Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My review of Star Trek (2009), the official novel by Alan Dean Foster

(C) 2009 Pocket Books/Paramount Pictures


If you have been a regular visitor to your favorite bookstore's (be it brick-and-mortar or online) science-fiction/fantasy section, chances are that you've bought - or at least browsed through - a few books written by Alan Dean Foster.

Since 1972, Foster has written over 100 books - way more than Tom Clancy, Stephen King and Danielle Steel - and many short stories, most (but not all) of them delving into worlds and characters that exist in the realms of the possible (sci-fi) and the impossible-yet-entertaining (fantasy).

One of the subgenres Foster is best known for is the movie tie-in novelization; after adapting Star Trek: The Animated Series' episodes into the popular Star Trek Logs series, Foster ghost wrote the best-selling novelization of the movie originally known as Star Wars for writer-director George Lucas. Since then, the author has written many other tie-in novels based on scripts for the first three Alien films, The Last Starfighter, Krull, the original version of Clash of the Titans, Starman and Terminator: Salvation, just to name a few.

Considering Foster's past history with Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek - the guy also wrote the story upon which 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture was based - it's not surprising that he was tapped to adapt Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman's screenplay for the 2009 "reboot" feature film, Star Trek.

"Are you willing to settle for an ordinary life? Or do you think you were meant for something better? Something special?"

It is the mid-23rd Century. On the planet Vulcan, Ambassador Sarek and his human wife Amanda Grayson have just become the parents of a baby boy named Spock, a boy whose hybrid nature will be both a blessing and a bane as he struggles to figure out his place in the Universe.

Several years later, the USS Kelvin, a Federation starship, encounters a strange phenomenon while exploring deep space near the Klingon border: a mysterious lightning storm suddenly manifests itself without warning or scientific explanation.

To the dismay of the Kelvin's crew and command staff - including Captain Rabau and his young first officer - the freak lightning storm is no new galactic force of nature; it's the advent of the arrival of a monstrously huge vessel - a vessel which by all rights should not even exist....at least not at this point in time in history.

Worse, this vessel attacks the Kelvin without warning and leaves it helpless in space as a result of multiple hits by highly advanced weapons. The Starfleet vessel's only hope for survival depends on whether or not Capt. Rabau can negotiate with the attackers - now identified as Romulans - and their mysterious commander, Captain Nero.

Nero apparently is looking for someone named "Ambassador Spock" or his spaceship; when Rabau is unable to answer his queries, Nero kills the captive captain, leaving the crippled Kelvin under the command of her new skipper, George Samuel Kirk.

But Kirk's captaincy is doomed to be short-lived. With the ship's auto-destruct system disabled, George must manually pilot the Kelvin on a kamikaze mission against the Romulan ship and at the same time make sure his crew, which includes his pregnant wife and about-to-be-born son, is safely evacuated aboard shuttles.

In the last minutes of George Kirk's life - and, fittingly, in the middle of a space battle, James Tiberius Kirk is born.

Star Trek chronicles the intertwined lives of Spock and Kirk in a now-altered timeline. As in the movie, the narrative first weaves back and forth between Spock's sometimes trying childhood as a "half-breed" on Vulcan and Kirk's tempestuous preadolescence and young adulthood in 23rd Century Iowa.

The two men's paths eventually merge when Kirk - albeit reluctantly - enrolls in Starfleet Academy, where he becomes fast friends with the 30ish Leonard "Bones" McCoy, a recently divorced medical doctor who joins the Fleet because, as he tells Kirk, his ex-wife has taken everything but his bones.

Star Trek - its timeline seriously skewed by Nero's vengeful actions - now gives readers an alternate "origins story" which forcefully unites the familiar crew of the legendary U.S.S. Enterprise while pitting them against a deadly and implacable adversary.

My Take: If you know how the process of adaptation works, you're doubtlessly aware that though Foster has most of the basic plot of J.J. Abrams' 2009 film in the book, there are quite a few differences between novel and the screen source because the author worked from an earlier version of the Orci-Kurtzman script.

