Pilot Script Review of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol
Langdon, based on Dan Brown's best-selling novel The Lost Symbol, was NBC's final drama pilot pick-up this year. The project from Imagine Television, CBS Television Studios and Universal Television was originally developed with writer Daniel Cerone (Dexter, The Mentalist, The Blacklist) attached. He was supposed to pen a draft but he departed the project, prompting Brown, the producers and NBC to bring in Dan Dworkin and Jay Beattie to do their take on the material. The two writing partners created ABC's The Crossing and most recently served as consulting producers on Star Trek: Discovery and American Horror Story. Their credits also include the Scream TV series, Revenge, Scorpion, Criminal Minds and Netflix's new teen adventure drama Outer Banks.
The Last Symbol is the third Dan Brown novel featuring the character of Robert Langdon, following Angels & Demons and, most famously, The Da Vinci Code. The Langdon TV series is being billed as a natural extension to the universe Imagine Entertainment built on the feature side with its three movies directed by Ron Howard starring Tom Hanks in the titular role: The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons and Inferno, based on the fourth book in the series. The company developed a movie adaptation of The Lost Symbol as a follow-up to Angels & Demons before they went with Inferno instead. Breaking from the chronological order in the books, Langdon has been conceived as a prequel, focusing on a younger Robert Langdon.
To succeed Tom Hanks, the production went with Ashley Zukerman. A standout in the recurring role of Nate Sofrelli on HBO's Succession, Zukerman recently completed production on the upcoming FX on Hulu miniseries A Teacher, in which he stars alongside Kate Mara.
WRITTEN BY: Dan Dworkin & Jay Beattie
DRAFT DATE: 1/13/20
PAGE COUNT: 59 pages
SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: We open on shots of bazaars, mosques and ancient ruins. We're in Turkey, where we ultimately settle on the Patnos prison, an aged facilty surrounded by the high moutains of what used to be Armenia. In the yard, we focus on a chain with a guard pulling at one end, and an American inmate on the other. Meet ZACHARY SOLOMON (25), skinny, dirty and scared. A second guard approaches with a thin wooden cane. He smashes it hard on Zachary's feet. Other inmates are watching the spectacle, apparently learning a lesson. Zachary has tried to escape. As the camera pans over the cell windows, we push in through the bars of one, where an inmate seems to be in some sort of trance, not bothered by the sounds of despair outside. As the camera rises, it's revealed that he's seated upon a symbol drawn in ash on the floor. It's a TRISKELION. Then we hear ROBERT LANGDON (33) in voice over.
He's in Harvard, teaching. He's a bit cocky, but his students seem to love him. His class is about symbolism, as all sorts of symbols of the past and present appear on a screen behind him. He explains how what was relevant then is revelant now, and how people on the internet sometimes use these symbols to push an agenda, creating fake news and conspiracy theories. He says we have a responsibilty to distinguish fact from fiction. Later that day, Langdon is in a bar with a fellow professor, STAN. His phone vibrates with a text from PETER SOLOMON (50) who asks him to call him back ASAP. Peter is the director of the Smithsonian, and Langdon's mentor. Outside, he makes the call, and it's Peter's assistant who answers. He says Peter needs Langdon's help in D.C. right now.
The next day, as he settles into Peter's private jet, Langdon calls KATHERINE SOLOMON, Peter's sister. She's in Cambodia, in a Buddhist Temple. She's surprised by the call and doesn"t know anything about what's happening with her brother. What Langdon really wants to know is if she's available for dinner. There's history here. But she can't, she's buried in an important project. Once in Washington D.C., Langdon has a sweet memory that's shared with us in flashback. It's three years earlier and he's at Princeton, defending his thesis to a room full of faculty heads, including Peter. As Langdon arrives at the Capitol Building, he quickly realizes the hall where a gala is supposed to be happening is empty. That's where he was supposed to meet Peter. A JANITOR confirms no such event was scheduled that day. Langdon reaches to his phone to call Peter and it's his assistant's voice again on the other end of the line. But his tone is different now. Turns out it's not his assistant, it's someone who calls himself MAL'AKH. He tells him Peter is not here, he's in Araf, which means Purgatory.
Not far from Langdon, a family of visitors are wandering. One child seems to be bored... until he stumbles upon a HAND. His mom's face fills with terror as she sees it too. Meanwhile, Mal'akh tells Langdon he has to find an ancient portal in the city and unlock it. Only then Peter will returned from the in-between realm. Click. The line goes dead. Langdon wonders if it's a joke. He takes notice of a chaotic crowd that has gathered around what is now fully revealed to us as a severed hand propped up on a wooden base, with three fingers curled down and index finger pointing up. There are tattoos on the fingertips, and a ring on the middle-finger. Langdon knows exactly what it means.
COMMENTS: If you're as ignorant as I am about the Da Vinci Code saga, don't worry: you may miss a few references here or there, but you don't need to have read the books or seen the movies to understand what Langdon is about. You also don't need a degree on symbolism or theology to make it through the pilot without being lost or bored. Apparently the writers hewed fairly close to The Lost Symbol book, with the same starting point and the same characters.
A cat-and-mouse adventure thriller set mostly in Washington D.C., it's clear what drew NBC to Langdon: it's a interesting way for them to renew their thriller brand as The Blacklist nears the end of its run and newer entrants (Blindspot, for one) have failed to catch on in quite the same way. It's based on a renowned IP known all over the world and it has an exciting mix of character-driven action, mysteries and actual historical elements. There's also a hint of supernatural/sci-fi as the character of Mal'akh is described as resembling a "mythical beast" in the script. Is he a demon? We don't get the answer in the pilot, and that's one of the things that make us want to watch more. Other enticing elements are secret hidden doors and rooms, a Mason's Pyramid, and that severed hand from the teaser,. It seems there are clues everywhere...
In some ways, Langdon is reminiscent of Indiana Jones, although the setting is not as exotic and there's far less humor (as in almost none). In fact, it takes itself quite seriously and that may be where it loses some. It's fun, but not nearly as much as it could have been. The characters are all very smart, and often full of themselves; that too could could pose a problem in the early going as audiences attempt to connect with them. At the same time, Langdon doesn't take its viewers for dummies, and that's a positive; the pilot script is smart, fast-paced and efficient. It's also heavily serialized as nothing is resolved by the end of the pilot; this should make the show more sticky for those who tune in at tyhe get-go, but could also serve as a barrier to entry for latecomers.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Though not without its risks, Langdon is a promising attempt to bring the world made famous by The Da Vinci Code to television The popularity of the franchise should drive strong tune-in for the show's premiere, and this well-structured pilot script and strong serial elements should keep viewers coming back. Whether it ends up on NBC proper or somewhere else in the Comcast-Universal world remains to be seen, but executed properly, this sure-to-sell internationally adventure thriller feels like too valuable an asset to pass up.
OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
[ ] PASS
[ ] CONSIDER
BEST FIT: Friday nights alongside The Blacklist & Dateline.