We promise you won’t get the Kane Madness from reading this!
Break out the Head & Shoulders, it’s time to celebrate!
Eighteen years ago today, Ivan Reitman generously gave the world Evolution, a sci-fi/action/comedy movie that evoked the fun and otherworldly spirit of the director’s original claim to cinematic fame, Ghostbusters. While Evolution didn’t receive the critical or box office success of its ectoplasmic forerunner, the film is still an underrated genre gem that deserves much more appreciation and admiration than it currently has.
Set in the remote town of Glen Canyon, Arizona, the main action kicks off when a mysterious meteor crashes in the middle of the desert. This rock from beyond the stars proves to be frighteningly unique when it’s discovered that the meteor is carrying lifeforms that can evolve and adapt at an exponential rate; they go from flatworms to primates and pterodactyl-like monsters in a matter of days.
Humanity’s only hope in containing the spread of the invasive aliens are two small-time university professors, Ira Kane (David Duchovny) and Harry Block (Orlando Jones); an accident-prone military scientist, Allison Reed (Julianne Moore); and a disgruntled country club employee hoping to become a firefighter, Wayne Grey (Seann William Scott).
Things would’ve been perfect there, but Reitman saw fit to expand his all-star ensemble to Ted Levine, Ty Burrell, and Ghostbusters alum, Dan Aykroyd. There’s even a short cameo from Sarah Silverman! Armed with an A-list cast and out-of-this-world creature designs (yes, that was a pun), Evolution was (and is) one of the most entertaining and original science fiction films of the 21st Century.
To ring in 18 years of what should be considered a verifiable classic at this point, I caught up with the film’s screenwriting duo, David Diamond and David Weissman (The Family Man, When in Rome), to learn how the project came together and what its legacy has been since the movie first opened in theaters nearly two decades ago.
Josh Weiss: Can you tell me a little bit about how the screenplay came together in the first place?
David Diamond: Basically, we had a meeting with Ivan Reitman based on another script that we had written called Minutemen, which was ultimately made as a television movie for the Disney Channel. We came in and Ivan gave us two scripts to look at, one was a straight sci-fi action movie called Evolution by Don Jakoby and the other one was a very funny comedy version of the same version that was written by Todd Phillips, who went on to do The Hangover.
The comedy version Ivan already had was written by Todd with his writing partner at the time, Scot Armstrong. (Scot and Todd did Old School and Road Trip together, both produced by Ivan and his company Montecito Picture Company.) I don’t remember Scott and Todd’s draft at all, do you Dave? I remember it was funny—the tone was probably more like the other movies they ended up making with Ivan, less like the effects-driven sci-fi comedy Ivan had in mind.
Ivan felt that we had captured the tone of Ghostbusters in our movie, Minutemen, which was a huge compliment to us, because were basically trying to rip off Ghostbusters[Weissman laughs]. He said, ‘Read these two scripts and see if you can do something that would sort of be the tone of Ghostbusters with this premise.’ We read the scripts and we responded to the premise. [Then] went back in there and told him how we would do it and he hired us.
That’s how we got the job.
David Weissman: Yeah, honestly, I don’t remember all that much from the Phillips and Armstrong draft. The Jakoby script was the script we used as the basis for ours.
Josh Weiss: I read that the film was originally supposed to be a lot darker and scarier before Reitman came aboard. Can you talk a little bit about that original vision?
Diamond: Don Jakoby, who wrote the original draft, had written [Invaders from Mars and Arachnophobia], so if you think [those films] and then think about Evolution taking place in a period of a few days, that was sort of the tone. It was scary, action-packed, and cool, but certainly not what Ivan Reitman was gonna do with the movie.
Josh Weiss: Since the movie contains a lot of scientific elements, particularly about DNA and adaptation, did you have to consult with a real scientists or geneticist before writing the more technical aspects of the screenplay?
Weissman: We both have PhD’s in nuclear genetics [Diamond laughs] No, that’s a joke. There was a good bit of science in the Jakoby draft and I think that we just sort of took our cues from that for the science part and then as the movie went on, there was, I think, more involvement of people who were interested from the science point of view. I don’t think we did much research in science for the script.
Diamond: We usually just make up a lot of stuff.
Weissman: Yeah, usually we make it up, and you know what? Science, it changes, so you never know. That was [18 years ago], I think science has come along way since then. We were probably right!
Josh Weiss: What was the most fun thing to write?