For instance, Foster begins his novel with the birth of Spock; in the audio commentary track of the Blu-ray/DVD of Star Trek, the writers explain that they had written the first act along the same lines, with the story bouncing between Spock and Kirk to show their parallel lives before Kirk joins Starfleet. This proved to be cinematically unwieldy and slowed the movie down, so Orci and Kurtzman simplified the movie's beginning by cutting straight to the Kelvin's encounter with Nero's starship.

Likewise, there are minor differences in the dialogue, some due - no doubt - to changes in the script, while others are due to creative license by Alan Dean Foster.

For the most part, Foster's novel is very enjoyable; he knows the characters very well from his past work on the "original timeline" stories and it shows in the way he portrays the "rebooted versions" of the Enterprise's crew. There are no "off" notes in the way Foster describes each character and his or her motivations, and the descriptive passages which focus on the action sequences are excellently written.

If there are any flaws, Star Trek the book inherits them from Star Trek the film. There is, for instance, very little friction between the bridge crew - save Spock - and James Kirk in a situation where some of the officers - particularly Hikaru Sulu and Pavel Chekov - seem to be actually be senior in rank to Cadet Kirk. Foster has no explanation for how a Starfleet Academy senior (we assume Kirk graduates at some point before he is commissioned) can skip at least five grades in rank and be promoted to Captain.

(Actually, there is a plausible explanation: in the Navy, one can be an ensign, lieuteanant (junior grade) or a commander, but if one is placed in command of any vessel, one can be addressed as "captain" despite the number of stripes or actual permanent rank. However, this is never really addressed, though we can assume that Starfleet can break with its naval traditions whenever necessary.)

Another issue that comes up is that while in the Original Series and its spin-off feature films Kirk, Spock. Scotty and McCoy were at least a decade older than Lieutenants Sulu and Uhura. Here, the "junior" officers are contemporaries - even classmates - to Jim Kirk.

Despite the altered timeline, the novel - like the movie - gives readers nods to the original series' concepts even as it twists them to fit the new paradigm. We see a cool rendition of how Kirk defeated the Kobayashi Maru's no-win scenario, and elements from two spin-off series (Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Enterprise) are alluded to, albeit in a subtle fashion that only die-hard fans will note.

While this is not my favorite novelization or original work by Foster - I prefer the three Star Wars-related tomes he has done - Star Trek is a very well-written and entertaining read. It captures the essence of the movie's plot and characters nicely, and the author's love for the material is clearly evident in the way he writes.


© 2012 Alex Diaz-Granados.  All Rights Reserved

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Man on the Moon, the book which inspired HBO's miniseries From the Earth to the Moon


When President Barack Obama’s administration announced in early 2010 that it was canceling Project Constellation, the next manned-spaceflight program which was supposed to take American astronauts back to the Moon and – eventually – on to Mars, I couldn’t help but think that John F. Kennedy – to whom Obama had often been compared during the 2008 Presidential race – would be extremely disappointed with America’s lack of determination and “can-do” spirit as far as space exploration is concerned.

Though Obama is a Democratic President as was the late JFK, he and his advisers are – depending on one’s point of view – pragmatic realists who are dealing with two wars overseas, the Great Recession, the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and a lack of bipartisan support in Washington, or bleeding heart liberals who are willing to tax and spend billions of taxpayer dollars on a wrong-headed mission to create a “socialist” welfare state along the lines of those in Western Europe and Scandinavia.

Although I tend to pin the blame on all of us Americans for not showing much more than token support for the space program once the NASA rocket scientists fulfilled Kennedy’s dream of “landing a man on the moon and returning safely to Earth” in 10 years or less, much of the fault of why we have no Big Dreams for Space can also be attributed to such realities as the Vietnam War’s staggering costs, the cutting of NASA’s budget by Congress led by both parties even as the Apollo Program was still in progress.

As someone who has been fascinated with the space program ever since I watched the first moon landing as a wide-eyed six-year-old boy, the slow decline of America’s space program from the glory days of Apollo to being relegated to having astronauts hitch rides from the Russians once the Space Shuttle is retired in late 2010 is a keen disappointment.

