Script Review: Harold Ramis' Year One - Biblical Blasphemy
by Nick Valentine
June 13, 2008
Today we present our first reader submitted script review. I recently got my hands on the script for Year One, written by Harold Ramis, Gene Stupnitsky, and Lee Eisenberg. It's a comedy set in biblical times being produced by Judd Apatow and directed by Harold Ramis (of Caddyshack, Groundhog Day, Bedazzled, The Ice Harvest). Sony is developing the project and recently finished shooting with Jack Black and Michael Cera. The film was first announced last June but it wasn't until January of this year that actual story details were revealed. At first glance, it might appear to be a Scary Movie parody of the Bible, but this is far from the case. The script features a fun story that contains elements from the Bible, while not being a direct parody of it. So what's my verdict? Biblical blasphemy has never been so funny.
The film starts with a bang. Literally. A representation of a huge explosion meant to signify the big bang is shown. We see particles coming together to form atoms, which come together to form molecules, which come together to form cells, all while a slow drum beat imitates a heartbeat. As we expand our perspective on the sped-up evolutionary process, we eventually zoom out to see the sea and out of it walks the perfect woman. She is tall, fit, and busty. As she gracefully rises out of the water, another figure emerges. If the woman is represented as perfect, think of him as the visual opposite. The man is short, overweight, and he stumbles as he awkwardly emerges from the water. This is Zed, played by Jack Black.
Zed is a far from perfect caveman who couldn't think more highly of himself. The woman is Maya, played by the beautiful June Raphael. After emerging from the ocean, she becomes hungry. Zed immediately confuses the hunger for sexual desire and a fun little guessing game of which kind of fruit Maya is looking for ensues (Zed unsuccessfully guesses "cockfruit"). Maya finally points to a tree with an apple like fruit hanging from it, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Though Zed tries to convince her that they aren't allowed to eat that fruit, Maya, playing the part of the seducer, tricks Zed into taking a bite. He immediately cramps up and runs for the bushes. Apparently the knowledge of good and evil comes with a case of the runs.
We then head back to Zed and Maya's tribe, where we meet Marlak (played by Matthew Willig), a muscle-bound idiot with a grudge against Zed and the belief that Maya is his woman. Zed's best friend, a skinny, timid, and pathetic villager named Oh (played by Michael Cera) and his unimpressed love interest, Eema (played by Juno Temple) are also introduced. Oh is a gatherer, envious of the tribe's hunters' "cool kids in school" status. He becomes even more jealous when he watches Eema stroke and kiss the spearhead of one of the hunter's spears in a hilarious visual pun.
Now that he's gained the knowledge of good and evil, Zed starts to question the basics of his own existence while he and Oh smoke out of a huge pipe (the contents of which we can only assume are marijuana). He asks questions about what is beyond the range of the horizon and introduces the preposterous idea of the round earth theory. However, now that Zed has eaten the fruit, he is forced to leave the tribe forever. Zed's overconfidence kicks in and he suggests that maybe everyone else is just jealous of his newfound knowledge of good and evil.
So rather than being kicked out, he boasts that he's leaving, and he gives a rowdy speech to convince some of the villagers to follow him. Maya ignores him, and Oh awkwardly becomes interested in his own loincloth. In a final ditch effort to rally some support, he thrusts a torch into the air, which catches the roof of a nearby hut on fire. The fire jumps from roof to roof and soon the whole village is an inferno while Zed escapes into the forest. Oh ends up trudging off after Zed, and while Zed is touched by Oh's allegiance, Oh confesses that he's only coming along because the fire has completely destroyed all of his belongings. And so the two of them trudge off into the jungle, Zed seeking answers to his newfound questions of existence, and Oh helplessly dragged along.
The rest of the script follows Zed and Oh as they travel many miles throughout Biblical Mesopotamia. Through often random and funny events, they meet some of the first characters in the bible. They meet Adam and Eve as well as their sons Cain, Abel, Seth, and their daughter Lillith, whose characters are FAR from Sunday school appropriate. Further on they meet a neurotic Abraham obsessed with circumcision and his son Issac who is played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad's infamous McLovin). Zed and Oh eventually end up in the ancient doomed city of Sodom where they run into their old village-mates and attempt to help the Sodomites with their various problems. While the jokes are fun, the transition from location to location seemed either forced or unexplained. The writers seemed to believe that their audience wouldn't mind just being dragged along through the story without asking questions about character motivation or plausibility. But then again, this is a movie where Jack Black is eating from the garden of Eden, how seriously are we supposed to take it? Still, the plot does feel jumpy.
Most of the script is full of visual jokes and puns that you aren't going to have to be a three-year seminary student to understand. But occasionally I ran across a joke that I thought was great only because I'd repeatedly heard the Sunday school stories as a youngster. One particular scene with Abraham and Issac is funny on its own, but when you know the actual biblical story, the scene becomes downright hilarious. I found this unfortunate because it seems like the people who should find this movie funny are the people who are probably going to be so offended by it. However, the Biblical satire isn't the focus of the film.
The humor from this script is primarily based on visual or cultural jokes. I applaud the writers for not running through all of Genesis and forcing Noah, Moses, or even Jesus into a script that is already packed with a strong portion of Biblical cameos. The unique characters of Zed and Oh are the focus here, not the parody. Had any more Bible-folk showed up, I think this script would have felt much more like a Meet the Spartans or Epic Movie parody and the film would have certainly suffered.
What makes me look forward to seeing this film the most is how well I think Jack Black and Michael Cera are going to pull off these characters. Reading back over some of their lines, I had to laugh imagining Zed's awful motivational speeches filled with classic Jack Black bravado, or thinking of Michael Cera's awkward gawkiness when Oh tries to dance with his love interest and eventually hits her over the head with a stick in an attempt to woo her. The supporting cast is also great. The beautiful women are certainly beautiful, and the ridiculously strong yet stupid rival Marlak couldn't be more perfectly cast. I personally can't wait to see David Cross as the immature and belligerent Cain. Ramis should have no problem directing with such an entertaining cast in front of the camera.
This movie is definitely going to be funny and it's definitely going to offend some people. Look forward to some religious extremists picketing outside the theater much like they did for Kevin Smith's Dogma. But the Biblical satire is ultimately not the point. It's a script that is clever and witty, but ultimately puts the fate of the film in the hands of the director and the performances of the actors and actresses. Since the cast they have is phenomenal, this movie looks like it could be a classic.