[Neanderthal poster] Neanderthal


Home | Synopsis | Movie frames | Production stills | Script | About the author |

Coverage by the Independent Filmmakers Alliance:

LOG LINE: 30,000 years ago, we fought Neanderthal for domination of the planet. Now they want it back!


The log line did its job and I came to this screenplay with considerable interest, half expecting a clone of "Planet of the Apes". My interest was heightened when I realised that the writer was setting a different course. After a bloody start in ancient times, we are neatly transported to the present and introduced with admirable promptness to our main protagonists, Adam, Joseph and Mary. The biblical allusions are not accidental.

Sadly, after such a promising start, the story stagnates as we take the next thirty or more pages to emphasise again and again what is evident almost from the beginning, i.e. Joe and Adam are "Neanderthals" and that Joe has fallen for Mary, a fact that is going to set up a conflict with Adam. There are hints of a grand plan to wipe out all homo sapiens with a series of "dirty" nuclear explosions but the story never reveals to us how and where the Neanderthal remnant race developed a drug that eradicates their distinctive forehead ridges, thus allowing their agents throughout history (of whom Jesus Christ was a traitorous one) to pass unremarked amongst us enemy "sapes". Nor are we privy to how they have developed, and - more importantly - tested a drug that will provide "thalers" with immunity from the lethal radiation with which they intend to cloak the entire planet.

There is considerable use of flashbacks throughout and they tend to become confusing at times. almost as if the writer had a sudden afterthought and didn't want to restructure the script to include the information earlier. The resolution of conflict by interspecies breeding through genetic engineering may soon be technically feasible even if it will raise a few eyebrows. I mean, how far should this concept be taken?

On the positive side, the different characters are clearly established and the dialogue is realistic most of the time. Joseph and Mary are likeable protagonists and the final irony that the fruit of their interbred union should be called Adam - genetically created as the first of his kind - is not inappropriate. Man as God, however? Well, it's high time we debated that issue.

I suspect that this piece would benefit from a serious rewrite to move some of the more dramatic action forward in the story. Also, at 119 pages, it could stand some trimming. My personal suggestion is that we lose the crucifixion scene which is guaranteed to offend many people.

There are some highly original ideas at work here and they deserve a tighter framework. As a promoter of discussion, "Neanderthal" mostly works. As a successful feature film, it still needs a lot of work.

On a scale from 1 to 10:
Concept: 8
Story: 4
Characterization: 6
Dialogue: 6
Structure: 4
Tone/Pace: 4
Overall: 5

Coverage by the American Screenwriters Assoc.:

by Kendall Callas

LOGLINE: When a Neanderthal enrolls in college to help his species with their covert mission to destroy the Homo sapiens, he questions the apocalyptic plan when he falls in love with a college girl.


This is an original sci fi thriller set in the youthful world of dorm rooms and college pubs. The idea of Neanderthals secretly living amongst humans or “sapes” and plotting total annihilation is intriguing and very high concept. Males will like the action and sci fi storyline while female audiences will like the strong female character and romance elements.

One problem with the story is that it takes a while to get going. Then when the action finally does start, the story rushes to wrap everything up, resulting in a disappointing neat and tidy ending. The villain needs to have a more formidable role and not “flip” so quickly, if at all. The reader was curious about the inner workings of the Neanderthal society and wanted at least a brief glimpse of their world.


JOE. The idealistic hero of the story. He’s a Neanderthal disguised as a college student at UC Berkeley. His goal is to help his people destroy “the sapes” through radioactive bombs. His part of the mission is to research how much radioactive material each bomb requires.

It’s hard for this reader to envision Joe as a soldier fighting an important mission for his people. He comes across as an idealistic guy with a good heart. He’s established as a softie and romantic when he immediately falls for Mary. His few scenes in which he’s plotting with Adam to wipe the “sapes” out isn’t very convincing. Adam is believable, but Joe doesn’t seem to have his heart in the mission from the getgo.