Although I have several documentaries (When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions, For All Mankind) and the 1998 HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon) I had never owned a book dedicated to the Apollo Program until I bought Andrew Chaikin’s A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts.

If you have watched the miniseries co-produced by Tom Hanks and many of the minds behind Band of Brothers, John Adams and The Pacific, you may have seen that the main title credits include one that says Based in part on A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin. Seeing this tag every time I watched From the Earth to the Moon was the catalyst behind my decision to purchase it.

Because the first (1994) edition of Chaikin’s book was published around the same time Ron Howard was filming his fact-based film Apollo 13, Hanks read it while he was playing the role of astronaut Jim Lovell, and he found it so informative yet full of human drama that he chose it as the main literary source for the 10 part miniseries.

Naturally, the exigencies of television drama resulted in quite a few divergences from Chaikin’s book; in A Man on the Moon there are no separate chapters about the lunar module, or a probing look at the astronaut’s wives or the fictional news broadcaster Emmet Seaborn’s rivalry with a wet-nosed up-and-coming TV reporter with more ambition than sense of ethics.

Nevertheless, if you read Chaikin’s book after watching Hanks’ miniseries, you will notice that From the Earth to the Moon took many of the astronauts’ personal experiences during the 10 flights to Earth’s only satellite from the pages of A Man on the Moon.

The 2007 edition, which was published to coincide with the Golden Anniversary of the launch of Sputnik – the event which heralded the Space Age and shocked America into supporting the creation of NASA and the various manned flight programs which followed – reflects the book’s synergy with From the Earth to the Moon via a foreword by Tom Hanks.

A Man on the Moon is divided into 13 chapters, which are distributed in three separate parts and are supplemented by a Prologue (analogous to From the Earth to the Moon’s Part One: Can We Do This?), the original edition’s epilogue and a 2007 afterword (“A People Without Limits,” which I find sadly ironic in the wake of President Obama’s decision to cancel Constellation), and the usual appendices, bibliography and author’s notes section which are standard issue in books of this nature.

The book, of course, covers a decade’s worth of the American space program’s history, starting with President Kennedy’s famous “We choose to go to the Moon” speech at Rice University in 1962 and ending with the final Moon landing (Apollo 17) in December of 1972.

This makes A Man on the Moon a seemingly daunting book to read – from Prologue to Afterword the page count is a mind-bending 596 pages (not including Hanks’ foreword or the references/index sections at the end).

Yet, for its breadth of coverage and amount of pages, Chaikin’s book (which took him 11 years to complete from inception to finish) is a very readable piece of nonfiction literature that tells the very human story of the Apollo astronauts and the many technicians who experienced all the triumphs and disappointments inherent in the course of meeting JFK’s deadline of landing a man on the moon “before the decade is out.”

Chaikin wisely avoids the overuse of NASA/astronautics/piloting jargon except when it is absolutely necessary; in chapters dealing with the first lunar landing and the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission we see quite a few terms along the lines of MAIN BUS B UNDERVOLT or “1201 Alarm”. When jargon or technical detail is needed to explain certain situations, Chaikin explains them clearly and concisely without making the reader feel like he or she needs to have a Ph.D in applied aeronautics.

Another mistake Chaikin assiduously evades is the exhaustive “play by play” narrative of every Apollo mission from launch to splashdown. This is because – with rare exceptions such as the lightning bolts which hit Apollo 12 as it cleared the tower in November of 1969 – launches were usually impressive but pretty routine events from the astronauts’ point of view. Thus, many chapters begin in mid-mission at varying stages of the flight.

You may have come across non-fiction books with blurbs that claim to be so well-written they read like the best novels or are “riveting” or “fascinating.” Sometimes, of course, this is Public Relations BS, but in the case of A Man on the Moon it is the truth.

Not only is A Man on the Moon exquisitely researched and deemed to be – by the Los Angeles Times’ reviewer – “the Authoritative masterpiece”, but it also brings to the fore the vast range of personalities of the astronauts who flew to the Moon. Readers who were not around in the 1960s and 1970s or were – as I was – too young to really remember will see personality profiles of the reticent Neil Armstrong, the “ladies’ man” Jack Swigert, the fun-loving and hard-swearing Pete Conrad, who when situations got tricky cursed like a sailor and the astronauts’ lone “true scientist” Jack Schmitt, who was one of the last two men to walk on the Moon.

