RELLA’S CAMBRIAN DREAM
Treatment: a Feature-Length (100-min) Animated Film
Screenplay First Draft by Michael O’Brien, Jan 2021
BEGIN: an enigmatic view. Our near future? An ICU ward. 100’s of patients on ventilators. View moves in close on one patient: a WOMAN in her 30s/40s. She seems in respiratory distress, fighting for her life, eyes searching ... //// THEN >> DISSOLVE TO >> STARS. MUSIC. VIEW of PLANET EARTH: but not as we know it. The land masses are different and there’s much more ocean surface. MUSIC rises: POV moves in close on Earth, and soon moves down, along/above the surface of an equatorial ocean at dawn. As POV slows to pause, we see STARS above. They seem to be watching, and they SING: "Each Star is a Story, Each Story a Star / We're all Stories up close, and we're Stars from afar / When the Skies fill with Stories, and our Hearts fill with Stars, / We'll be Stories and Stars, close and far, / We'll be Stories and Stars, close and far ..."
Title: “RELLA’S CAMBRIAN DREAM”
POV now plunges into water and down 1000 m or so ... We’re on a Cambrian sea shelf at the foot of a 30 m underwater escarpment... *Caption—“EARTH: Cambrian Period. 508 million years ago” // .. In swim three tiny Marrellas (lace crabs), feeding on particles of food. They are slightly “humanized” & speak English for our benefit, but have little on their minds but eating. They seem to be “friends”, and the littlest is RELLA: young, skittish, needy. Rella seems to hero-worship the other two; the others bully her a bit for being silly, even by their standards. We also learn this is the best place to eat because particles float abundantly down from the “Great Wall” (the infinitely high underwater cliff marking the ‘End of Everything’)... Suddenly, they hear deep tremors ... But their minds can’t make sense of this. They bicker about whether the tremors happened at all ... Then, suddenly a bigger rumble ... And a mudslide sweeps down from above! ... Wiping all of them out of view ...
In the cloudy muck, we can’t see much ... but suddenly, we see another creature! A tiny, eyeless, sparkling, worm-like Pikaia. She flits about, phantom-like, making squeaking sounds. Now, out of the murk comes Rella, who survived the mudslide. Rella sees this creature and says “What ... are you”?
CUT to: another, bigger sea shelf, the “Marrella Shelf” not far away. We see a great number of other Marrellas who also escaped the slide and are regrouping. They too have tiny minds and know nothing; they quarrel as to what just happened and who should be the boss. Just then, Rella arrives, very excited: we see this is her “tribe” or extended family. Rella interrupts them with her news: “Hey look! I lost two friends, but I found one!” She looks back, hoping her friend followed. She’s not there. Where is she? ... “I don’t know” ... The others bully and shun Rella and keep arguing. Rella swims back, away from the shelf to sulk/search. Just then—a great TREMOR AND ...
A GREAT MUDSLIDE sweeps Rella’s ENTIRE TRIBE/WORLD AWAY!!!! All buried. Nothing left but MUD.
HELLO? ... Rella swims in the desolation with no idea what just happened. Where is everybody? ... And what about Rella’s new friend? Did she even exist? Did Rella “imagine/dream” her?... She doesn’t know ... As the muck settles, Rella sees sunbeams piercing into the water. Now, something strange is happening to Rella ... She’s wondering ... She’s asking questions ... Now she SINGS:
(Rella:) “If I knew one single thing / If I had a thing to know / I'd be more than just a thing, / I would be a thing that knows; / If I had a thing to know / Oh the things that I might do, / Doing right, shining bright, shining true; / Is this sea-shelf more than this sea shelf seems? / Is there something making these waters gleam? / Are these cloudy beams gifts to me? Sent to me? Meant to be? / I am much too small to know / I am much too small to cope / But I think I’ve dreamed a dream / Am I big enough to hope? / In my little, little life / Let me find one thing to KNOW / Just one small thing to KNOW ...”
