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Sunday, February 25, 2007


[The Guatemala sinkhole and the Academy Awards hoopla over Al Gore's global warming "documentary" got me thinking again about disaster movies. Back in late 2005, after watching the first half of the made-for-CBS disaster flick "Category 7: The End of the World", I realized that there was obviously an unlimited market for this genre. If this kind of stuff can get on TV and even win Academy Awards, why shouldn't I claim a piece of the action?
So I wrote up a treatment, and it's been gathering dust on my hard drive ever since. For lack of anything better to do, I'm posting it here. Surely there must be some agents and studios out there who will take the initiative to seek me out and offer me a six or seven figure deal...]
Sigalert 9: The Ultimate Traffic Jam

The setting is Southern California, where Marcia Prescott is the newly appointed director of CalTrans with responsibility for all the freeways in the state. Marcia is a divorcee with a seventeen-year-old daughter Mandy. Her former husband is Alexander Skeffington, Jr., heir to the Skeffington fortune and Skeffington Motors, the world’s largest auto manufacturing conglomerate which is run by his father Alex Skeffington, Sr.

However, unbeknownst to anyone but Marcia, Mandy’s real father was Jack Hathaway, Marcia’s lover in college. Jack is now a fully-tenured Professor of Environmentalism at the University of California’s Sedona campus, and the world’s foremost expert on mass transportation. Jack is also the principle author of an $83 billion bond measure that will be voted on at a special election the following day.

The bonds would finance a revolutionary high-speed monorail system down the centers of California’s freeways, which would ultimately make individual automobiles obsolete. The monorail cars would travel at speeds of up to 350 mph and use a computerized multiple-hub-and-spoke model to get people to their destinations in one-third of the time that congested freeways require. The monorails would be run by superconducting power lines from giant solar cell arrays out in the desert, and hence would be non-polluting and would help prevent global warming.

Unfortunately the bond measure appears headed for defeat, with public opinion surveys showing it down by 35 percentage points, because Alexander Skeffington has poured a quarter of a billion dollars into a vicious campaign against it and against Professor Hathaway. Skeffington rightly fears that this monorail system will become a model for the entire nation and will destroy his auto company and his fortune if it succeeds. Skeffington’s corporate goons have been roughing up idealistic students in order to break up their rallies in support of the bond measure.

Recently Professor Hathaway has been having an affair with Rosanne Conchita, a fiery and charismatic Chicano union organizer who is passionately fighting for mass transportation for her people. At the moment their relationship is extremely rocky because Hathaway is uncomfortable with her radical tactics to counter Skeffington and his thugs. Rosanne leads a splinter group of enraged students who are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure the monorail project succeeds.

When Professor Hathaway debates on behalf of the bond measure, he often uses the example of frogs who will jump out of a pot of boiling water but who will allow themselves to be cooked if the water temperature is slowly increased. He says that’s what’s happening with our transportation. Motorists don’t notice that traffic just keeps getting more congested and slower year after year, until in just a few more years we will reach total gridlock and nothing will move.

Rosanne has decided that the voters need to be tossed into the boiling water. Her clandestine group of activists intends to conduct a non-violent protest in which they will simultaneously shut down the entire freeway system as a demonstration of where California is headed if voters don’t approve the bond. They will do this by having nine teams choke off nine strategic freeway locations which will paralyze all traffic. Each team will consist of four to six drivers and cars. Each team will line up their cars next to each other across all the lanes of a freeway in one direction, and then slow their cars down in tandem until they bring traffic to a halt. Then they’ll get out of their cars and dump numerous buckets of nails onto the empty freeway in front of them, and run off to waiting getaway cars on side streets. It will take days to clean all the nails off the freeways and get vehicles moving again.

The day they have selected for action is one of the worst traffic days of the year. It is also the day that world leaders will be secretly converging on Los Angeles for a summit conference. A new treaty to end global warming has been hammered out behind the scenes for the last several months, but it must be finalized and it is still very fragile. Any advanced publicity is likely to scuttle it. So the leaders of every country are arriving incognito at Southern California’s five major airports, and they’ll be driving in darkened limousines to an undisclosed meeting location in downtown Los Angeles.