Diamond: I’m assuming that we’re thinking of the same thing.
Weissman: The bug-up-the-ass sequence.
David: The bug-up-the-ass sequence, for sure.
Weissman: I think it got the movie made. Ivan referenced it right after reading the script as one of the funniest scenes he’d ever read, so that, I think, was very fun to work on. We re-shot the ending and that required a lot of work sort of on the fly.
Josh Weiss: Can you expound on the original ending a little?
Diamond: I’m a little foggy on that. Do you remember, Dave? What went on?
Weissman: I don’t remember exactly what it was originally, but the idea of them having to inject the selenium sulfide straight up the ass of the alien came about very late and we re-shot a lot of that stuff, and I think there were a lot of different versions of it. I believe we had made a [special] deal with the studio, so we were sort of available to do whatever at the time and that was very fluid and changed a lot, but it was a lot of fun, too. Ivan was probably in the pantheon of film heroes for us; he was at the very top. And so, the idea that we got to spend that time on set then and doing it on the fly with him, that was a lot of fun. Orlando and David and Sean, they were all really fun guys to be around.
Diamond: In general, the beginning of the process is almost always fun. The writing of that first draft of the script was incredibly fun, sitting down with Ivan and watching him de-construct the script that we had written and what was working and what wasn’t working was an incredible thing to see and participate in with this guy who really was our filmmaking hero. So, that was incredible. The more the process goes on, the more difficult it sometimes gets, but as Dave said, in the end, you’re sitting next to Ivan Reitman on a set and you’re dealing with these other actors who are really talented and funny… Even though the work is hard, it’s all relative. That’s great hard work to get.
David Diamond (left) and David Weissman (right)
Josh Weiss: Something that I really love about the movie is the creature designs. Did you have a lot of descriptions in the screenplay or did you defer to the special effects team to decide what the various aliens would look like?
Weissman: I think that was Phil Tippett and those guys who did most of that.
Weissman: This movie, for its time, was super sophisticated in the CG stuff. I remember being in those meetings and just thinking, ‘Wow, these guys know what they’re doing. Leave it to them.’ But our descriptions of the aliens were probably not nearly as qualified as the actual artists’ descriptions… they were very generous in including us in that process and that was really one of the great things about Ivan. He was always happy to have us around to sort of consult us, even though we were pretty young at the time.
Josh Weiss: The whole movie feels like an homage to ‘50s-era B movies where an alien menace terrorizes a small town in the middle of nowhere. Were you guys inspired by anything specific from that time period?
Weissman: We were inspired by Ivan’s vision for that and it’s gratifying that that’s something he seemed to really appreciate and get about the movie. I think this was sort of a love letter to those kind of movies from Ivan, and he sort of inspired us to do that, so we were happy to do it and loved the idea of a small town overtaken by aliens. That was a lot of fun to do.
Diamond: We grew up on Ivan’s movies and Ivan probably grew up on those movies and kind of had in his mind, aesthetically, to do something to pay homage to those movies and it seems like he really did it successfully because even though the movie may have been slightly under appreciated in its time, it definitely has a following of people who got that aspect of the movie and really appreciated that.
Josh Weiss: Did you ever visit the set? Did any prop, model or set really wow you?
Diamond: Tough to remember. Dave?
Weissman: We weren’t there every day. We were there when they were shooting those crazy [alien] monkeys towards the end. And then, of course, we were there when they were shooting the giant alien a—hole at the end and that was pretty cool, how they did it. I remember being around these guys: Ivan and [producers] Danny Goldberg and Joe Medjuck. They would tell stories about the visual effects they did on Ghostbusters and how there was no CG at the time. It was [practical] and standard special effects. They had a ton of war stories about that and always kind of made us on laugh on how they did stuff [back then]. We were around when they were shooting those monkeys, the attack inside the cave.
Diamond: The truth is, it was sort of unusual for us to do an effects-driven comedy. Most of the stuff that we had written up to that point was more concept and character-driven comedy. We hadn’t done a lot of effects-driven comedy, although Minutemen—the script that got us the job—was, I guess, the exception. We never really imagined that we would be making a movie with huge special effects and creatures and aliens and things like that. When we saw them and we saw pictures of them and renderings and filmed special effects and things like that, we were very easily blown away because we kind of couldn’t believe that we were involved in a movie where that stuff was happening in the first place.
We promise you won’t get the Kane Madness from reading this!