So even if you haven’t watched From the Earth to the Moon, this fine narrative of what has been called the greatest human achievement of the 20th Century is a must read, if only to recapture, however briefly, a period of time in which the American “can do” spirit prevailed over war, social upheavals and political divisiveness.


© 2012 Alex Diaz-Granados.  All Rights Reserved

Monday, September 19, 2011

John Williams/London Symphony Orchestra - Star Wars Trilogy (Box Set)


When I first saw George Lucas' Star Wars (aka Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope) in the fall of 1977, not only was my imagination totally blown away by its story, characters and fantastic visuals, but I almost instantly became enchanted by the music composed for its score by John Williams.

Although I had often paid attention to movie themes before I saw Lucas' space fantasy film set "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away," I'd never been so enthralled by a film score until I listened closely to Williams' neo-Romantic styled score on that Saturday in mid-October of 1977 when I finally went to see the movie everyone and his (or her) cousin was talking about .

Because I was familiar with science-fiction A and B movies from the 1950s and '60s, I expected the music from Star Wars to be futuristic, minimalist and full of electronic sounds and other-worldly ambiances.

To my surprise, with the exception of the two Cantina Band tracks heard in A New Hope, most of Williams' music sounded as though it had been written in the 19th Century, especially because the composer, a classically-trained musician who had studied at Julliard, was using Richard Wagner's leitmotiv technique of writing themes for characters, settings and even abstract concepts such as the Force.

And ever since one of my mom's friends gave me the original double-LP original soundtrack album as my 15th birthday present, I've tried to buy every available recording of the John Williams/London Symphony Orchestra recordings of the scores for Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

Though this isn't the cheapest or even the most logical of quests, this means that not only have I bought the original (and somewhat abridged) 1977, 1980 and 1983 recordings, but also the following reissues:

The Star Wars Trilogy: The Original Soundtrack Anthology (1993), a four-CD set which, though based on the widely-available mass-release albums, tried to present the music in as close to chronological order as the "concert hall" edits permitted. Producer Nick Redman also added many previously unreleased tracks or expanded a few of the existing ones with additional material.

The Special Edition soundtracks, which were released between January and March of 1997 in conjunction with the 20th Anniversary re-release of the Classic Trilogy. The six discs present 99.9% of the music Williams composed for A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.

The 2004 Star Wars Trilogy Sony Classical reissue of the same musical material contained in the 1997 Special Edition, with all-new packaging designed along the same lines of the original Star Wars Trilogy DVD set.

My Viewpoint:

Say what you will about the various Star Wars Trilogy DVD and Blu-ray sets, but one undeniable fact is that one thing that has not changed is the enduring appeal of composer/conductor Williams' classic scores for the 1977-83 trio of films that pitted Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Obi-Wan Kenobi against the forces of the evil Empire and the Jedi-turned-Sith Lord, Darth Vader.

To mark the release of the 2004 DVD set, Sony Classical revamped and reissued the 1997 Special Edition soundtracks and created a beautiful box set that complements the packaging of the Widescreen Edition DVDs.

In an elegant silver and black slipcover, the three slimline 2-CD jewel cases include holographic cover art that matches that on the DVD cases, a collectible poster/track list, and the scores on newly remastered Digital Stream Discs (which have improved sound quality and clarity, especially on top-of-the-line stereos) , as well as exclusive screensavers accessible through Sony Classical's Star Wars web page.

As expected, John Williams' music for A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi is brilliantly performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. With 74 tracks and over six hours of music, this six-CD set is arguably the most complete collection of original soundtrack material yet released.

Now, if you already own the 1997 RCA Victor Special Edition soundtracks, you need to know that there is no new unreleased material here. Indeed, track sequences and titles in both the 1997 and 2004 albums are identical, and there are no detailed program notes.

