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8 Modest Suggestions for the 24 Movie

Jack in a tunnel
Jack keeps terrorists from reaching the light at the end of the tunnel

24 has been in the news lately, starting back in December when Twentieth Century Fox passed on the most recent script for a potential 24 feature film. Then, last week, Kiefer Sutherland enthusiastically reassured everyone that the movie was moving forward and that principal photography would start by the end of 2011. Unfortunately, Fox quickly came out in rebuttal, announcing that Sutherland was being far too optimistic. For now, it appears that, even though Fox and Imagine Entertainment are actively working on getting the project off the ground, there is no script in the works and no writer officially on board.

So that got me thinking: why is it so hard to get a good 24 script? The more I thought about this question, the more I realized that it is, indeed, a difficult task. To start with, there's the problem of format: do you go with real time, do you squeeze twenty-four hours into two, or do you ignore those conventions altogether? Then you get into questions about how to make a compelling and exciting story that stays true to the show without feeling like a rehash of old ideas. How can you up the scope and scale of the danger, when the show already pushed that envelope to the breaking point? There are a lot of things to juggle when contemplating these problems, and after giving it plenty of thought, I'd like to share a few ideas I have come up with.

Jack on the phone
"Seriously, man, stop calling me."

I know I've been a little hard on 24 in the past when I offered up a similar list of things I didn't want the writers to do in the show's last season. Even though I urge you not to take me too seriously and know that I am trying to offer these suggestions with the utmost humility and respect, I do believe that the eighth season of 24 would have been better if they'd followed more--though not necessarily all--of my advice. Besides, I do this because I love the property. 24 is one of the best shows to ever grace the small screen, and my only wish is that it can find as much greatness on the big one. It's unfortunate, therefore, that Kiefer doesn't seem interested in returning my calls.

As usual, I disclaim that these are just the rantings of a fanboy. I will probably enjoy the movie, assuming it ever gets made and regardless of how the reality matches up to my expectations. I do not assume that I know better than the writers and filmmakers who will actually work on the film. Like I said, I do this because I love the property, not because I distrust the people who work on it.

Events Do Not Occur in Real Time

Jack and his watch
If you put your watch on the underside, it's easier to check the time while shooting people

Real time is a fun gimmick, and it worked great for a show that had twenty-four hours to work with. However, when you are restricted to a mere two hours, real time becomes a severe hindrance.

There have been movies that have used it successfully, like 1995's Nick of Time or Hitchcock's Rope, but those films work because their stories are simple. 24, on the other hand, is always complex, with layers upon layers of intrigue balanced atop a series of different human relationships. The made-for-television 24: Redemption is a good example of why the real time gimmick should be left behind for the big screen; while the story was good, it was simple and the intrigue was all set-up for the season that followed rather than self-contained plotting.

A big screen 24 should probably take place over the course of twenty-four hours, if for no other reason than to justify the title. You could come up with some other, clever connection to the number twenty-four, but fans likely won't be impressed by that.

Keep it Personal for Jack

Kim and Jack
If you must put Kim in danger, just don't rely on cougar traps

In order to draw Jack out, it is imperative to give him the proper motivation. The simplest and most emotionally satisfying way of doing this is to put someone Jack cares about in danger, and the obvious choices of Kim and Chloe come to mind immediately. Still, I'd prefer someone a little more subtle.

My choice is Keith Palmer, the late President's son. Jack doesn't really know Keith, but because of his deep respect for Keith's father, he would gladly put his life on the line again if it meant protecting David Palmer's son. This doesn't address more practical matters of how Jack would get involved or why he would need to be, but it does give him plenty of drive and offers a tangible connection to the late David Palmer. Besides, it also offers the writer or writers a chance to explore a character we haven't heard from in many years, to see how Keith has evolved in the aftermath of losing both parents and an uncle. The character has aged enough that you could even recast him, if need be.

The main point here is that there has to be something personal in it for Jack, because if there's one thing we learned during the show's run, it's that the personal stories are always superior to the impersonal ones.

Keep Cameos to a Minimum

Audrey Raines
"I just want to deliver two lines!"

There are lots of old characters I'd love to see again, like Charles Logan, Chase Edmunds, Mandy, Audrey Raines, Tony Almeida, Morris O'Brian, etc., but I don't want the writers to feel obligated to include as many as possible. There are certain characters who absolutely should be included (Chloe O'Brian and Aaron Pierce, for example), but if the story starts a revolving door policy for every living character in the 24 universe, the movie will get bogged down by it and won't have enough time for any serious character development.

This happened a little too frequently on the show, even though they had two dozen episodes per season to work with. Those moments show us that the writing often strains under the pressure of finding justifications for certain characters to reappear. Tony's resurrection, ex-President Logan's first return, Nina just happening to show up in the second and third seasons, and other similar moments are too ridiculous to get away with in the movie.

One of the rules of good writing is to avoid coincidence as much as possible, and it is almost impossible to include half a dozen cameos without there being a few coincidences. Besides, getting all the actors together again can be a headache, both logistically and financially, and if you want to keep the executives happy, you have to consider these things.

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-e. magill 1/25/2011

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