When it comes to feature-film directors, many of them have a script or a project, that they desperately long to do.
For director Barry Levinson, one script that had been on his mind since the start of his career, was Toys. Word was when he began to make the move from television to film, he wanted this film to be his feature debut. However, it’d take over a decade, and numerous attempts, before the film was made and released by Twentieth Century Fox, in 1992.
The film concerned a company called Zevo Toys. It’s founder Kenneth Zevo (Donald O’Connor) passes away, but rather than will the company to his son Leslie (Robin Williams), he requests his brother, General Leland Zevo (Michael Gambon) take over management.
Of course, Leland is not of the same mind as his brother. Soon, the factory’s production begins to shift into making ‘war toys,’ which were never produced when Kenneth was alive. As the world around them begins to shrink and becomes more threatening, Leslie and his sister Alsatia (Joan Cusack), must find a way to restore their father’s legacy.
The film was released around Christmas of 1992, but even with it’s colorful production design, whimsical previews, and Robin Williams as it’s lead, the film failed to even recoup back it’s production budget.
Viewing the film on VHS several years after it was released, I couldn’t help but become curious over the years, and wonder: what was it about Toys that had Levinson signify it as his ‘passion project?’ Was there something in the original scriptment, that had somehow gotten lost in translation?
In July, a trip to California allowed me some time to stop by the Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills. Owned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, it houses a number of scripts, pictures, and other material not often available to the public.
Notable to me for this visit, was perusing through three drafts of Toys they had in their collection. Each script was written in 1979, 1982, and 1992, with writing credits on all three, given to Valerie Curtin (Levinson’s first wife), and Barry himself.
My curiosity piqued, I delved into all three copies of the script, but was most interested in the one dated December 14, 1979. What follows, is a summary of that script.
Taking place in Connecticut, the story focuses on a company called Panda Man Toys, Inc. It is housed in a “three story, nondescript building sitting isolated in the countryside.”
The company’s founder, Kenneth Presswell, is close to death, and has sent for his Militaristic brother, General Leland Presswell. During their meeting, Kenneth makes clear his intentions to turn the factory over to Leland. The meeting takes a morbid turn, when Kenneth dies right in front of his brother.
The General is given time to consider the offer, and upon deciding to take over, is given a 60% stake in the company. The remaining 40%, is split between Kenneth’s children, Leslie, and Alsatia.
Leslie is identified as being 34 years old, but not ready yet to take over the company (with Kenneth’s assistant Wyeth Owens, claiming he’s ‘sowing some wild oats’). Leslie is somewhat of a prankster like his father, but is a ‘late-bloomer’ when it comes to business.
Alsatia is not given an age, though it is noted that she did not leave grade school until the age of 18. Even so, she is considered a devoted factory worker.
The General quickly makes it clear that he isn’t enamored with the factory’s ways, at one point claiming that money and manpower is being ‘wasted,’ when it could be used to ‘develop new ways to annihilate foreign races.’
Wyeth brings up his misgivings about the General to Leslie, but Leslie just brushes off the concern, figuring that time at the factory, will ‘loosen up’ his uncle’s demeanor.
Visiting his bedridden father (a former 5-star general), Leland tells him about the factory, but the old man shows no interest. However, as he talks about his brother’s company, Leland begins to formulate a plan.
Once he takes charge, the General makes it clear at a board meeting, that he feels the company will not survive, unless they start producing ‘toy weaponry.’ Wyeth claims that Kenneth never had the company make ‘war toys,’ because he was a pacifist.
“I know he was a pacifist,” declares Leland. “That’s why I used to kick the $#!t out of him all the time.”
(This declaration causes Leland to laugh at his ‘joke,’ while everyone else in the room remains silent.)
Talk of industrial espionage hurting the company’s R&D department, has the General send for his son Patrick, who soon starts using some brutal interrogation methods among the staff, to try and weed out the spies.
Leland also brings aboard his secretary, Gwen Tyler. Though she has a very serious demeanor at first, Leslie slowly starts to get her to lighten up, and a romance blossoms between them.
Still concerned with espionage, the General takes Patrick’s advice, and decides to counter-espionage designs from a competitor, named My Toys. Patrick manages to trick Leslie into helping him create a distraction for some guards, by putting on a strange show, seen on the My Toys security cameras. which manages to temporarily distract the guards, and allows them to make off with some of the company’s designs.
Upon hearing what has been done, Wyeth voices his objections to the General, but is ignored. Other projects and departments are then shut down, as the General commandeers the staff to work round-the-clock to produce toys off of the stolen designs.
