Adam Volk is a wannabe screenwriter trying desperately to break into the industry and cram his hack drivel down HollywoodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s gaping maw. Each week he examines one aspect from the wonderfully demented world of screenwriting.
When it comes to scripts that have been circulating in the void of cinematic purgatory, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards has achieved an almost cult-like status among fanboy culture; an elusive face-melting Ark of the Covenant which — if Tarantinoites can be believed — will be the greatest thing to grace the silver screen since Vincent Vega accidentally shot Marvin in the face. Now, after nearly ten years in development and countless promises from Tarantino himself, it seems like the film is finally becoming a reality.
I recently got my filthy little mitts on a copy of the script, which was leaked onto the internet a few months back, and if the screenplay is any indication the film is likely to stir up the same kind of controversy and criticisms that circulated around Tarantino’s last outing in Grindhouse. Tarantino fanboys will love Bastards for its trademark dialogue, bizarre over-the-top violence and subtle reverence for all things pop culture. Conversely, critics who think a post-Death Proof Tarantino is past his prime will likely blast it apart as a self-indulgent exercise in masturbatory filmmaking.
******WARNING: Spoilers Ahead! ******
In terms of a basic story, much like previous Tarantino flicks, Bastards is broken down into several chapters peppered throughout the basic three acts:
1. Once Upon A TimeÃ¢â‚¬Â¦Nazi Occupied France
2. Inglorious Basterds
3. German Night In Paris
4. Operation Kino
5. Revenge of the Giant Face.
The first chapter introduces us to Colonel Landa, a.k.a The Jew Hunter, a ruthless SS officer renowned for his ability to hunt down and exterminate Jews even as Nazi Germany begins to cement its iron grip on Europe. Brutal, intelligent and coldly detached from his task, in the film’s opening scene Landa ends up in a remote farm house in France where he quickly executes a family of Jews after engaging in a round of trademark Tarantino-style dialogue with the farm’s inhabitants. Only a young Jewish girl named Shosanna manages to escape Landa’s vicious assault, paving the way for her eventual story of revenge which drives the central premise of the script.
Chapter 2 introduces us to the Bastards (or “Basterds” as the script styles them). Contrary to some of the early rumors circulating around the film, the story does not follow a Dirty Dozen style band of criminals turned commandos. Instead the Basterds are a rag-tag band of volunteer Jewish-American commandos tasked with operating behind enemy lines and killing as many Nazi’s as possible. Lead by a battle-hardened hillbilly named Lt. Aldo Raine (who will played by Brad Pitt), the Basterds themselves are relatively faceless soldiers, with the perhaps the only notable exception that of Sgt. Donny Donowitz, a.k.a. The Bear Jew, a Boston-born ass-kicker who uses a good-old fashioned American baseball bat to beat the living fuck out of German soldiers. There isn’t really much build up or explanation as to how or why the Basterds are brought together other than the fact that they enjoy killing Germans, but soon enough they’re raising hell in Nazi occupied Europe, earning them the enmity of the Fuhrer himself who even makes an appearance in the script, ranting and raving and ordering the Basterds to be eliminated by any means possible.
But while at first glance Bastards seems to follow the standard “man on a mission” narrative structure of such classic films as The Guns of Navarone or Where Eagles Dare, the script quickly diverts away from the Basterds, focusing instead on the exploits of Shosanna. At the start of Chapter 3, Shosanna is still on the run after her encounter with the Jew Hunter and is now hiding out in Paris. Starving, desperate and only one step ahead of the Gestapo, she manages to find employment and sanctuary in a French cinema run by the patrician Madame Mimieux. There, Shosanna encounters Frederick Zoller, a German war hero from the Eastern Front whose heroics have made him the star of a propaganda film directed by none other than Joseph Goebbels himself. Despite Shosanna’s constant refusal of his romantic advances, Zoller soon enlists Shosanna in his cause, forcing her to screen his film at her cinema to an audience that will include the highest ranking members of the Nazi party — including Hitler himself. Hungry for revenge, Shosanna and her lover Marcel plan to use the opportunity to burn the theatre down during the screening, using the theatre’s abundant supply of highly flammable celluloid to reduce the German high command to nothing more than smoldering remains.
As Chapter 4 begins however, we’re introduced to the eccentric British commando and film critic Lt. Hicox who is ordered by Churchill to join the Basterds in occupied France. The plan is for the Basterds to contact a beautiful German actress-turned-spy named Bridget von Hammersmark who will give the commandos access to the theatre at which point they will plant a bomb and wipe out the upper echelons of the German leadership. Unfortunately, things soon go awry culminating in a shootout in a Paris tavern, with the fate of the mission — and the Basterds themselves — hanging in the balance.
The situation quickly builds to a head in Chapter 5, with the Basterds and Shosanna crossing paths and attempting to realize their ultimate goals. I won’t give away too much of the ending other than to say that it ties up all of the loose plot threads nicely and has a fairly interesting climax that is surprisingly ballsy of Tarantino.
If the script is any indication, Bastards should also be an interesting visual experience. Throughout the screenplay Tarantino makes reference to a number of quirky cinematic tricks including omniscient narration, some memorable flashbacks, the inclusion of comic book style thought bubbles as well as mentioning that key scenes will be filmed in a variety of cinematic styles (including black and white French New Wave and a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western influence).
Perhaps more so than any other Tarantino film, Bastards is also a film which espouses Tarantino’s abiding love of cinema. From the inclusion of cinema and filmmaking in the basic plot, to the countless references to obscure pre and post-war films, there is no shortage of material and it’s clear Tarantino heavily researched the periods cinematic history. That being said, “Bastards” is about as far removed from an actual historical war film as possible. Instead, much like previous Tarantino films, the story is really an homage to genre filmmaking, in this case giving a nod to B-movie style war flicks popularized in the 60s and 70s. In this sense, much like Kill Bill was Tarantino’s love letter to Shaw Brothers style 70s Kung Fu flicks, Bastards is more about playing on the over the top motifs and themes of movies like The Dirty Dozen and Kelly’s Heroes rather than delving into the realities of the Second World War.
Yet, for all its good intentions and engaging premise, Inglorious Bastards never really captures the frenetic energy, pacing, or action of classic 60s war movies like The Dirty Dozen (a film which is undoubtedly Tarantino’s template and key influence in Bastards). In fact, for what’s essentially a war movie, the script is surprisingly short on action. Instead, its plagued heavily by the same rambling dialogue we saw in Death Proof – most of which ever fails to pay off in any meaningful way – and is ripe with scenes filled with characters that are either unlikable or never really developed (including the Basterds themselves).
Yes, despite being a huge fan of Tarantino’s films, I have to say that I was incredibly underwhelmed by the script for Inglorious Bastards. Still, the film is only weeks away from shooting and a lot can happen during the time it takes for a story to make the transition from script to the big screen, so I’m willing to give the script the benefit of the doubt. Because if Quentin Tarantino has taught us anything, it’s that when it comes to filmmaking in the face of criticism, sometimes it takes a bastard to get the job done.