Suddenly, the Pikaia appears again, as if dancing, making little noises like “Kaia”. Rella is thrilled, thinking her wish is answered. She names her new friend “KAIA” and believes she is a “dream”. Is she here to guide Rella to a better place: the “Ocean of Dreams”?? Kaia certainly seems to want to lead Rella somewhere. So, YES, she follows! So begins Rella’s quest for a better place & a bright new life ...
Swim, swim, across empty water ... “Kaia” leads the way, sparkling, dancing like a little ghost or fairy, making little noises. Sometimes Kaia is next to Rella, sometimes far ahead ... Rella is mesmerized by Kaia (and a little in love) ... But Rella is also scared. As far as she knows, there is nothing this way, beyond her (obliterated) Marrella shelf. She begs Kaia not to swim out of her sight ... but Kaia does ... She’s gone ... Rella is alone. What now? ... Worse, Rella suddenly forgets what her plan was!
Just then, Rella hears something: sees it too! A shape behind her, approaching, with determination. Why, it’s a Trilobite, slightly bigger than Rella, struggling to swim (but only crawling). The trilobite sees Rella. “Who are you?” etc. This trilobite is named YURI. He’s also on the move, having been cast adrift by that mudslide. He reveals he saw a “Thing” that shimmered, danced, and was leading him somewhere, but it slipped away ... Rella remembers: she too was following a “thing/dream” to the “ocean of dreams”! ... Suddenly, Rella thinks, that if she & Yuri compile their talents, together they might find Kaia and live happily together! They pair up and travel: Yuri providing the solid focus, Rella devising a “fluttery” way of swimming that lifts Yuri high and propels him faster ...
Music/Song. Together, they are more than the sum of their parts. As one, they move through shimmering empty water, into the unknown ... But soon, they tire, get discouraged, and slow down ... Just then, a stranger passes: a multitalented, arrogant predator (OPA, an Opabinia). Opa mocks them, calls them feeble; divulges he/she too is chasing a “shining thing”, then swims on ... This ridicule turns out to be just the spur to renew Rella/Yuri’s determination! They focus, pick up speed, and onward ...
From a distance, they see “The Great Shelf”—a place beyond Rella’s tiny imagination. It’s a vast area, teeming with diverse Cambrian Life (a “megacity” of its day!). They approach. Rella sees and meets sponges, sea-cucumbers, jellies, bizarre/amazing ancestors of shrimps & crabs and much more. Rella struggles to make sense of it. Her mind is expanding, as she sings: “Are we all just little dreamers? / Are we all just little dreams? / Will we ever know what dreamed us? / Is this ocean what it seems?”
Rella & Yuri begin asking various creatures if they are, or have ever seen, a Dream. Disappointingly, this gets them nowhere. These creatures are all either clueless, indifferent or hostile. Like any city, this is a difficult place for strangers. Soon, they swim into a nest of the worst: a gang of little predator-creatures. Our two heroes are harassed and threatened and almost eaten; but fear makes Rella’s mind grow again and they make a clever escape ... BUT ... Suddenly. Rella notices a “wave of fear” spread across the entire Great Shelf. Something terrible is about to happen ... Then she sees it.
Above, approaching the Great Shelf, is a monstrous swimming giant everyone calls “THE GRABBER”! It’s an Anomalocaris: apex predator, by far, biggest creature in the ocean (like a 707 compared to little Rella!) The Grabber is grabbing everything it can find with its grabbing appendages and stuffing them into its huge, terrible mouth! Total mayhem/terror! Rella realizes this whole “Great Shelf” is nothing but a buffet table to feed The Grabber! This is surely not the Ocean of Dreams!
Just then: a voice calls out to Rella/Yuri. It seems to come from a ‘spiky stone’, about the size of Rella & Yuri put together. “Hide behind me!” it says. “The Grabber eats everything he sees, except for me!” ... And Rella/Yuri hide under this spiky stone ... until The Grabber has eaten its fill and swims away.