The General likes most of the designs, but one of them he calls “a little submarine,” he thinks has potential. He soon hatches a plan to make ‘war toys,’ with the money made off of them, used to fund a few of the General’s ‘special projects.’ As work continues, more departments are shut down, and Alsatia even loses her office in the factory.
Soon, Panda Man Toys is producing and selling war toys (tanks, jeeps, paratroopers, etc). With the development continuing on the General’s projects, he soon invites some men from Washington to secretly see the designs for them. However, they are not impressed by his ideas, including his (as one of the men calls it) “submarine with a nose.”
After the General loses his temper and assaults one of the men, Patrick takes him away to calm down. Even with this setback, the General claims he is still going to go ahead with his plans.
One day, Wyeth manages to sneak into the restricted area of the factory. There, he finds men testing miniature war machines, along with video game simulators. However, Wyeth is spotted, and he is chased into a room with a large water tank. Wyeth gets into the water tank to hide, but is then attacked and killed by some underwater toys in the large tank (making the General very happy that they work!).
After Wyeth’s death is labeled an ‘industrial accident,’ Leslie demands Patrick tell him what the General is doing. Patrick attempts to stay loyal to his father, until Gwen tells him how his mother died (the true facts of which the General never told him!).
Patrick then confronts his father, and upon finding out that a nurse he likes also had an affair with his Dad, he finally confesses to Leslie, Alsatia, and Gwen, everything that has been going on. The General’s main goal, is to use video computer technology, to turn kids into ‘super-patriots,’ willing to die for their country without question!
The group then hatches a plan to steal the designs, and stop the General. Alsatia and Gwen are left behind, as Leslie, Patrick, and his surveillance team, attempt to break in.
They are attacked by a number of toys, with several of them dying (one is vaporized by a toy tank’s blast!). The final battle takes place in a miniature village, and it is during the fighting, that the ‘submarine with a nose’ (referred to as “The Guppy”) is unleashed. Of course, the General’s brilliant idea ends up being his downfall, as “the Guppy” kills him.
The final scene shows two tombstones, side-by-side. On them are the following:
Kenneth T Presswell – 1910-1979 – May Joy and Innocence Prevail
Leland H Presswell – 1914-1979 – I Disagree
It’s never been divulged just how many scripts were written for Toys, but the next draft the library had (dated February 1982), starts to become closer to the 1992 shooting script. Here are a few noted changes:
- The General’s secretary Gwen Tyler, becomes just another Panda Man employee, whom Leslie slowly falls in love with (becoming the character Robin Wright played in the final film).
- The 82′ script changes Alsatia from being human, to a robot, whom Kenneth built after Leslie’s mother died when he was younger. Alsatia and Gwen also attempt to stop the General, going along with Leslie and Patrick at the end (the surveillance team Patrick had in the first draft, is dropped).
- Unlike the 79′ script, the 82′ script has the men from Washington willing to forgive the General for assaulting them, and tell him that NATO has a weapons conference coming up, that he might be interested in getting ready for. This ‘second chance’ mentality, would be dropped in the final script.
- The 82′ script also jettisons Leslie and Patrick stealing toy designs from a competitor. Instead, the General and Patrick purchase some competitor’s toys from the store, and attempt to build them. One of them that the General attempts to assemble, is a “Sammy the little Submarine” toy. Like the 79′ script, this toy somehow inspires the General to make a ‘killing machine’ based off of it, which the General dubs, “the Sea Swine.” Not much is told about this rendition of the sea swine, except it has two periscope-like eyes that pulsate with an eerie light, and it makes a ‘creature-like sound.’
What is most notable about the original script, is how dark it gets. Kenneth dies right in front of his brother, and his assistant Wyeth, and the General are killed. In the 82′ and 92′ scripts, Kenneth dies (off-screen) on the way to the hospital, and both Wyeth and the General survive.
There is also the fact that the original Panda Man Toys was little more than a non-descript factory building, before becoming a surreal toy factory, located who-knows-where. Plus, at the end of the day, I am still no closer to knowing when the decision was made to change the company name from Panda Man, to Zevo (the Panda Man moniker is still prevalent in the 82′ script).
Plus, there is still the question of just how a toy submarine, evolved to become the semi-alive ‘sea swine’ mentioned in the 82′ and 92′ scripts.
One item I found intriguing about the final scene in the 79′ script, is the difference in ages. I had assumed that Kenneth was the younger brother, and Leland had followed directly in their father’s foosteps. This may have been done to show the wisdom of the older brother, vs the younger, who may have wanted to be seen as acceptable in the eyes of their militaristic father.