Therefore, his struggle between his love for Mary and his duty to his people isn’t as dramatic as it should be. Since it’s hard to believe he could ever actually go through with the villainous plan, his dilemma isn’t convincing enough. If, for example, he was introduced as a focused experienced soldier whose sole purpose is to execute the evil plot no matter what, then the conflict would be bigger. He would have more to lose if he chooses to go with Mary. Right now, he doesn’t seem to care that much about the Neanderthal plot.

The reader sees his biggest dilemma as being whether or not to stay with Mary because they can’t have children. The fact he would also betray his entire nation of people doesn’t seem as serious a consequence in comparison.

Don’t have Joe fall head over heels for Mary so quickly because that affects his characterization as a loyal soldier. Or if he’s to remain the idealistic romantic, then perhaps he has no idea he’s on such a deadly and important mission. Maybe Adam tells him enrolling in college is just a fun experiment because he’s testing Joe out. Joe fails the test when he falls for Mary so quickly, forcing Adam to have to kill Joe.

MARY. The romance character. She’s a premed student at UC Berkeley. The moment Joe sees her, he falls for her. They have strong chemistry together and their romance is convincing. She has no idea what sort of person she’s getting herself involved with and is ready to marry him after only three months of knowing each other. She’s also an idealistic romantic like Joe.

The only problem with Mary’s character is her willingness to run away with him after she learns he’s not who she thought he was. Most women would either think he’s mentally unstable or a freak of nature. He also just killed his best friend and the police will probably be after him. It’s hard to imagine someone as studious and responsible as Mary running away with a fugitive, let alone a fugitive who claims to be another species. She wasn’t ready to commit when he said he can’t have children but she’s ready to commit when he says he’s a Neanderthal. It’s a little farfetched.

ADAM. The villain of the story. He’s Joe’s friend but is also supervising him. He provides the appropriate amount of tension and conflict. He warns Joe not to be too serious about Mary and to focus on his mission. Although he’s going against what he preaches, enjoying the female “sapes,” he is careful not to fall in love.

However, the writer cleverly sets up a quasi-love triangle. Adam, Joe, and Mary all go to the pub and have fun. Mary clearly likes Joe and Adam is jealous. What if Mary had chosen Adam? The reader wonders if Adam would have behaved differently and made the same decisions as Joe. This adds depth and complexity to the story and helps shape the character relationships.

Adam is a truly devoted Neanderthal who is completely focused on his mission but he’s not against having fun. His “love ‘em and leave ‘em” motto makes him human and easy to identify with. He’s the typical college guy and the fact he’s a different species doesn’t matter. He’s a character the reader is familiar with. His jealousy over Joe’s relationship with Mary makes him even more human. Too often, villains are one-dimensional and flat, but it’s not the case here.

ELDER. The head honcho or main villain. Adam calls him up when he has problems with Joe so he’s most likely the boss or leader of the Neanderthals. He’s developed as a more formidable threat than Adam because he’s giving Adam orders to “act swiftly” on page 74. Adam tells the Elder that Joe is in love with a “sape” and the Elder reminds him they were paired together for a reason. He must monitor Joe closely and silence him with his father’s Hak Ba. He then reminds him what happened to Christ who apparently was a “taler” they had to silence.

Elder is set up as the biggest threat of all. The reader anticipates the moment when Joe must face the Elder after killing Adam. It will be even more terrifying and frightening than when he had to battle Adam. Therefore, when he kidnaps Joe and confronts him on page 111, the reader expects a big dramatic moment. Joe will face death for the last time, and the reader wonders how he’ll get out of this dire situation.

Then instead of trying to kill Joe, the Elder listens to his suggestion about a half-breed baby and agrees with him. He tells Joe he has his support and it would make peace reachable. What happened to “bestiality is disgusting” and “it would shame his parents to find out?” What happened to the Elder’s plan to annihilate the “sapes?” Adam mentions that peace was attempted years ago but the “sapes” tricked them. Why isn’t the Elder concerned about this?

