Written by Ben Ripley
Directed by Duncan Jones
Being any kind of artist—musician, writer, painter, filmmaker—is a double-edged sword. Sometimes it’s difficult to be a punter, you know? And when is enough enough? When do we stop analysing and just enjoy?
Source Code, for example, rates 92% on the Tomatometer. That’s pretty damn good—and honestly indicative of how I feel about it. Original, brainy, thrilling, dare I say a touch emotive… yep, there’s much to love about Source Code. But I knew these things long before it hit cinemas in 2011, and thus I was always doomed to analyse.
Last entry, I discussed John August’s coverage on Natural Born Killers when he was just an aspiring writer. He gushed over that script, so much so that when he finished reading it he flicked back to the start and read it again. Well, that was me three years ago when I first read Source Code. I gushed. I devoured again quickly upon finishing it. And I had also, probably like John August had, built the potential film up so much in my head—I’d seen the film in my mind’s eye—that it couldn’t ever live up to it.
And that would be fine if I didn’t think the film could’ve been closer to what I’d envisioned. I can say that because the changes from the original script to screen can’t be wholly justified—at least as far as I’m concerned. So, although it may be a prickly thing to do, let’s compare shall we?
The salient difference is I imagined between the Source Code I read, and the Source Code I saw, was a darker, edgier, less glossy film. And that’s exactly what the script called for, starting with our hero, Captain Colter Stevens. This is how the script described him:
Colter looks to be thirty years old. A military buzzcut. A disciplined physique, lean and spare, almost gaunt. Skin burnished by years of desert sandstorms and equatorial sun. His expression, prematurely aged by combat, is perpetually wary, sometimes predatory, accustomed to trouble.
Same goes for our female lead, Christina:
Sitting opposite Colter, facing him, is a WOMAN in her late twenties, CHRISTINA. In contrast to the corporate suits around her, her appearance is thrift store funky: black nail polish, dark lipstick, black hair with blue streaks, a button-down blouse edged in black funeral lace with silver skull-and-bones cufflinks.
Instead, we got a generic Pretty Girl who is far less interesting, even if she is Michelle Monaghan. In the original script, Christina was ever-busy drawing sketches of all the passengers on the train, which, again, is simply more interesting; there was none of that in the film—and I defy anyone to comment with a good reason why?
Another notable difference is the film opens with sprawling shots of Chicago, beautiful sweeping shots of fields and lakes, all moving toward the train before diving inside. In the script, however, we began with Colter. We’re with his disoriented experience from the moment the story begins. It’s more claustrophobic, somehow grittier. I liked the original better, but I can understand that that change was probably done to establish the ‘world’ that Colter would later have to save; but, still, surely all the people on the train establish that anyway.
I could go on about the differences that I thought weren’t necessary, but as I said, doing so can be a double-edged sword. As a person who wants to write stories worthy of the screen, I’m almost obligated to dissect scripts and films this way; but that shouldn’t come at the expense of enjoying a really nifty film when it comes along—because those are increasingly rare. I’ll never escape my mind’s eye; and thankfully there’s times when I’m pleasantly surprised with what makes it to the screen—next entry I endeavor to discuss just that.
Still, if you’re content to lament that for two hours you were forced to watch Jake Gyllenhaal save the world for you, I’ll leave you with this one last difference from the original script to final film—indeed, it was the last difference.
One film reviewer remarked that Source Code was a film that’s as much about saving the day as seizing it. That’s a great comment, for sure. I’d be happy with it. But that remark’s indicative of the ending—of the very ‘Hollywood’ ending—that in the original script was perfectly fine being perfectly understated. In the original ending, Colter and Christina got off the train and went for coffee; but they didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time wandering around being jolly, talking about being right where they’re supposed to be. Sigh… Them walking off down a brick archway to get coffee was enough … and enough is plenty.