Still, the box set is reasonably priced; it's actually cheaper than buying each soundtrack album separately, so if your older CDs are getting worn out or you just want these CDs for their extra features, then you might want to purchase this box set.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

When Terror Struck: 9-11-2001 (10 Years Later)


If you were to ask me if I remember what happened on Monday, September 10, 2001, I would have to be honest and say "Nothing, really." I surely must have walked my six-year-old Labrador retriever, done some ghostwriting work for a (now former) client and chatted online with friends and my (now ex-) girlfriend. It was quite an ordinary day, and September 11, 2001 promised to be just one more ordinary day, not just for me, but for nearly 300 million Americans and the rest of the world.

As it turned out, however, a man named Osama Bin Laden and his followers in a terrorist organization named Al Qaeda (The Base) had other ideas, and September 11, 2001 turned out to be our generation's Day of Infamy.

On that Tuesday morning 10 years ago, I woke up a bit after 8:30 AM; I made my way downstairs and went through the usual routine of serving myself a bowl of cold cereal and making two cups of coffee in a Mr. Coffee brewer. As the coffee brewed (making those weird gurgling sounds that some coffeemakers do during the brewing process), I went to the front door, picked up that morning's copy of the Miami Herald, then automatically walked over to the TV set and turned it on.

It must have been 8:48 AM by then; Good Morning America was on the air and already Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson were talking (offscreen) with ABC News reporters on the ground in New York City about a possible accidental collision of a plane - possibly a commuter plane or small personal aircraft - with the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Now, I can't recall exactly everything that was said on that broadcast, but I do remember that there was a lot of confusion and speculation about that first crash, which we now know was American Airlines Flight 11, which had been hijacked by five Al Qaeda operatives after taking off from Boston's Logan International Airport.

Some of the theories/rumors/comments went something like this:

"An accident along the lines of the B-25 Mitchell bomber which hit the Empire State Building in late 1945."

"A small commuter plane must have had a malfunction or the pilot died of a heart attack."

"Someone said they thought they had seen a missile being fired at the building."

"It was a big jetliner."

Because Mom was then living in the master bedroom upstairs and rarely turned on her TV, I ran up the stairs, yelling, "Mom! Turn on the TV! There was a plane crash in Manhattan!"

Mom was brushing her teeth at that moment, so she asked me to turn it on while she finished her oral hygiene routine.

By then, ABC's cameras had zoomed out a bit and I could see the North Tower standing against that clear blue September sky; a gash could be seen between the 93rd and 99th floors and angry red flames licked the base of a black plume of smoke.

Suddenly, at the 9:03 AM mark - just as Mom sat down on her bed to watch - we saw a twin-engine airliner (United 77) fly straight into the South Tower and hit Floors 78 through 84.

"That," I thought, "was no accident."

And on the heels of that, "That's like the climax of Tom Clancy's Debt of Honor." (In that 1994 Jack Ryan novel, a vengeance-driven Japanese airline pilot crashes a Japan Airlines 747 on the U.S. Capitol and kills the President and most of the high ranking members of the government in one fell swoop during a joint session of Congress.)

Of course, there was much worse to come: the collapse of the Twin Towers and the deaths of nearly 3000 people in less than one hour, the news that American Airlines Flight 175 had struck the Pentagon and that another plane (United Flight 93) was on a track for another target in Washington, DC but had crashed in Pennsylvania flooded the airwaves, and every network kept looping the impact of the jetliner against the North Tower almost endlessly.

I had always wondered how the average American had felt on Sunday, December 7, 1941 when the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor reached the nation via radio broadcasts.

Sadly, now I knew. My country had been attacked. America was - and still is - at war.


© 2011-2012 Alex Diaz-Granados.  All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How I Became a (Simulated) Lesbian...




A few weeks ago - not sure of the exact date now but it wasn't more than a few weeks - I received a Facebook (FB) invite from my friend Leigh to play the FB version of The Sims.

Now, unless you have been living under a rock for the past 15 years or so, you probably know that The Sims is a popular series of computer/console games published by Electronic Arts that allows you to create little human-like avatars and be responsible for their happiness, career, health and even (PG or PG-13) sex lives. (I have never owned or played the full version of this series, but I understand that in it, your Sims age, get sick and even pass on after a while.)