He flips to the other side so quickly and suddenly, that it’s unrealistic and disappointing. It feels like the writer backed himself in a corner and felt rushed to finish the story so made the villain turn soft, wrapping everything up quickly. If the story got going sooner, then there would be plenty of time to work out a better ending.


Overall, the dialogue is realistic and believable. Joe and Adam talk like regular guys but then interject the dialogue with various foreign words like “Hak Ba” and “Chock.” This gives the story a sense of mystery and intrigue as well as authenticity.

The writer doesn’t rely too heavily on dialogue to reveal the story which is good. The writer uses flashback scenes, visions, and dreams to unfold the story. As a result, the story is dynamic and alluring. There are numerous intriguing action scenes and special effects that keep the reader involved in the story.

The only scene that feels awkward and too “talky” is on pages 116-117 when the Elder tells Joe how his father died. This feels like an afterthought as if the writer forgot to incorporate it logically into the story and stuck it in there at the last minute. It feels too “oh by the way, here’s how your father died….” It doesn’t sound natural. It would be better for Joe to uncover it himself either through his own investigating, such as seeing the Elder’s newspaper clipping about Mt. Saint Helens. The reader also wonders why his death is so “top secret.”

There are a few moments in which the dialogue feels unnatural and pushed. For example, the reader was lured into the story immediately with the exciting opening, but this is quickly killed on page 6 when Mary and Joe have a sentimental “getting to know one another” bedroom chat. It’s too melodramatic on page 7, especially with Mary shedding a tear. On page 37, Mary talks about how much painting means to her and Joe says he can’t wait to tell her mother how much he admires her. This feels hokey and corny.

If voiceovers are going to be used, then it’s usually better to keep it consistent throughout the story. Joe’s voiceover occurs on pages 9, 37, and 38 and that’s it. It’s probably better to just cut it out altogether.


For the most part, the story’s structure is very well done. The opening immediately sets the story’s tone and grabs the reader. It tells the Neanderthal’s story and helps the reader understand why they are oppressed and angry people. It also establishes audience sympathy for their people. There is a clear hero and a clear villain. The romance is believable and the reader roots for these two star-crossed lovers. The writer cleverly utilizes a familiar setting, college life, but from an unfamiliar perspective, giving the story an edgy feel. Nicely done!

The main concern this reader has is the ending, as mentioned earlier.

CRISIS OR SUPREME ORDEAL. The crisis occurs when the hero faces death for the first time. He must experience a rebirth which will hopefully transform him into a better man. After the crisis, he is better equipped to deal with the later climax in the story, the crowning achievement.

In this story, the crisis occurs when Joe goes up against Adam for the first time. The story has been slowly building towards this moment when Joe questions his mission and Adam’s authority. He decides he doesn’t want to do what Adam tells him anymore which leads into the fight or the crisis.

Based on Chris Vogler’s “The Writer’s Journey” and Joseph Campbell’s “Hero with a Thousand Faces,” there are two big moments in a story: the crisis and the climax. The crisis can take place either in the middle of the story (central crisis) or later on, towards the end of Act Two (delayed crisis). In this case, the writer uses the delayed crisis which works well here. The story has been building the tension between Adam and Joe and the reader is anticipating when it will all come to a head. Their battle doesn’t disappoint and Joe kills Adam which raises the stakes. The tension is heightened and the suspense builds. Now Joe has done it and is in deep trouble. So far, so good.

RESSURECTION or CLIMAX. This takes place towards the end of the story and is the big moment of Act Three. This is when the hero must prove that he has changed and learned from his mistakes. He has hopefully changed for the better as a result of defeating the enemy in the crisis. This is the moment Joe faces the Elder, the supreme leader of the Neanderthals. It’s a critical moment.

There is conflict all through the story up until the moment Joe is taken by the other Neanderthals (the story’s climax). He meets the Elder and the audience waits to see what terrible fate awaits Joe. Unfortunately, nothing happens to him and the bad guy turns into a good guy. The war ends and suddenly peace is the answer. Joe and Mary are going to run away to Mexico and have a hybrid baby. The conflict is eliminated when it should be building to a crescendo here. It’s disappointing and feels like a copout.

