the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Evolving Screenplay

For those who asked what exactly the screenplay I was working on was about, I give you:

The Beagle!

Before you snicker, let me assure you I am completely serious. Yes, it is a working title and yes, it is a bit preposterous a name, but then I'm sure those who stepped on board Her Majesty's Ship, the Beagle, nearly two centuries ago thought the same thing. But that did not stop the voyage the Beagle would take them on from being one of the most important and monumental in history.

This is a film about a man who makes the greatest scientific breakthrough in human history. His groundbreaking theory explains the world around us--how we got here, where we are going--in such breathtaking simplicity that, still today, it is an object of awe and admiration.

This is the story of Charles Darwin.

What attracted me to this story is something that, growing up, I was never told about Darwin. Did you know that when he stepped aboard the vessel that would take him around the world and aboard which his earthshaking theories would be crystalized, he had just finished seminary? Charles Darwin had every intention of becoming a minister and surely would have settled down into a small parish somewhere in England had not fate intervened and one of his Cambridge professors (also a minister) written to him with the invitation to become the Beagle's naturalist.

His entire life was a wrestling between these two worlds--faith and science. To his dying day, he never abandoned his faith, though there were certainly moments where it was severally tested. In fact, his definitive work, "On the Origin of Species," is suffused with references to the Creator he, at one time, thought he'd be serving from the pulpit. He saw evolution through natural selection, not as a refutation of God, but as an illumination of His handiwork.

Atheists have deified him. Christians have demonized him. The truth, always more interesting, is, of course, in between.

Together with my friend, Paul, I've been researching and planning this screenplay for the better half of a year now, gobbling up everything I can get my hands on--books, films, trips to museums (the American Museum of Natural History here in New York just concluded a massive Darwin exhibit complete with his original specimens, diaries, etc.), and some fantastic websites, one of which just this month put every word Darwin ever wrote up on the web.

While we originally considered an epic film that encompassed Darwin's entire life, we have settled on that five year period of his youth which he spent on the Beagle, traveling to such locations as Tierra del Fuego, the Andes, and the Galapagos Islands. For it is on this voyage where we see the totality of Darwin's life in miniature--his staunch fundamentalism, the wonder and awe of his discoveries, his crisis of faith, the social outrage at his new ideas, and the confident and established scientist he would become.

It is a fascinating, controversial, exciting, and illuminating story. And, given our current social debates, very timely and important, wouldn't you say?

Alright, like Darwin's ideas, let the praise and scorn begin...


Anonymous Lisa Anderson said...

Exciting project, Brandon! (Though I feel I must mention that—in this particular portrait especially—Charles bears a stunning likeness to yourself.) Nothing like a debonair, biblically-educated man to shake things up a bit.

7:16 AM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

It's the receding hairline. Does it every time.

7:21 AM  
Anonymous nate said...

What an interesting, and timely, topic.

9:23 AM  
Blogger Vampire said...

That sounds very interesting. Good luck with it.

4:39 PM  
Anonymous nate said...

There will of course be an epic sea battle, yes? I don't care whether it really happened or not. Make it happen, writer boy.

11:18 AM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

Oh, but of course! The Beagle, at the conclusion of the second act, will be attacked out of nowhere by a 30-gun Intelligent Design dreadnaught. The Beagle will be left barely afloat and will limp into a fog bank to lick her wounds and make repairs. I don’t want to give too much away, but needless to say, the final battle, when everyone is dead and Darwin confronts the Creationism Kraken all by himself, is, well, worth the price of admission.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Jon said...

..."the greatest scientific breakthrough in human history"

Even if I did subscribe to the theory of evolution I think I would still find the above statement thoroughly laughable. So much for Newton, Einstein, and don’t even get me started on Surak.

I guess it’s a question of insight and applicability. Newton’s Principia Mathematica has been used to describe the world around us and enabled us to use that knowledge to our advantage since the day it was first released into the world. Likewise, Einstein’s theories of relativity and their application have changed forever our understanding of the universe and our interaction with it.

The question then sits: What new insights and consequent applications has Darwin bestowed to humanity? Has he helped us explore Mars? Has he helped us describe the tides and why they act as they do? Has he opened up a new understanding of the interaction between energy, space, and time with all its' the resultant applications (for good and ill) man? No. But Newton and Einstein have.

To put it another way: what insight has Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection bestowed upon the scientific world that could not have likewise been put forth by a creationist (i.e.: genetics, pharmacology, reproduction, etc…)? What advances in modern science would we lack today if Darwin had never lived? None.

We'd still have landed on the moon; we'd still be debating various topics on blogs such as this using computers and the internet, etc, etc, ad nauseam (absent any effects from chaos theory and butterflies in India or cities on the edge of forever of course).

This is not to suggest that knowledge (scientific or otherwise) is only valuable if it enables mankind to do what it once could not, but it certainly is a mark in its’ favor. Such applicability would-in my opinion-put a theory (once proven (in the non-binding scientific sense)) above another with no such applicability.

Incidentally, Darwin was far from the first to propose organic evolution or to put forth natural selection as its’ mechanism of choice. Like so much of scientific discovery, he simply put the idea forth at the right time and place in history. Even evolutionists agree on that. Study harder…

Nor, I should add in closing, do I suggest that Darwin was a dunce by any means. I think him a rather intelligent naturalist, with a keen observational eye. Even if natural selection was not his by original discovery but was merely "new to him", natural selection is none the less a breakthrough in our understanding of the natural world around us, evolutionist, creationist or otherwise.