Because I like interacting with Leigh on Facebook, and because I don't really want to spend $39.99 on the REAL game, I accepted the invite, thinking (logically) that I'd be able to choose my Sim's gender, personality, physical attributes and clothing. And since I'm a straight man in my late 40s, I figured my avatar would be, at the very least, male.

Boy, was this assumption wrong! The game, in its infinite (digital) wisdom, chose to give me a female avatar instead! According to The Sims Social (the name of the game on Facebook), I'm a cute young woman named Jennifer Lewis; I have brown hair and brown eyes (traits that I share), wear glasses (which I also wear from time to time) and have a romantic and artistic personality.

In my younger days, I probably would have gotten a mite pissed off. After all, I am a heterosexual guy and in almost all of the other games I've owned or played I've had male identities. (One exception: In Sid Meier's Civilization IV I have had to assume the role of Queens Hasheteput of Egypt and Isabella of Spain.) Back when I was in my 20s or even early 30s, I probably would have chosen not to play The Sims Social if I couldn't change genders.

To be honest, I really wasn't enthused about being "Jennifer" and did look for an option in the setup to switch my avatar's gender to match mine. But when I saw that there wasn't, I realized I had two choices: (a) not play the game at all or (b) accept the situation gracefully and say, 10 times slowly, "It's only a silly digitized avatar."

There was one nod to my personality in real life: I like women (in general and in romantic terms), so if I have to play the game as a simulated woman, my avatar is going to like women too. I'm not homophobic, and I have many gay friends (of both sexes), but I prefer to do my flirting, virtual and otherwise, with women. (Besides, I don't know how some of my male neighbors in Sims Social would react if "Jennifer" sent them a dating request, knowing full well that I'm a man in real life.)

So, instead of being a laid-back, creative dude with a knack for writing and an eye for the ladies, on Sims Social I'm a laid-back, creative lipstick lesbian with an eye for the ladies....


© 2011-2012 Alex Diaz-Granados.  All Rights Reserved

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Screenplay: A Sneek Peek!

FADE IN:

INT. SOUTH MIAMI HIGH - MUSIC DEPARTMENT WING CORRIDOR - AFTERNOON

We see JIM standing in the hallway, leaning against the wall opposite the closed door of South Miami Senior High's choral practice room. He looks a bit on edge and is trying to catch his breath after his sprint down the stairs from the second floor.

As he stands there, the door swings open with a loud metallic squeak and two girls (MARIA and TERESA) step out of the chorus room.

ANGLE ON

MARIA AND TERESA

We SEE two girls in their late teens, dressed in casual attire (jeans, blouses, comfortable shoes, etc. which are appropriate for a high school's dress code of the early 1980s.) MARIA is the clear "alpha" of the two, not just because she's taller and a tad more attractive than TERESA, but she's also the more outgoing and has presence. She smiles at JIM.

BACK TO SCENE

JIM looks at the two girls and smiles back politely in recognition, though he clearly simply wants to go inside the practice room.

JIM
Hi, guys. What's up?

MARIA
Well, fellow graduate, we're finally outta here.

ANGLE ON

JIM

JIM tries not to look as though he doesn't want to talk to his two classmates, but we see his feet shifting ever so slightly as he holds his backpack in one hand.

BACK TO SCENE

MARIA looks at JIM quizzically but doesn't read his body language. TERESA glances at MARIA, then at JIM.

JIM
Yeah. Hard to believe, huh? It seems like only a few weeks ago we were 10th graders trying to fit in. In two days we get our diplomas. It's -
(beat)
Surreal.

ANGLE ON

MARIA AND TERESA

MARIA smiles at this. TERESA, not so subtly, looks at her watch.

BACK TO SCENE

JIM notices TERESA'S "let's get going already" body language; he feels the same way but is far too polite to simply press on past the two girls.

MARIA nods at JIM'S comment, then seems to remember something.

MARIA
I haven't had a chance to ask, but what are your plans, Jim?

JIM
I’m going to college in the fall.

TERESA, tired of being in the background, decides to speak up.

TERESA
Really? Where? Miami-Dade? Florida International? Where?

