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‘G.I. Joe’ Writer Stuart Beattie: Grilled

On his new toys movie, his adaptation of the popular ”Halo“ and creating Jack Sparrow for (and with) Johnny Depp.

Stuart Beattie got an early start on his career, winning a Diane Thomas screenwriting award while attending UCLA extension courses. He began doing rewrite and polish work, immediately leading to the sale of a script, “Collateral.” That caught fire, eventually leading to a quirky little movie based on a Disneyland ride, of all things — “Pirates of the Caribbean.” So what’s he working on next? Well, there’s “Without Remorse” from the novel by Tom Clancy, “The 89th War” for Ron Howard and the much-anticipated “Halo,” which he wrote as a spec script during the writer’s strike. He makes his directorial debut in the upcoming “Tomorrow, When the War Began.” Here, Beattie talks about this weekend’s “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” “Halo,” videogames as art and the evolution of Jack Sparrow.

You’ve done spectacle before, with “Pirates." I recall there was resistance to Johnny’s take on Jack Sparrow.
Yeah, I created Jack Sparrow. His name came from the idea of a beautiful bird that should never be caged. I wrote him as this kind of swashbuckling Errol Flynn-type pirate, more like Captain Blood.

He did all the same things. He stole the bigger ship to get the smaller ship, breaking out of jail, coming into town without a boat, always trying to get a boat. So all the actions are the same and all the dialogue is the same — but Johnny played it 180 degrees different than anyone expected. It’s why you love actors, right?

And, yeah, there was this initial knee-jerk reaction to seeing something that you weren’t expecting to see. To be fair to the Disney executives, they were looking at rushes and getting Johnny Depp’s version of Jack Sparrow for an hour of rushes. And when you see the film, it’s cut up into bits. It’s two minutes here and then three minutes there and one minute there. It works totally in the movie — but maybe it’s just an overload in an hour full of nothing but Jack Sparrow.

Were you pleased with the results?

Oh God, yeah! For the first few minutes I was in shock — the shock of, “Hang on, that’s not it.” Then I started cracking up.

 

You share writing credit on “G.I. Joe” – David Elliot, Paul Lovett …
They were there before me. They did various drafts, completely different stories, completely different movie. When I was brought on, they said they had all these other scripts but they didn’t want me to read any of them. They said, “There’s nothing in there that we want to use."

 

I basically started from scratch. For about the next three weeks, I created the story, created all the scenes, wrote every word and came up with the maguffin and all the devices in the movie. Then the second three weeks I wrote it. Then I went on strike and …

You did “Halo.”
Yeah, that’s right. I couldn’t do anything else. Then when the strike was over I came back on — the strike ended the day before we started shooting. I went down to set and basically was on the set every day to the end, just polishing and rewriting. I did all the background dialogue and all the other Apache helicopter pilots or people on PA’s or a guard on a security monitor, or pretty much every thing that’s written in there, I ended up writing.

The fanboys are dying to see "Halo," but you need to find a director and a home for it. How much do you weigh the needs of the fan base against the general public?
I think you have to think about them equally, so there’s a lot of stuff you have to set up for the people who don’t know anything about it. But what’s great about the story is that it’s just well-paced in the sense of here’s the world 500 years in the future, we have the United Nations Space Command — they’re kidnapping these kids from around the colonies. And we meet Master Chief as this six-year-old kid. It’s deep into the movie that the Covenant actually show up and you get into the Covenant-Human war – your characters are meeting these aliens at the same time as the audience.

I think it’s really cool to see the prequel to the game and to see where Master Chief came from. It’s kind of like seeing how Anakin became Darth Vader.

Was that also true with "Joe’?

You know, you’ve got to have the film for the fans, and I’m a fan of "G.I. Joe."  But there people are not familiar as with the material. In that way, I created a new character, Ripcord, at the beginning of the movie, and through him you get introduced to the whole "G.I. Joe" world.

 

The fans get the tour as well. I mean, no one has seen The Pit outside of the comic book or the cartoon — they’ve never seen it brought to life. No one has seen Snake Eyes brought to life in this way. No on has seen Storm Shadow or Baroness, or Destro, any of these guys … how Destro got his mask.

 

Again, a prequel, in a way, like my idea with “Halo” — it’s fun for fans to see where this all might have started.

 

When will people start seeing videogames as something other than a toy?
I just think it’s a matter of it’s something new. They’re on a level now where the stories are amazing, the characters are so wonderful and deep and rich, and the mythologies are just so well thought out. There are a lot of great games out there that are operating on as much the same level as classic books, classic movies, the classic form of storytelling.

But still it’s generally derided.
I think there’s a stigma to the word “game,” and “video” is also a stigma. It’s an immersive experience. Yeah … you control your destiny. I remember reading “choose-your-own-adventure” books when I was a kid. It’s like a step up from that. But because it has these words “videogame” attached to it, it has that stigma to the older generation.

Now, “Tarzan” …
Big, epic, jungle romantic adventure movie, all those things stirred into one, beautiful big mythical atmosphere, super-cool Tarzan and witch doctors and romance, a lot of fun.

“Me Tarzan. You Jane?” I mean, is this going to be hilarious … some guy running around in a loin cloth?
No, there’s no loincloth, no “Me Tarzan, you Jane.” No grunting. It’s been done. We all know what Tarzan is a guy who would rather be in the jungle than be with people. So it’s playing with that great iconic character and putting him on a really terrific adventure that tests what it means to be human but not of human life.