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Screenwriter David S. Goyer – The Master of Tangential Science Fiction

When ABC’s FlashForward premiered last month, show runner, writer and director David S. Goyer had one message for science fiction fans: It’s not science fiction. “I mean, there’s one [scifi gimmick], the flash-forwards,” he told SciFi Wire, but “the audiences won’t know for a couple of years what the ultimate cause of them were, so I don’t think it really matters.”

Cue the shock and awe, the vitriolic emissions from appalled bloggers, the myriad interviews (on this site included) about what Goyer could have possibly meant. How, after all, could a man so entrenched in science fiction — a scribe who cut his teeth on the adventures of Batman and Blade — so easily write it all off? Put simply, he didn’t. While it’s true FlashForward may only boast a tangential flirtation with scifi, those expecting anything more from Goyer misunderstand his strengths as a screenwriter. Goyer is a veritable master of tangential scifi — using out-of-this-world concepts to tell real, grounded stories.

The Crow: City of Angels (1996)
“I tend to like stories where average people are thrown into surreal experiences,” Goyer once explained. And nothing could be a more apt description for his follow-up to Alex Proyas’ dark “superhero” tale. One-part mysticism and three-parts vengeance, The Crow relies on its science fictional conceit merely as a setup: Ashe (Vincent Perez) is murdered and magically resurrected so he can hunt down his killers one by one. Sure, he has a Crow that follows him around granting him magical powers — but the movie easily sustains itself on the action and Ashe’s despair over his loss. Under Goyer’s pen, the scifi here makes an all too familiar tale (Punisher, Payback, Get Carter) unique — even for a sequel.

Dark City (1998)
Director Alex Proyas first envisioned Dark City as a hard-boiled detective tale. “I was really trying to do kind of a Raymond Chandler story but with a science fiction twist,” he said. Who better than Goyer to add that touch of surreality to his bleak whodunit? Dark City may be one of Goyer’s most direct works of science fiction — the characters are, after all, on a space station — but the atmosphere and aesthetic to the world he creates are disturbingly familiar. Classic cars and fedoraed detectives scour dank back alleys, assuring us this is a world we can understand, taunting us that we actually have no idea.

Batman Begins/The Dark Knight (2005/2008)
Perhaps the most famous of Goyer’s tangential science fiction is his reimagining of the Caped Crusader as a flawed, human superhero. When crafting the reboot, Goyer told Variety, “What we worked on the hardest is that the audience will really care about Bruce Wayne and not just Batman.” That means doing away with Batman’s unending arsenal of gadgets, and showing how a man could realistically don the classic character’s mantle. Are there science fictional elements in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight? You bet. But as Goyer explains, the mandate throughout was to “make it real,” which has incidentally become the gold standard for all superhero movies thereafter.

Jumper (2008)
In the case of Jumper, making the story “real,” was more of a challenge. We are, after all, talking about someone who can teleport at will. However, director Doug Liman explained that his goal in making the movie was to subvert the superhero genre — to portray a character that’s given extraordinary powers and, unlike Spider-Man, chooses to abuse them. No self-righteousness here, the driving force of the movie is David’s (Hayden Christensen) self-interest — a concept that’s all too grounded in human nature. The fact that the movie was universally reviled? Well, let’s chalk that one up to two post-Goyer rewrites and Hayden Christensen.

Ghost Rider 2
Which brings us to the latest scuttlebutt in Tinseltown, that Goyer has been tapped to pen (and, hopefully, revitalize) the next Ghost Rider movie. Based on a script he wrote in 2000, Goyer’s Ghost is a distilled version of the character. “The direction we’re going with the story would simplify things drastically,” he told IGN back when the script was first making its rounds. “More Road Warrior than Marvel Universe,” where the villains are a gang of evil bikers as opposed to some sort of CGI demon. Does this mean Nicolas’s Cage’s flaming skull will be more metaphorical than literal? Probably not — even in tangential scifi, there are certain things you can’t escape. But as Goyer’s proven time and again, the key to great science fiction (at least his great science fiction) is not the scifi itself, but everything else that comes with it.

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