JIM
Um, none of those, actually. I was, um, accepted to Harvard.

MARIA, who's the more perceptive of the two girls, brightens up and smiles appreciatively.

MARIA
That's awesome!

ANGLE ON

MARIA and TERESA

BACK TO SCENE

JIM blushes. He's both proud of having been accepted to an Ivy League school and a bit wary about making a big deal about it.

MARIA knows that getting into Harvard is not easy, and she's clearly pleased.

MARIA
Congratulations, Jim!

She leans over and plants a quick kiss on JIM'S cheek.

ANGLE ON

JIM blushes.

JIM
Thanks!

BACK TO SCENE

TERESA
Congratulations.

JIM notices TERESA'S lack of enthusiasm but chooses to ignore it. His gaze turns, none too subtly, toward the closed door just behind the girls.

MARIA and TERESA exchange glances, the latter girl's body language clearly reflecting a "come on, let's go already" attitude.

MARIA
Well, it was good seeing you, but we have to get going. Graduation party at Dean's house later and we gotta get ready. See you at commencement?

JIM
Wouldn't miss it!
(beat)
I think Mark's having a party later, too - maybe you can drop by?

MARIA
Sure! Sounds like fun. But if not, we'll see you on Thursday at graduation.

ANGLE ON

JIM nods.

BACK TO SCENE

MARIA and TERESA finally step away from the chorus practice room door and, with MARIA slightly in the lead, walk away.

JIM watches them go with no small amount of relief, then gazes thoughtfully at the practice room door.



DISSOLVE TO:

INT. SOUTH MIAMI HIGH - CHORUS PRACTICE ROOM - MOMENTS LATER

JIM pulls the chorus practice room door open and, taking a breath, he slowly walks inside.

CUT TO:

P.O.V. SOUTH MIAMI HIGH - CHORUS PRACTICE ROOM - AFTERNOON

We see a spacious room arranged like a band/orchestra/choral practice area, with beige soundproofing material on the walls, dark tile flooring, and a crescent-shaped recessed section which resembles steps. This is where the chorus students once had their seats and music stands, and it can accommodate about 40-50 singers either sitting or standing. Most of the chairs, with the exception of one, are all folded and tucked away in a far corner of the room.

Slightly off center and under a cover there's a Kawai PIANO and its bench. The BOOK SHELF in the corner is empty. Several POSTERS with musical themes - some classical composers, some rock stars of the late 1970s and early 1980s hang on one wall. On another wall, across from the choir practice area, a SCHOOL CLOCK indicates the time.

ANGLE ON

CLOCK

We see the time is 2:22 PM

BACK TO SCENE

CUT TO:

FULL SHOT SOUTH MIAMI HIGH - CHORUS PRACTICE ROOM - CONTINUOUS

We see JIM walking slowly toward the piano, backpack gripped in one hand. On his face we see a look of quiet intensity as he glances around the practice room, remembering things from the past three years and knowing this will be the last time he'll be here as a student.

ANGLE ON

The PRACTICE ROOM DOOR

As JIM is taking this last trip down memory lane and the clock ticks somewhat loudly in the eerily silent room, the door slowly swings open.

BACK TO SCENE

JIM hears the squeak and rattle of the door and turns around to see who is entering.



ANGLE ON

MARTY and JIM

We see MARTY as she walks slowly toward JIM. She is wearing faded blue jeans, a white and orange SOUTH MIAMI CHORUS T-shirt, white socks and an old pair of Keds sneakers. Her chestnut hair is tied into a ponytail. She wears very little makeup; a touch of mascara here, a hint of blush there, a bit of lip-gloss to make things a bit interesting. She is shockingly, heartrendingly beautiful.

MARTY
Hi, Jimmy! This is a bit of a surprise - I didn't think anyone was still here!

JIM
Hi, Marty. I was just looking around here one last time before I leave.

MARTY smiles somewhat wistfully.

MARTY
Me, too. It's hard to believe that we might never see this room again.

ANGLE ON

JIM, who has been focusing his attention on MARTY, is brought back to reality and his expression becomes a tad more somber than he would like.

