Monday, March 16, 2015

A Dragonflight Screenplay Thought Experiment

Having just reread Dragonflight after decades, I've decided to play around with turning it into a screenplay. The good news is that there's material here, the bad news, up front, is that it's not plug-and-play. Here's why.

The novel Dragonflight is a fix-up. It's actually a combination of four novellas. That's four stories for one movie. You could film that, I guess, but you wouldn't get a proper feature film which hangs together as a single story. If there's any crux to the problem, the idea of having a single story is that crux. At the price tag of a PERN film, you can't just wave your hands and hope for the best. Like it or not, writing a script for Dragonflight requires that you rip that entire story apart, choose a beginning, choose and ending, and create a coherent arc that makes for a compelling story. That's more easily said than done and sure to annoy the most strident fans. (Sorry, fans, just calling it as I see it.)

So what needs to be there:

  • Dragons
  • Thread
  • Dragons fighting thread
  • Victory with dragons fighting thread
  • Robinton, F'lar, Lessa, and Fax
  • Just about everything else is optional.

The story is one like our current global warming story, where Pern's world government refuses to see that their world is under threat. Dragons are now a pariah. Only a core of people remain who truly believe that thread will fall again. Meanwhile, Lessa plots her revenge on Fax, but when the time comes, will she choose her planet or her ambitions?

Now, for some grubby, wholly unnecessary changes to the setting. (Or stomping on canon without apology.)

  • Women as well as men are dragonriders. Otherwise, we get stuck with a mostly male cast. Anne herself reversed herself on this, so we may as well just go there and be done with it.
  • The other weyrs are still there. No need for time travel. That makes the end all the sweeter when all the dragons fight thread in the finale. It's a false unity, for Dragonquest shows us the faults in this alliance.
  • Robinton must be there from the beginning. He's one of the powers behind the throne. Otherwise, he'll show up in other films like he's always been there. If that's the case, let's just have him always be there.
  • Eliminate Lessa's psychic powers (mostly). These powers stop mattering pretty quickly in the books, so better to drop them.
  • Eliminate all time travel.
  • Manora is mother to both F'lar and F'Nor. Family dynamic is good.
  • Create a place in Fort Hold where the government can meet.
  • Include details from both the past and future books that would visually fit in. (For example, one should see fire lizards before they ever become a plot point.) I would go so far as to just include them from the get-go and not worry about it.

So, let's beat this out into a rough sequence, just to get a little thinking done and figure out what we want played out.

  • The Red Star approaches.
  • A queen egg lays ready for hatching.
  • F'lar loses an argument about the Red Star approaching in planetary council. Even his fellow dragonriders do not ally with him.
  • Robinton commiserates with F'lar. "A queen has been born after many years. If you are to save us all, we must have a powerful rider for the queen. Ruatha. With a woman who can speak to any dragon, she can order them out. But without a woman who can talk to any dragon, we are lost."
  • Fandaral, the smith, agrees.
  • "Fax hates us more than anyone." say F'lar.
  • In Ruatha, old looking servant sneaks about. She is Lessa, leader against Fax's cruel rule. She gathers her rebellious compatriots. "If we are to defeat Fax and save our hold against thread, now is the time."
  • Robinton arrives to hunt down the insurgent leader, only to discover a very young woman of the blood.
  • F'lar can't get permission to search. "We have weyr women," he is told.
  • The holders, under Fax, move out an army against any who would ally with the dragon riders. "We must stop these parasites once and for all!"
  • Fort plans war against the holders. "We must crush them. We were honored once. We will be honored again." They prepare to form a military government.
  • F'lar meets with Lessa, but Lessa refuses to become a dragon rider.
  • Benden's queen dies. "This is our chance," said F'lar. "We need our own candidate for queen."
  • An island is discovered entirely dead. All inhabitants and plants. "We missed the first thread fall."
  • Lessa hears the queen's egg's call.
  • Robinton smuggles Lessa out of Ruatha, but are caught.
  • Fax will kill Lessa, but F'lar intervenes. Fax dies.
  • Returning barely in time, Lessa arrives at the egg hatching, impression Ramoth.
  • Lessa choose F'lar as weyrleader.
  • Just in time, F'lar orders out his wings. Thread is extinguished. Thousands saved.
  • Lessa calls out all the weyrs. Disaster averted.

That looks Hollywoodish enough to me. I think that's the sort of film that financiers would actually back.