The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that Levinson’s goal with the ‘idea’ for Toys, was to create a ‘surrealist film.’
Surrealism is often the giving of something a dreamlike quality, where the material skirts the line between real, and unreal.
We see that so many times in numerous scenes in the final film. There are many bits inspired by surrealist painter Rene Magritte throughout the film(even the poster of Williams in a bowler hat, appears to be inspired by his works!).
One could even see the decision to put a Militaristic General in charge of a toy factory, definitely being one of several ways the story tries to keep it’s viewer ‘disoriented.’
I think that is Toys’ greatest flaw: Levinson got so into trying to make it surreal, that it probably would have made a better series of paintings (or even a short-subject), than a feature-length film.
Over the years, when Toys has come up in interviews, Levinson still defends the film. In one interview, he claimed it’s been the one film he has been most criticized about.
Even with many not embracing the film, some can’t deny that it seemed almost prescient. This is notable in the use of small, unmanned planes, meant to get into enemy territory, without having to place a human soldier in danger.
This tied into the thinking of the time that Military budgets were being heavily slashed during peace-time, and there was some intent to keep advancements in weaponry relevant, as well as economical.
Of course, it may also be seen that Toys could be somewhat relevant in our current day-and-age, as we seem to also have a madman intent on turning our world upside-down, as we struggle to find some good in a world, that seems to have gotten darker.
James Cameron is a good example of how a filmmaker can come from anywhere. Originally working as a truck driver, his viewing of a film called Star Wars, inspired him to pursue a new career path.
After quitting his job and working on several films for Roger Corman, James eventually crafted his first original film, as a writer/director. The Terminator debuted in 1984, and quickly garnered praise for it’s effects-work, and gritty science-fiction scenario.
In the 30 years since the film’s debut, Cameron’s name not only became elevated in science fiction circles, but at the global box-office, where his last two films took off like gangbusters in 1997, and 2009.
In 1997, Titanic was released, and took off in a way that hadn’t been seen since the days of the early 80’s box-office hits!
The film was truly a phenomenon that could not be quantified: a $200 million film whose release was pushed back 5 months to the Winter of 1997 due to editing and effects issues. The numerous delays, made many feel that Cameron’s “Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic” story, would surely sink his career.
Of course, as we know now, the rest is history. Titanic managed to ‘stay afloat’ in theaters almost 8 months after it’s debut, and broke attendance and ticket records in almost every country it was released in!
While it isn’t my favorite Cameron film (that distinction still belongs to Terminator 2: Judgment Day), I still can’t help but admire the man’s big-budget attempts to bring his fascination with the ship to life. Willing to build a 90% scale recreation to film on, as well as the mixture of practical and visual effects, to put us aboard the doomed luxury liner, and make us feel for the plight of it’s 2,200 souls.
Watching films over the years, I would sometimes look through most filmmakers’ works, looking for similarities, or reasons why certain subjects would fascinate them. As I was looking through Cameron’s films, I was surprised to note that when thinking through the story of Titanic, I found several story elements, that seemed to borrow from the structure Cameron used on The Terminator.
And so, I thought I’d share some of my findings with the internet.
When it comes to the male leads for both Terminator and Titanic, one can see that both Kyle Reese and Jack Dawson, are ‘anomalies’ in the worlds they find themselves in (Kyle in the year 1984, and Jack aboard the Titanic).
The future world Kyle has come from, is one devoid of the luxuries that the average person living in 1984 takes for granted. As a soldier, Reese got by on his wits, struggling to just survive each day, in a world ravaged by the machines. When he gets to 1984 Los Angeles, Michael Biehn portrays him as a man out-of-time, determined to save Sarah Connor, while also dealing with post-traumatic stress, from his time as a soldier.
Jack on the other hand, has lived his life going from place-to-place, with a very bohemian lifestyle. An artist by trade, he does what he can to get by, but still is willing to keep to a basic set of principles.
Both men are also unique, in that they encounter their leading ladies in the midst of life-or-death situations (Sarah about to be killed by a Terminator, and Rose threatening to commit suicide).
Throughout the course of the films, both Kyle and Jack act as cheerleaders to Sarah and Rose, claiming they are more than what they seem. We see both women at one point claim that these men are mistaken, but as the story goes on, we see them breaking out, and even saving their men in several instances.
It is also notable, that both of these men sacrifice themselves so the leading lady can live, and are ‘lost to time’ as the films go on.
In Terminator, Kyle Reese did not exist until after Judgment Day. When the LAPD catch him, there is no record of him on file. During the final battle, Kyle sacrifices his life to try and destroy the T-800. After his body is recovered after the event, he is sealed up in a body bag, and is never heard of again.