This ‘spiky stone’ turns out in fact to be a creature: a Wiwaxia (call me AXI!). Axi’s spiky, stony appearance/behaviour have always been his survival tactic—but his life has been so boring. Nothing ever happens to happen to Axi; almost nothing; well, very recently, a “shining thing” danced past, calling out to him ... Axi has seen Kaia too! ... Because he’s been such a great defense, Rella and Yuri invite Axi to join their quest! Yaay! But there’s a problem: Axi is a sea-floor crawler whose fastest speed is 6 millimetres an hour. Rella and Yuri begin struggling to “lift and carry” Axi ... No use.
Guess who suddenly appears? Opa the Opabinia, who mocked them before. Amazed they made it this far, Opa apologizes. He/she offers to help: with his/her dazzling agility, size/strength, five eyes and amazing “trunk” that serves as both arm/mouth (“I really am quite talented & special!”), their quest will surely succeed! Then, Opa admits: he/she is utterly lost and needs the spirit of the others to keep searching for “the shining thing”. They accept. Now, Opa lifts them all with one arm, loads them onto his/her back, then swims with great power/speed, away from the Great Shelf at last! ...
As they swim, his/her spirit lifted, Opa realizes, there is still one thing they need: a clue. They have no clue! - But: Opa recalls, in his ancestral shelf, the Elders kept a special creature called a CLUE WORM. They must go there at once! This is not easy, because Opa was banished from there for being a “show-off”. But they swim to the Opabinia Shelf and appeal to the Elders. The Elders deny Opa’s appeal. But when Rella appeals, the Elders are moved, and allow Rella to meet the Clue Worm, alone.
Leaving the others behind, Rella is led to the high, tiny cave of The Clue Worm. There, alone in the dark, she meets him. (This spiky “worm” is in fact a Hallucigenia, one of the weirdest creatures in the sea & of all time). Rella asks Clue Worm for “clues”, to find the ‘Ocean of Dreams’. He makes strange sounds ... Rella listens, and listens, and listens ... until she gets her Clue ... And the Clue is: ”Everything is a Clue!... *EVERYTHING IS A CLUE*!”... From here, everything begins to change. Tiny visions of her three friends appear, which converge into Rella, and she becomes the sum of all of them! Then, the Clue Worm opens its mouth wide, becoming a second cave, which Rella enters, AND ...
SUDDENLY, Rella is immersed in a vision: close view, the EYES of THE WOMAN we saw in our prologue. Between these eyes is Kaia the Pikaia, as if sprung from these eyes. The Woman’s VOICE now speaks to Rella: “Rella! I am dreaming you; you are dreaming me. I have guided you all I can. NOW, I beg you, HELP ME. Help my PEOPLE. I am dying, my WORLD is dying. It’s MY fault. HELP ME!”
Transformed, newly-empowered and psychically merged with this Woman (also named Kaia), Rella is guided to access something called a “Time String”. (The woman, “Kaia”, now occupies Rella’s mind and speaks to her: clues suggest she is a scientist/psychic from our near future, who projected herself back to Rella’s time as a Pikaia.) Kaia instructs Rella to shape-shift into her friend Opa, then with her that amazing arm, grab the hair-like, infinitely long Time String – and – snap/flash! – Rella is pulled out of her own time, back, another half billion years, to an Ocean in the Ediacaran Period, 1 BYA.
Rella swims ... exploring this very strange Ocean, while Kaia, looking through Rella’s eyes, geeks out and chatters incessantly ... Yes, Kaia is a paleontologist who studied with a Shaman in the Amazon and has acquired great power (if not great self-discipline)... Kaia acts as guide to Rella, telling her this place/time marks the true beginning of complex life on Earth. Kaia was shown in a vision, the solution to the catastrophe threatening her (human) species is ‘somewhere around here’ ... BUT, suddenly Rella senses they are both being watched: something called “The Watcher” speaks to Rella! It wants to meet Rella, now, alone. Rella asks Kaia to leave her psyche and wait for her, back in the Cambrian.
