Bad First Drafts: Arrival (2016)

Arrival is raking in decent money and could snag a few major award nominations in the coming months. But even the best movies don’t start out brilliant. Agony Booth’s fearless team of dumpster divers has discovered the painfully blunt first draft of Eric Heisserer’s screenplay…

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ARRIVAL

 

FADE IN:

INT. PROLOGUE – DAY

World-renowned linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) watches her adorably cute daughter Hannah grow from six to twelve years old while narrating her freshman poetry notebook to the audience.

LOUISE (voiceover):
When does a red herring begin? When it’s introduced to the audience? When it chronologically fits into the story? Am I being vague enough to hint at the big twist ending without giving it away?

Sadly, Hannah is exposed to lethal levels of montage, gets cancer, and dies.

LOUISE (voiceover):
See? Told you this was a super-serious film and not another dumb alien invasion flick, damn it. Because no popcorn sci-fi blockbuster would kick things off with death by cancer, right?

Peter “Star-Lord” Quill stands behind her and clears his throat. 

INT. UNIVERSITY CLASSROOM

Louise is surprised to discover only a handful of students showed up for class today, and even more surprised that not a single one of them bothered to mute their cellphones.

STUDENT:
Can you turn the TV to the Independence Day marathon on TBS?

LOUISE:
That’s CNN!

As Louise stares at the alien spaceships, the school’s fire alarms dramatically pick this moment to go off, and the world’s fastest-responding campus police usher everyone away.

INT. LOUSE’S OFFICE

U.S. Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) drops in during Louise’s office hours.

LOUISE:
Are you here about your accent again? I’ve already told my best guess is Boston mixed with medieval France.

COLONEL WEBER:
No, I’ve got a new project for you this time. Since you’ve got top secret clearance to do linguistics work for military intelligence, I want you to translate this.

He plays an audio recording of his Chihuahua eating a peanut butter sandwich.

LOUISE:
I would have to work face-to-face with the Chihuahua.

COLONEL WEBER:
Absolutely not.

LOUISE:
Colonel, do you know the Sanskrit word for war? It’s pronounced “I’mthefuckingstarsoquitwastingtimeandputmeonthedamnhelicopteralready.” It means we need more cows.

COLONEL WEBER:
That sounds weirdly racist, but you’re hired anyway.

INT. HELICOPTER – NIGHT

Colonel Weber introduces Louise to particle physicist/obvious love interest Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner).

COLONEL WEBER:
Okay, 12 identical spaceships have landed around the globe, including one in U.S. You’re the top minds in your fields. How exactly do you plan to make contact with the aliens?

IAN:
Bow and arrow?

LOUISE:
My vagina?

COLONEL WEBER:
Damn it, I knew we shouldn’t have picked the two most worthless people during an alien invasion from both the Marvel and DC movie universes.

EXT. ALIEN LANDING SITE – DAY

Colonel Weber leads Louise, Ian, and few random Army dudes into the one-mile-tall, concrete lima bean that hovers 20 feet off the ground. Inside is an empty cavern with a glass wall.

LOUISE:
Didn’t they film half of Silence of the Lambs in this room?

Colonel Weber puts 50₵ into the coin slot and curtain goes up on two naked aliens, each of whom looks like a seven-fingered hand trying to claw free of Steven Spielberg’s ball sack.

LOUISE:
Hello.

ALIEN #1:
BLORTCH.

LOUISE:
Fuck it, I’m stumped.

They give up and come back the next day.

LOUISE:
I’ve brought a dry erase board in case the aliens understand written language better than spoken works.

COLONEL WEBER:
Genius! You’re literally the first scientist on the planet to come up with that somehow!

The aliens respond by spewing ink and telekinetically shaping it into floating coffee rings.

smoke-ring

LOUISE:
Apparently they’re sick of people who don’t use coasters.

Months pass. Louise studies the alien coffee rings–and occasionally they trigger memories of her daughter at various ages and stages of health. 

LOUISE:
Okay, despite all the complex philosophical and psychological quandaries I threw at you earlier, it turns out the aliens use a written language almost entirely like ours except that each word is an ink blot tied together in a circular sentence. I can totally talk to them now.