The preceeding is less than one typed page, which I think we can all agree is pretty damn good for me.

10:24 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

Jon, your points could be well taken, but the fact that they are made with an agenda in mind negates the best of them.

The point is not whether one is a creationist, evolutionist, or ecumenicalist--people have made up their minds on those points before they even enter into the "discussion." The point is that Darwin's story is a very good story that most would be interested in and has never been told on the grand scale of the silver screen.

The fact that this is such a hot topic nowadays makes the intrigue of the story all the more intriguing. Darwin has become much bigger than what he was but also much darker by some and lighter by others than he really was. Hopefully Brandon and I can put aside our own agendas and show the man as the man he was, instead of the legend (dark or light) that he has become.

Is this the type of discussion you were hoping for Brandon?

Smiling impishly,

8:27 AM  
Blogger Jon said...


I wonder if you realize the absurdity of your first statement. First of all, I have no agenda. I have beliefs, yes, but an agenda? If you would be so kind as to enlighten me as to what that agenda is? Do I work for the Discovery Institute? Do I lobby Congress to promote my “agenda”? Do I have a book (or script for that matter) to hock? I think not. I of course have beliefs-as do you. That my beliefs are at variance with yours does not mean that I have an agenda any more than your beliefs would imply likewise for you.

You suggest that my argument is invalidated simply on the grounds that my beliefs differ from yours. How very O’Riellyian of you. I could just as easily give the same retort to you for the very same reasons. Do you see the fallacy of your logic?

You dismiss my argument as irrelevant without ever confronting it by suggesting that I have an agenda that somehow removes the merit of my point of view. If you disagree with my beliefs than by all means, present your beliefs and form your own argument in favor of them. One must be careful in the words one chooses. Your statement is hardly appropriate for this discourse.

In point of fact my post was largely in response to the overwhelming weight Brandon’s statement gave to the importance of Darwin’s theory. I was not debating evolution. I was not debating natural selection. I wasn’t even commenting on the script that the two of you are working on. I simply thought (read: believe – as in ‘my opinion’) that to put Darwin’s theory above the contributions of Newton, Einstein and many others was foolhardy because his theory has not contributed to any practical advancements in the world whereas Newton’s and Einstein’s theories have had an almost incalculable impact on our lives. Satellites could not orbit the earth without them, we never could have gone to the moon without them, or sent space probes to the far reaches of our solar system and beyond or explored the surface of mars with out them. In short, the theories of these men not only opened up a new understanding of the universe to us, but also contributed to the technological advancement of the world in which we live. Natural selection has not.

You are most welcome to take up an opposing view point, only do not say that my view point is negated for no other reason but that I hold it. Try instead to counter my argument by crafting a counter-argument of your own.

Again I will say (since it apparently bears repeating), I have no problem with Darwin’s theory of natural selection-no creationist worth their salt does. I simply don’t attribute to it the ability to create new types of species (as opposed to speciation through breeding; i.e. the different species of dogs or horse-they will always be dogs or horses). I dare say you cannot provide me with one observed instance wherein it has (and since observation is the corner stone of science…). Again I will say that I feel Darwin was a keen naturalist and highly intelligent man whom I do not demonize nor deplore, I simply disagree with the conclusions he drew from his observations. And again, I will say that I wish the two of you nothing but the best in your endeavors with this screenplay. By all means, tell his story…accurately.

Not smiling impishly,


11:40 PM  
Blogger Robin said...


Coincidentally, last week I was reading (what was probably an old) Smithsonian Magazine, and there was an article about The Galapagos and a little about Darwin in it.

If you haven't seen it, there is one point the writer made that you may want to explore:

Darwin did not have a "lightbulb" moment of clarity...he was home and worked for years on his discoveries before *finally* concluding that Natural Selection and Evolution had caused what he found.

If you want, I'll see if I still the article, and if I can get it to you.


3:30 PM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

I did know that though, for the needs of the story, I must compress some time.

5:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no idea how old the most recent posts are, since I don't see dates but only times.

Anyway, I love the screenplay idea. In fact, I was thinking of writing something very similar myself and then I found this link and uttered the universal cry of having gotten there too late once again: damn.

I've been reading various books and articles about Darwin, including the recent "Answers" magazine (published by Answers in Genesis, an organization of scientists whose stated mission is "to illustrate the importance of Genesis in building a creation-based worldview..."). Putting aside the absurdity of using science to prove a predefined, desired conclusion, I find the ID writers, in general, to be unnecessarily hostile and supercilious in their professed logical arguments. The Jan-Mar "Answers" issue contains myriad personal judgments about Darwin the man woven into their "scientific" articles, even beyond the familiar conclusion that Darwin chose to reject God out of some inordinate measure of evil in his character, rather than the simple fact that he couldn't bring himself to believe what he didn't believe.

The familiarly arrogant, "in-your-face" tone of the ID comments on this thread make me wonder about the motives of the ID movement. I truly do not understand them. When you get back to the basics of Christianity, the driving force of the ID movement, I thought the goal was to attract followers, love thy neighbor (and thy enemy), and let's not forget the one about not judging. The people who attack those of us just trying to learn the truth do nothing to win the hearts and minds of would-be followers.

7:18 AM  
Blogger Brandon said...

This was written in October of 2006. I am, sadly, no longer working on this particular screenplay. As it turns out, not one but two Darwin scripts are in work, to debut later this year, on the anniversary of Darwin's 200th birthday. Here's hoping one of them hit the points I was so intent on capturing.

10:17 AM  

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