[skip to middle of movie]

Mandy’s boyfriend is one of the freeway shutdown conspirators, and he has accidentally let slip hints of the plot. Mandy logs into his computer while he’s going to the bathroom and finds complete plans. She barely escapes discovery, and then tries desperately to call her mother who is unable to answer her cell phone because of the crisis. Then Mandy goes to the police, but they are too busy with other things and refuse to listen to a teenager with a nutty story. Finally Mandy steals her boyfriend’s motorcycle and takes off on a harrowing high speed ride to reach her mother, weaving around the stalled traffic and leaping obstacles as she goes.

Marcia Prescott is in the CalTrans emergency command center staring at the 30-foot-high traffic map display, which is turning red all over along with numerous warning triangles. Every once in a while, amidst the frantic hubbub, someone will shout something like “We’ve just lost the Hollywood Freeway” or “We’re up to six Sigalerts! We’ve never had this many Sigalerts at one time. We don’t have the resources to handle it. Violence could break out at any second.” The President calls Marcia to demand that she do whatever it takes to get the world’s leaders to the summit meeting by 6 pm; the fate of the entire planet hangs in the balance.

Interspersed are scenes of angry horn-tooting motorists who are stopped dead on the freeways. Some are locking their cars and walking away. All the cell phone lines are jammed. Fistfights break out, and rocks are thrown through windshields. Dozens of traffic-reporting helicopters circle overhead above every blockage. Two of them collide because the famous arrogant pilot of one has been drinking, but the other helicopter pilot, Ace Hogan, is miraculously able to land safely with nobody injured even though his helicopter’s entire tail assembly has been shattered.

Meanwhile we’re also following the personal travails of Susie Prescott, Marcia’s younger sister, who has gone into premature labor and is trying to rush to a hospital but is caught in the mammoth traffic jam.

[skip to climax of movie]

Max Goldberg is an eccentric Professor of Advanced Physics at UC Sedona, and is Jack Hathaway’s best friend. Max has been developing a “focused magnetic beam device” which can selectively attract specific metal objects. Max’s goal is to be able to target metal guns of all types. Giant versions of his device could then be placed in orbit around the earth and used to extract all the world’s firearms, thus leading to universal disarmament and peace in our time.

Naturally the U.S. military thinks this is a terrible idea and has refused to fund Max’s research. His lab has repeatedly been broken into and his equipment smashed. But he has nevertheless constructed a dozen working prototypes that he has managed to target at steel-jacketed bullets. It’s a relatively trivial matter to reconfigure his device to target the millions of nails which have been splashed across the freeways.

When the Air Force refuses to cooperate in using Max’s device, Jack Hathaway and Marcia Prescott decide to bypass official channels and rush the prototypes to the fleet of radio and TV traffic-reporting helicopters, which then are able to clear the nails from each roadblock in a matter of minutes. Motorists join together to lift up the blocking cars and carry them to the side of the road, and traffic begins to flow again. One by one the red indicator lights on the 30-foot freeway traffic map display begin turning green. The limousines carrying the world’s leaders are finally able to get to the summit meeting just minutes before the 6 pm deadline and sign the agreement to save the world. They then issue a unanimous statement endorsing mass transit as an essential component of reversing global warming, and urge the voters of California to approve the monorail bonds.

On election night the bond measure is a squeaker which finally passes by a single vote – the absentee ballot that Susie inserted into the mailbox in front of the hospital before letting herself be taken to the emergency room. Of course Susie's newborn daughter survived and is healthy. The Governor severely scolds Rosanne and her band of idealistic students for causing a colossal 9-Sigalert traffic jam, but then issues pardons to them all because he understands that they were just doing what they though was right and that in the end it all worked out for the best.

Alexander Skeffington, Jr. is arrested based on the video tape recording that Ace Hogan made (before his crash-landing) of Alexander shouting at his goons to attack the student activists. Jack Hathaway and Marcia Prescott get back together, and Jack learns that Mandy is his daughter and he resolves to try to make up for all the lost years.

The fading shot is of the freeways returning to normal, as seen from Ace Hogan’s circling traffic helicopter (with the tail assembly duct-taped back into place). The view then pulls back higher and higher until it’s the whole world as observed from outer space. The scene holds steady for a few seconds, as first one and then more and more satellites start whizzing by underneath until we’re left with a giant traffic jam in orbit.

The End

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