EXT. ARCTIC TUNDRA – OIL-CAMP – NIGHT
Dark snow-scape, sheets of blizzard whip sideways, graceful, brutal…through the snow, in the distance: Lights glow, oil- derricks tower. A massive arctic oil-camp, pumps thumping, trucks grinding…
…A job at the end of the world…
This is an intense thriller with a several meaty characters, an ever present threat (both internal and external), a refreshing take on a tried movie premise, and solid balance of action and drama. If there’s one knock that I can think of, it’s that the script reads relatively slow, and felt much longer than the 120 pages I read. I have no idea how early this draft is, but it’s dated 2007, so it’s likely been revised since then.
Having seen it today, I can’t help but say I’m quite bitter about my experience.
‘The Grey’, written by Joe Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, based on the short story “Ghost Walkers” that Jeffers wrote, and staring Liam Neeson, follows the story of a group of plane crash survivors in the middle of the Alaska tundra/wilderness.
If simply surviving wasn’t enough, the group is slowly picked off one by one by a group of super-wolves. Evolved to be bigger, stronger, and tougher simply to deal with the extreme environment they live in, the wolves aren’t hunting the men for food, they’re hunting them because they view them as a threat.
I thought this was a nice touch. Wolves don’t hunt humans. At least normal wolves don’t. Sure, there’s an isolated incident now and then of an attack, but all in all it’s rare. And it’s sure as shit not going to happen to a group of people.
The characters are rich, luscious, and well fleshed out. You see them as real people, not cliched stereotypes. They’re just guys, with family and loved ones, and they want to get home. You care for them, and that’s why the script worked.
I sat down for the movie and watched, with baited breath, as each story beat ticked by. I was amazed how much more effective some of the thrills were on the screen than on the page. I liked many of the small script changes that I noticed. Some spots slowed down. Some skipped. Some more fleshed out. And as the movie slowly built toward it’s climax, I waited for what I knew was coming… the tension building with each passing minute.
So here’s why ‘The Grey’ works, even though I read the script I never felt like I was watching a story that was predictable. Yes, I knew what was going to happen, but I forgot all of it in a conscious sense. I was pulled into the visuals, the acting, and the intensity. It was nearly perfect.
Then it ended… and I left angry.
And this is why ‘The Grey’ doesn’t work. This is the one time I wish I hadn’t read the script. I’m not going to talk about it. I’m not going to say anything. But evidently you need to wait until after the credits to get the complete ending to the film. I left after sitting there for about two minutes, not realizing that I was going to miss something.
The ending of a movie is not an easter egg. It is the ending. If you need to wait until AFTER the credits to see how a movie ends then the credits aren’t the credits, they’re simply a scene with scrolling text. And fuck you if you think that people can only blame themselves for not waiting until the end of the credits. We’ve been trained our whole lives that when the credits hit the movie is over. Shit, half the time theaters turn on the lights when the credits roll.
So when the ending of a film doesn’t occur until after the credits you’re robbing your viewers of part of the experience you’re trying to give them. If you want them to stay, them tell them they need to stay to see the end. This isn’t Iron Man. This isn’t The Hulk. These aren’t comic book bullshit movies. This was a serious drama.
And that’s why, ultimately, I think ‘The Grey’ fucking blew it. I left that theater thinking they cut to black with 7 pages of screenplay left. Then, when I got home, I found out I missed the ending because it occurred after the credits rolled. I don’t care if it was different than the script or not. A lot of things were different. This isn’t a fanboy being pissed. This is a consumer feeling ripped off. I gave you my money. I trusted you. And you screwed me over.
If you haven’t read the script, don’t until to see the movie. And if you see the movie, bring something to do while you sit through the credits and get to the actual ending of the film.