In Jack’s case, he came aboard the Titanic along with his friend Fabrizio, with tickets not to their names (both were won in a poker game). After the ship sinks, Jack has Rose get aboard a piece of the ship, so she’ll be out of the freezing waters. However, in his attempt to save her, Jack succumbs to hypothermia.
When Rose let go of his hands, and he sank into the abyss, that was the last anyone saw of Jack Dawson. The only thing that physically exists that proves his existence, is the drawing he did of Rose (that was found in Cal’s safe). Rose even mentions that she has no picture of Jack, whose face only now exists in her memories (of course, the irony is that there actually was a person on the Titanic named Jack Dawson, just not the one that Cameron had Leo portraying).
Most of Cameron’s films have an underlying theme regarding technology, and whether Man can control it, or if that technology may end up destroying it’s creator.
Though there is a definite technological difference between Skynet’s T-800 Terminator, and The White Star Line’s Titanic, they both represent the hubris of man.
Skynet was a fully-automated system integrated into the US Military, as a deterrent to human error, and to safeguard against enemy attacks. However, the artificial intelligence soon deemed all humans to be a threat. The system triggered an attack that lead to a nuclear war, that became known as Judgment Day.
Though the Titanic was not a living entity, her creation could almost be seen in a similar light.
At the time of her creation in the early 20th century, the Titanic was touted by her creators as one of the largest, most luxurious ships of all time, and…she was considered to be unsinkable, at least, according to the press and media (word was the White Star Line never claimed such hubris).
Her double-bottom hull and multiple water-tight compartments were seen as a deterrent to death, their advanced technological breakthroughs deemed a way to keep her passengers safe.
Of course, the claims of how this early 20th century technological marvel was going to revolutionize travel and pretty much plow through whatever Mother Nature threw at her, were rendered moot after she struck an iceberg, and sank on April 14th, 1912.
Both Skynet and the Titanic, were creations meant to show how far mankind had come…and in ways that most could not comprehend, they ended up defying their creators.
Skynet was touted as a program that would not suffer from the errors of humanity, like fatigue or emotions. However, once those in charge soon realized what they had done, it was too late to change course.
The Titanic was touted in a number of publications of the time, as being ‘unsinkable,’ a vessel to stand against God and nature. The push for luxury over safety, also overruled the added safety deterrent, of giving the ship enough lifeboats to handle her massive human capacity, leading to the tragic loss of over 2/3’s of her passengers.
It is also notable that in both films, Skynet and Titanic, are shown within alien-like worlds, ravaged by time.
In Terminator, the world of 2029 is shown torn asunder by nuclear annihilation, and the neverending threat of Skynet’s many war machines, to wipe out the last of mankind.
In Titanic, we see what became of the great ship’s own Judgement Day, some 85 years after she sank to the bottom of the Atlantic. Just like the future world of Terminator, we see once normal imagery made ‘alien’ before our eyes, bathed in a faint blue glow. The ocean, the sinking, and a number of other factors, have twisted the remains of the once-great ship, into something other-worldly, far away from the normalcy of her heyday, in 1912.
Though many decades separate their life-changing stories, Sarah Connor and Rose Dawson have story arcs that are very similar.
When we first meet them, both seem to be stuck in a certain place, seemingly trapped.
Sarah is working as a waitress, and looks to be heading towards a normal suburban lifestyle, that will eventually lead to marriage, and children.
Rose’s family name and fortune have allowed her to become the fiance to a young businessman, in a society and world where her choices seem limited.
Both women find themselves in a precarious situation, when strange men from another world (Jack from the world of Bohemia, Kyle from a war-torn future), end up ‘saving’ their lives, and attempt to make them believe that they can be more than what they think they are.
Kyle tells Sarah of what he was told by John, regarding how she trained him to be a warrior, and was a source of great strength.
Jack’s pep talk is moreso based on what he’s observed regarding Rose. Jack has noticed that Rose seems to have a fire within her, much more than those around her. The upper-class world she is in won’t allow for such ‘outbursts,’ and she’s in danger of that fire burning out.
By the end of their films, both Kyle and Jack have died, and in the wake of their deaths, it is up to the women they championed, to decide if they want to die, or live.
In Terminator, the T-800 is still alive after Kyle is killed. It is up to Sarah to finish the job (and decide if she wants to live or die). Sarah manages to lead the Terminator into a metal press, where it is crushed.
