, summer blockbuster on the order of a slightly dumbed down version of Transformers, the kind movie that will probably star Will Smith, and that everyone will probably enjoy and then instantly forget. Marks has written, tonally at least, the popcorn equivalent Independence Day, and I’m not sure what more anyone could have expected from him, given the source material he had to work with.
What’s most surprising is that Marks has accomplished that while remaining fairly faithful to the original Voltron cartoons. I guess he could have ditched some of the particulars of the show, reworked the entire thing from scratch, and maybe come up with an even better script, but then it wouldn’t really be Voltron would it? He’s taken the idea, found a way to set it on Earth, kept some of the alien elements, and made an action packed, certain to be CGI-heavy movie out of it. This script reeks of Voltron, the best possible version of Voltron, the only way Voltron would ever work on screen without trashing almost all of it and slapping the name on something similar but entirely different.
The story is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth. It starts there, with no explanation. That’s probably the best thing about what Marks has done with his story. Getting it out of the modern world, and putting it somewhere a little more desperate was a smart move. From the opening credits we’re wandering around in a world that’s a lot like a pull quote from someone’s review of Escape from New York. Well we’re in New York, it’s a Hollywood movie, we’re always in New York, and this particular New York has, five years ago been decimated by an alien invasion. The alien invasion has taken the form of technological monsters called Robeasts. Robeasts are giant, skyscraper-sized robots which absorb our technology and use it to build themselves. Cut off a Robeast’s arm, and it’ll just suck in all the materials around it and instantly create another one. No one knows why they’re here or why they kicked humanity’s ass, and 5 years later it probably doesn’t matter.
Our hero is a tattooed up, resourceful dude named Keith Kogan, who’s been scrabbling out a survival in the rubble of New York with his buddy Lance. Keith could be played by just about anyone, he’s fairly generic, just plug in a white dude with a little attitude and some action ability. Maybe Mark Wahlberg. Lance is specifically described as being “black” and he’s a mechanic of some sort. That other script review suggested Tyrese Gibson, and he’s probably a good fit. They start out in a New York ruled by petty gangs squabbling for territory and running for cover whenever a Robeast shows up.
While scavenging around New York in their modified tank, Keith and Lance discover a downed helicopter and run into a gorgeous woman named Allura and her personal bodyguard, a hulking brute named Hunk. Allura has a powerful, sort of ethereal beauty going for her. If they want to spare everyone to death, and if they can get her, maybe they’ll cast someone like Gwyneth Paltrow but that would be a big mistake. They’d be better off with some random, fresh-faced hottie like Blake Lively. Hunk is your standard, silent badass type. Vin Diesel might work or even The Rock.
Those four, Allura, Hunk, Keith, and Lance comprise the film’s primary cast. They pick up a kid named Pidge along the way, he’s your average apocalypse orphan type, but otherwise it’s those four all the way. Allura and Hunk are on a secret mission of some type, and they convince Keith and Lance to help take them to Mexico with the promise of vital supplies as a reward. We’re treated to a journey across a post-apocalyptic landscape, fighting looters and hiding from Robeasts until they arrive at Allura’s secret Mexican base. The default comparison for this part of the movie would be to compare it to Road Warrior, but it felt more like a PG version of Resident Evil: Extinction to me.
Eventually they make it south of the border and it’s there that we find the Voltron lions and learn that Allura is actually carrying the Keys, devices which will power the robot lions they’ve been secretly building. Allura meanwhile, is actually an alien from another planet, sent to Earth to help us fight off the alien Drules who have decimated our world.
You can figure out what happens from there. Allura, Hunk, Keith, Lance, and Pidge end up piloting the Lions and eventually forming them together into one mega-robot named Voltron. The moment when the finally form it together is… well… cheesy. Not that there’s any way for it not to be cheesy, it simply is. It’s the most anime moment in the entire thing, and when it’s over you can’t shake the feeling that at any minute Voltron might try to win by doing something silly like battling with its heart or worse engaging in a card battle. Once they form Voltron, the movie seems to sort of forget about the people driving it. It’s as if Voltron is actually a person, a conceit explained by having the consciousness of the Lion pilots merge together along with their hardware. The last fourth the movie is almost nothing but massive fight scenes, and they don’t waste much time in Mexico, hot footing it back to New York to fight the Robeast’s with New York’s overused skyline as a backdrop. There are quick breaks for fights in other cities around the world, it’s as if someone spins the globe and Voltron lands for one punch in a greatest hits version of the world’s capitals. But this is a Hollywood movie, so it’s always back to New York.
The fight scenes are entertaining, but fairly standard Godzilla movie style stuff. Giant robots wrecking buildings and ripping off each others limbs. They don’t always use logic. Killing the Robeasts is surprisingly easy and in the end, and it never quite makes any sense that world’s military powers were so unable to come up with any defense. Even Voltron after all is, in the context of the script, human technology. It’s no more immune to the Robeast’s technology absorbing powers than a fighter jet. Yet somehow a Voltron punch does more damage than a rocket or a grenade. Why? Never explained. It’s a minor logical gap, but I suppose a necessary one if this thing is going to work. Still, it’s hard not to read this thing and wonder if there might not have been an easier way to fight these things than by building a giant robot. A couple of SCUD missiles probably would have done the job.
The script works, but it’s a little silly. It’s hard to read it and not think of Power Rangers or compare it to Transformers. This could easily be turned into a PG, family friendly movie. In fact, in the rare instances when someone uses a curse word, it almost seems out of place. Attempts to inject emotional pathos into it, or the reality of death and doom seem almost as if they’re imported in from an entirely different reality. At the end of the day, it’s still a bunch of giant robots which look like lions being driven around like go carts. Marks does the best he can with it, but there’s no getting around the concept which is very very kid oriented. A lot of the robot stuff just never worked for me. Or rather it did in the sense that it felt exactly like the cartoon, but the cartoon stopped being cool when I turned 12.
Justin Marks has written a well put together, well intentioned, incredibly faithful Voltron script using modern sensibilities. But it’s still a Voltron script. Even with the recent popularity of giant freakin robots, this movie may be twenty years too late. Or maybe it’ll work as a big, post-apocalyptic Escape from New York meets Power Rangers blockbuster. The script is a solid foundation on which to build, assuming there’s anything worth building in the idea of a Voltron movie. The kid inside me hopes there is.