Friedman: There was that momentary moment of excitement, followed by the fact that Charles Cornwall and EIDOS has to approve everything. So it was sent off to him and apparently he was on vacation somewhere, and I don’t remember how long it was but it seemed like weeks went by, which is usually a bad sign. So, eventually it was read and the word that came back was: Charles doesn’t like it. We’re moving on, thank you.
Charno: I handed in my script and said thank you, and then I got a call to say that because of what happened with Charlie’s Angels, they were going to go with an A-list writer and thank you very much, and they were going to throw my script away.
Based on the TV show of the same name, a big screen adaptation of Charlie’s Angles was announced with a high-profile summer release and a huge budget attached. The movie would eventually gross $264 million worldwide and its sequel, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, grossed $259 million – despite both movies being critically panned upon release. Though the film would not be released for a couple more years, studios and experts had predicted big things for the adaptation. “What was explained to me was that it was the first major blockbuster to have female leads kicking ass,” Charno explains. “And so they decided to up the budget to make it much larger.” Brent Friedman, on the other hand, was given a different reason for his script being rejected.
Friedman: I finally found out weeks later through the grapevine that the reason Charles passed was because he got to the part in the script, maybe page 15 or 20, that it was revealed Lara was going after El Dorado, the lost city of gold, and he stopped reading. He said, ‘this is stupid. Lara is much more important, she would never go after gold. That’s just what you set diamonds in.’ Now the reason he said this was because Charles Cornwall came from a family who owned diamond mines in South Africa. So, in his mind, going after the lost city of gold was completely beneath Lara Croft – because gold is just what you set diamonds in. Now, if he’d kept reading the script, she wasn’t going after gold – she was going after the transmutation device that had created El Dorado. So, that’s how my whole train got derailed and left a bitter taste in my mouth.
NOTE: Brent Friedman would like to clarify that he is not sure if this is official the reason his script was passed on. Just what he had heard. “It could be apocryphal,” he told me. “Or it could be 100% true. That’s the nature of Hollywood tales.”
Replacing Friedman and Charno was Steven E. de Souza, who had worked with producer Lawrence Gordon on several projects and had also written and directed video game adaptation Street Fighter.
De Souza: We had it that Aristotle and Alexander [the Great] had these adventures that were too terrifying to be shared with the world. And in my script, these stories were kept in this tomb that, due to an earthquake, was now available. And Lara goes scuba-diving to find this, but she’s double-crossed at the excavation and they discover they need to find the thing, which is at another location yet. So, the clue was in the Alexander the Great’s tomb, but she now had to go on an adventure with strange people to find the rest of it.
Michael Collery (writer): They struggled for a take because they weren’t quite sure what they had. And in the end, I’m not sure they still know. They struggled for a take, whether it was going to be campy, whether it was going to be really comic book-y, I really don’t think what they wanted or what they had.
De Souza: One of the interesting notes to come back was from someone who said, ‘I know we signed off on this story and we really like the first draft, but I think the fans are going to expect a totally different story. They’ve played the video game and they know she’s looking for the lost expedition’. So we look at each other and go, ‘what?’ and they go, ‘yeah in the video game, that’s why she’s there’. And I say ‘what do you mean?’. So when she gets to a new level, she finds a first aid kit, ammunition and food, so how can these things be out there if she’s not looking for the lost expedition? So I’m about to get out my seat and shout, ‘are you serious’, and Larry [Gordon] kicks me in the ankle and he says, ‘yes I think we definitely need to get that in the movie’. So we need to see the eating, and the Band-Aids and the ammunition going in the gun. We’ve got to have that.
Collery: Very often, a studio will say that they want to make the greatest action movie, the most unique character. They want to do something new, audacious and brilliant – and that’s where the conversation begins. But by the time the movie is coming out, all of that originality is drained out and eaten out of it because as thing become more and more expensive, they have to succeed. They have to make money. And what happens is the creative element is set aside to satisfy the creative element to satisfy the masses. It won’t be as challenging, it won’t be as exciting and it won’t be as weird. It won’t be Mad Max: Fury Road, it will end up being Fast & Furious.
Simon West (director): There was some very, what you would call, Mary Poppins stuff. I definitely remember that tea party issue which kept cropping up.
De Souza: I’ve seen interviews with [Simon West] where he’s said the script had nannies pushing prams and tea with the queen and red phone boxes – and none of that was in my script. It may have been in some of the others, but it wasn’t in mine… I didn’t do tea with the queen or Mary Poppins or anything like that, but what I will admit to – as my nod to the English source of the game – is to mash up what I do, the action movie, with an Agatha Christie plot. So that was my big idea. We’re on this long journey over land and sea with a party of people, she wasn’t as solo as she became in the movie. So I had her traveling with a bunch of people, and they’re getting bumped off on route. But they look like accidents. So it was a mystery plot. And if you wanted to look for it, it was completely obvious with this Agatha Christie plot with all these English types. So it was this mystery plot line that was inside this action movie, which is what the English did anyway years later with Hot Fuzz.