BACK TO SCENE



JIM fidgets a bit as he considers what is going to say to MARTY next. MARTY, who is nobody's fool, notices his skittishness.

MARTY
Did you come here just to look around, or did you come to say goodbye to me?



JIM blushes a bit; he wants to act cool and collected, but he has been thinking about Marty almost all day long.

JIM
I couldn’t go without seeing you,you know.



MARTY gives JIM an "Aha, I knew it" smile.

MARTY
Oh, come on, I bet you say that to all the girls.

JIM
It's true. And no, I don't say that to all the girls.



MARTY smiles again, and JIM, a bit less on edge, smiles back.

MARTY
What about finals? How do you think you did on yours?

JIM
Okay, I guess. I'm not too worried about English or history. Calculus was sort of tough, though.
(beat)
How about you?

MARTY bites her lip and shrugs ever so slightly.

MARTY
I think I passed Music Theory with an A, but I'll be happy if I get a C on my Chem final. That wasn't my best class this year.

JIM
I'm sure you did better than that.

MARTY shrugs again, pretty much resignedly.

MARTY
We'll see.

MARTY, who up to now has been fairly cheerful or at least outwardly so, sighs and her expression becomes more pensive, even melancholic.

MARTY
It's hard to believe, isn't it?

JIM
What?



MARTY makes a sweeping gesture which encompasses the chorus room, and by inference, the whole of South Miami High.

MARTY
That this part of our lives is over, Jimmy. Three years sure went fast, didn't they?

JIM slouches and his expression becomes serious and wistful. He lets out a deep breath.

MARTY realizes that her melancholic mood has had an effect on JIM and gently places one hand on one of his shoulders as if to say "It's okay, it will be all right."

JIM
Yeah. Seems like only yesterday we were sophomores trying to fit in and survive our first day of class; now, look at us. In two days we'll be at the Miami-Dade auditorium, wearing our caps and gowns and waiting to get that diploma from Dr. Burke.
(sighs)

JIM
(sotto voce)
It seems so strange, knowing we'll probably never see this place again. I feel as if the stars, moons and planets have all been placed on my shoulders.



MARTY, her hand still on JIM'S shoulder, smiles wistfully.

MARTY
Jim - I'm sorry about the duet.

JIM
(nonplussed)
Huh?



MARTY frowns, not knowing if JIM is in a melancholic fugue or simply having fun at her expense.

MARTY
Don't you remember? The one for the Spring Concert?





JIM remembers all too well but tries to make light of it.

JIM
Oh, yeah. What was that song we were going to sing?





MARTY places her right hand on her right hip and gives JIM a look that says, Don't tell me you forgot!



ANGLE ON

JIM and MARTY exchange glances; he gives her a who, me impish smile, while she realizes that, yes indeed, he was simply trying to milk a bit of humor out of this otherwise bittersweet moment.

BACK TO SCENE

In the original story, the song Jim hums is "Somewhere" from West Side Story. If need be, it can be any romantic standard suitable for a duet; one possible alternative is "They Can't Take That Away From Me" or "It Only Takes a Moment" (from Hello, Dolly.)



JIM's smile turns a bit more wistful. He takes a deep breath, taking up the "singer's stance" (shoulders back, straight but relaxed position), then hums the first few bars of "Somewhere" from West Side Story. The first notes sound decent enough, but as he progresses, his enthusiasm wavers and so does his humming.

MARTY frowns.

MARTY
You haven't been practicing.

JIM
No, I haven’t. Ever since Ms. Quincy retired - well, if we weren't going to do the Spring Concert, I didn't see any point in practicing.
(beat)
I mean, no one else did, right?



MARTY notices JIM's wistfulness; she sidles over to him and places her arm around his shoulder in a comforting gesture.

MARTY
(gently)
I know how much you were looking forward to it, Jim. I was looking forward to singing that duet with you, too.

JIM
Really?

MARTY
Really. You’re a terrific singer. Who wouldn’t want to sing a duet with you?

JIM
(brightly)
I bet you say that to all the boys.


© 2012 Alex Diaz-Granados.  All Rights Reserved