In Titanic, a lifeboat returns to the ship’s debris field, looking for survivors. Upon realizing Jack has died due to hypothermia, Rose almost gives up, but then remembers her promise to Jack. She manages to get the attention of the lifeboat’s crew, and is saved.
In the final minutes of each film, we get a small glimpse of how these encounters changed both of their lives.
Sarah is last seen driving off into an uncertain future, though more confident, and starting a new life, to prepare her unborn son for what is to come.
In the final moments of Titanic, we see Rose asleep(?), with a number of pictures by her bedside. Each of them in a matter of minutes, shows that she seems to have tried to live life to it’s fullest…a life she probably would never have had, if she hadn’t encountered Jack Dawson.
While I have mentioned Terminator as sharing some DNA with Titanic, there is a little of Terminator 2 in the film as well…albeit in a deleted ending.
In his original ending for T2, once the T-800 had been destroyed, the film would cut to 30 years in the future, to a park in Washington D.C. Sarah, now a Grandmother, explains how Judgment Day didn’t happen. The disaster was averted, and John Connor is now a Senator.
In the audio commentary for T2, Cameron claimed that he became fascinated with the idea of seeing a person, at two different stages of their life. However, he felt that the sudden appearance of Hamilton playing Sarah at age 64, was too much of a shock to the system.
In re-evaluating what went wrong, he felt that if he were to sell the illusion of a character at different stages of her life, the character would need to be introduced at their older age, to help ease the viewer into their younger ‘identity.’
Cameron was determined to use this storytelling device post-T2, and made it work 5 years later on Titanic. While Kate Winslet portrays the younger Rose character and is the film’s ‘lead,’ it is Gloria Stuart who bookends the film, as ‘old Rose’ leads us into her past, and back to the present day.
While both films do not line up exactly in comparison, it is notable at what I’ve seen in regards to both films, and I have been surprised noone else has really written such a comparison piece. But then, I’m one of those people that is weird enough to do so.
I came back to finish this post, after seeing Titanic’s 20th anniversary release last weekend. The audience was rather small, but seeing it in an HDR setting with an incredible sound system, took me back to those halcyon days of my senior year in high school, sitting in my hometown theater for the first matinee of the film (minus it breaking 15 minutes before the end!).
That re-visit of the film on the big-screen got my mind going, and soon made me think of a few other comparisons one could make regarding Terminator, and Titanic:
I was surprised to realize how in each of the films, an image of Sarah and Rose, are vital to the journey several people undertake in these films.
In The Terminator, it was a picture of Sarah Connor, that pushed Kyle to accept the mission, to go back and protect her.
In Titanic, it is Jack’s drawing of Rose, that brings ‘old Rose’ to the attention of Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton), as the image shows her wearing The Heart of the Ocean necklace, the treasure he is seeking within the remains of the ship.
One scene that is most memorable to those who saw The Terminator, is when Arnold’s T-800 massacres a whole police station, in his search for Sarah Connor.
Surprisingly, a similar cat-and-mouse situation (minus the multiple guns and dead bodies) was shot for Titanic, but ended up on the cutting room floor.
After Cal (Billy Zane) chases Jack and Rose down to the flooded First Class Dining Hall, he gives up the chase, due to the rising waters and a lack of bullets in his gun…only to realize that Rose’s coat still has the necklace in it’s pocket!
In the deleted scene, Cal tells Lovejoy (David Warner) that he can have the necklace if he can get it, and the bodyguard reloads his gun, and skulks into the dining hall.
While the cat-and-mouse game in The Terminator helped with the suspense, the same scenario happening amidst the sinking dining hall just didn’t work.
Cameron had hoped the scene would excite the audience, as Jack gets some comeuppance upon Lovejoy. However, while the sight of the familiar setting being eerily submerged charmed Cameron, the added tension just seemed to be too much for the audience, who were already full ensconced by the more pressing matters of the ship sinking.
After a few test-screenings, Cameron removed the dining hall fight altogether, and with it, went any negative comments about the moment!
In the final film, Jack and Rose merely rush through the dining hall, and the audience is left to assume that Cal and Lovejoy returned to the upper-decks, to try and get on a lifeboat.
I will admit the two films aren’t perfectly similar in their narratives, but as one can glean from the article, it seems that James Cameron likes to reuse some things, if he can find a place for them.
Of course, I do wonder if any other story scenarios will show up in the upcoming Avatar sequels. Cameron’s fascination with deep-sea diving, is said to be a part of the upcoming sequel. I doubt we’ll get any interstellar submersibles, but I’m sure he’ll work on trying to give us some fascinating underwater creations, beneath the waves on Pandora.