COLONEL WEBER:
Okay, why are they here?

LOUISE:
Oh yeah, I forgot that was the one and only question you brought me here to ask.

"I just realized the entire sentence is a negative if the coffee stain is decaf."

“I just realized the entire sentence is a negative if the coffee stain is decaf.”

Louise poses the question to the aliens.

ALIEN #1:
(in inkblot)
Provide weapon.

IAN:
Hey, Louise, remember when we first met and I quoted your own book to you about language being the “first weapon drawn in war?” No? No one remembers that? Okay, let’s just all freak out then.

A paranoid, talk radio-listening soldier sneaks a bomb into the spaceship and tries to blow Louise, Ian, and the aliens to Hell. The aliens fling Louise and Ian to safety, but Alien #1 is killed.

IAN:
Geez, Louise!!
(pause)
I’ve been waiting all movie to say that.

COLONEL WEBER:
The president is convinced the aliens will retaliate with an attack, so he’s ordered us to evacuate. Plus, the Chinese got the same message about a weapon and are threatening to blow their spaceship to smithereens.

LOUISE:
Say, that also triggers a memory of my daughter. I need to ask the aliens about that.

She runs back to the alien ship.

LOUISE:
I probably should have asked this earlier, but what weapon are you talking about?

ALIEN #2:
(in inkblot)
Our language.
(another inkblot)
Duh.
(another inkblot)
Have you not been watching this movie at all?

LOUISE:
Why are you giving us your language? I mean, it’s sweet and all, but how ‘bout a cure for cancer? That’d be really handy when my daughter is born.

ALIEN #2:
Ah, so you’re starting to figure out that if you think in our language, you can see the future. Nifty. Because we’re going to need your help in about 3,000 years.

LOUISE:
And I’m gonna need that cure for cancer in like 15 years. Seriously, cough it up.

ALIEN #2:
Nah. Now you better get the Chinese to call off their attack, because each of the twelve spaceships only has one-twelfth of our language.

"It says, 'You're a jerk, Dent. A real kneebiter.'"

“It says, ‘You’re a jerk, Dent. A real kneebiter.'”

In the chaos of the evacuation, Louise finds a satellite phone lying around the Army base. She has a “memory” of talking to the Chinese top general a year from now, when he gives her his cell phone number and the exact words she needs to use to convince him not to attack.

LOUISE:
(in Chinese)
Confucius say war not determine who right, just who left.

CHINESE GENERAL:
That’s weirdly racist, but okay, the aliens live.

Actually they don’t. All their spaceships suddenly dissolve into dust for no reason.

LOUISE:
So I could have let the Chinese nuke the aliens and it wouldn’t have mattered? Okay, whatevs. We’ve all got our one-twelfth of the alien language, so let’s get sharing!

IAN:
You’re the most amazing woman ever. Wanna get married and have a baby?

LOUISE:
Sure, I’ve already got the tombstone picked out and everything.

IAN:
Say what?

LOUISE:
Nothing, sweetie.

It's never a bad time to cope a feel.

There’s never a bad time to cop a feel.

ROLL CREDITS.

Check out more Bad First Drafts, including Batman v Superman and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them!

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  • maarvarq

    This is great, especially
    He plays an audio recording of his Chihuahua eating a peanut butter sandwich.
    LOUISE:
    I would have to work face-to-face with the Chihuahua.

    Also, was this movie being so damn dark (literally – most bedrooms are more brightly lit than her lecture theatre) some kind of metaphor for not understanding the aliens, or was it just a bizarre choice of photography?

    • Bad director with a penchant for dreary cinematography.

  • UpToFourPlayers

    Can we expect more of these Bad First Drafts in the future? It reminds me of The Editing Room’s stuff but with its own brand of humor. I’d definitely like to see more.

    • Rick Lewis

      Thanks! I’m working on a “Fantastic Beasts” one right now. I’ve written quite a few scripts over at The Editing Room in the past.

      • UpToFourPlayers

        Somehow I totally didn’t piece it together that you’re the same Rick from The Editing Room. Excellent!

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