Have the Elder remain a formidable foe. He could kidnap Joe while guards watch over Mary. Joe manages to escape and now he must rescue Mary. It’s a race against time as he scrambles to save Mary before the Elder wipes out the entire city or country. This raises the stakes and builds nice tension. Maybe the Elder tells Joe the plans have been accelerated and they’re starting the radiation bombs now. This is what the reader has been waiting for anyway. The moment Adam mentions these radiation bombs the reader anticipates when this is going to happen.

Hopefully, Joe rescues Mary in time, kills the Elder, and stops the bombs in time as well. Now the question remains: will the Neanderthals be able to live freely amongst Homo sapiens? Most likely no. A bittersweet ending with Joe saying goodbye to Mary works better for this reader. Joe decides to be with his own people and let Mary go back to her life. Joe could be the new Elder leader or at least have a leadership role on the Council. His goal is to push for peace and this leaves the reader with the hope that he will return one day and possibly reunite with Mary.

NEANDERTHAL WORLD. The unfamiliarity of a foreign Neanderthal society is a major draw. Part of the story’s intrigue is the anticipation of seeing how the Neanderthals live and who they are. It’s interesting to learn, for example, that Christ and Hitler were Neanderthals. Trivia like this is amusing.

The reader wants to know more about the Neanderthals. If they can assimilate in society with nobody the wiser, like Joe and Adam, then why don’t they all do this? Why did the “talers” have to hide out in cities for centuries when they clearly can assimilate into society undetected? Or perhaps the pills are a new invention. What is in these pills? Where do Joe and Adam live? Joe complains he misses his family and home-cooked meals. Where is this and why doesn’t he contact them or visit them? It would have been interesting to see Joe’s family and his hometown. Maybe he has a wife or fiancée waiting for him back home and this adds more conflict to his situation with Mary. This would also be another reason why he can’t be with Mary in the end.

For example in MEN IN BLACK, Will Smith’s character is introduced to a whole new world of aliens disguised as humans and the intergalactic airport. The reader was hoping for something similar, like a hidden underground village where the Neanderthals are free to roam as themselves. Perhaps they live in dormant volcanoes like Mount Saint Helens or hide in Mexico. The reader wanted to see them in their own element.

NOTE TO WRITER. The writer is too verbose, specifically in the beginning. Screenwriting is succinct and brief. Readers have to read so many scripts per night and it’s daunting to come across a script that has such a lengthy introduction (pgs. 1-4) with no dialogue or “white space.” Readers want to breeze through the script, not feel like they’re reading a novel. Flowery language and wordy description is best left for more literary formats.

The introduction in Central Turkey could easily be condensed into one or two pages. Just get to the heart of the action. The two Neanderthals are happy together when suddenly they’re ambushed by several Homo sapiens. The male Neanderthal watches in horror as they kill his female companion and eat her brains. That’s it. The key is choosing the right words that enable the reader to visualize the setting without being too wordy. This also gets the story going sooner.

The description on page 5 in Mary’s apartment is also too flowery. Describe her apartment in one or two sentences and then move on. Cut out details like “Its glowing gases dance as it burns near the bed on a table littered with paint brushes and colored jars of paint.” This is nice language but not appropriate for screenwriting. All that needs to be said is “Candlelight illuminates what is obviously a painter’s bedroom.” Cut out the detailed description of the canvasses and just say the room is decorated with various canvasses, some done and some incomplete.


This should lure a wide audience and is very high concept. It’s like PLANET OF THE APES meets MEN IN BLACK with a little ENCINO MAN thrown in on a college campus setting.

With the exception of the ancient Turkey scenes in 30,000 B.C., this is fairly low budget with few special effects, action sequences, and a small cast. The flashback scenes are the only costly elements to the story due to the exotic locations, costumes, and special effects and would most likely require CGI. If the ending is completely reworked, then this has a good chance of luring producers.

Copyright © 2016 by Kendall Callas.   All rights reserved.