Rella swims on/alone ... until, very deep on the sea floor, she meets the Watcher. This is a tall, fern-like Charnia, a very early life form, neither plant nor animal. The Watcher knows Many Things, which come as vibrations from ‘The Planet’. The Watcher knows who Kaia is, what she’s done and what she is seeking: but refuses to meet Kaia, because “she dreams Catastrophes”. But the Watcher will help Rella. It instructs Rella to pluck from the silt near its base, a small, luminous, purple bubble which the Watcher calls The First Gift. “Give her this,” it says, “This will make her Story a Star.” Rella plucks out The First Gift (*fyi, the last trace of cynobacteria from ‘Purple Earth’ 3.5 BYA). And, instructed by the Watcher, she locates another Time String, grabs it, then – flash! – back to the Cambrian Period.
Rella is back in the Clue Worm’s cave! Kaia waits there in Pikaia form. Yes, this First Gift is just what Kaia hoped to find! ... But! Kaia can’t take it, yet—she has no body here! BUT! Kaia thinks she might have deposited her body somewhere nearby. We must go there now! Having shape-shifted into Opa, Rella can now swim very fast, SO, led by Kaia/Pikaia, Rella swims back the way she came, seeing many places & creatures she met before, shouting hello, defying small predators, dodging more huge terrifying Grabbers! This is a “rollercoaster” of a sequence that takes us back to where Rella began.
At last, Kaia/Pikaia and Rella are at the base of the “Great Wall” where Rella swam with her friends: now empty of life ... Tremors are continuing ... Kaia/Pikaia tells Rella her body is this way: UP the cliff, the Wall which all Marrellas dread. “NO! I can’t go there!’ Rella cries. “That Wall is the End of Everything!” (Kaia:) “I need your help, please trust me!”... Rella affirms her love/faith, and agrees.
UP, UP, UP ... At last ... Rella realizes the Great Wall has a top! Now she’s in brighter, clearer water! And ahead, she sees a different sort of ocean: brighter, full of shimmering beams. Here, she can see the Ocean also has a top! - Rella follows the distant, dancing Kaia in the direction of the waves. She follows for a long way, past many strange things/sights: until the space between the Ocean Floor & Ocean Roof seems very, small. Why is the Ocean getting smaller? THIS must be the End of Everything!
At last, the Ocean Ceiling is very low; and ahead lies something incomprehensible. We are now at the End of the Ocean, near the Edge/Beginning of “LAND”, a place where Rella cannot go! But Kaia knows her body is near here, hopes Rella can deliver The First Gift. There: in a very shallow tide pool, we can see (what we recognize as) a huge human hand, holding a glass vial. Kaia begs/urges/guides Rella to brave the crashing surf and enter the tide pool ... Rella, in turn, shape-shifts into Yuri, Axi, Opa and herself, using all talents to get close to that hand/vial; and, into the vial, places The First Gift ... AND:
SUDDENLY the HAND/VIAL draws back/away with The First Gift! Kaia/Pikaia is GONE. Rella is alone.
Rella is frantic. She’s been abandoned by Kaia? Should she turn back? NO! She wants to be with Kaia, she wants to know who Kaia is! Rella wants to Know Everything! She swims & LEAPS! // BLACKOUT.
Now, REVEAL: Rella (tiny) is now cupped in the (huge) hands of a WOMAN (yes, the Woman/Patient in the prologue)! This is KAIA, wearing a hospital gown. She stands on a vast, sandy Cambrian BEACH. In the distance, lifeless hills and mountains. Twilight. Kaia smiles at Rella with deep love and thanks.
(Kaia:) ”Thank you for dreaming me, Rella. I’m so happy I dreamed you.” (Rella, looking UP at SKY/STARS:) “What’s that??” (Kaia:) “The Ocean of Dreams.” (Rella:) “Can we go there?” (Kaia:) “We are there. We are the Ocean of Dreams.”(Pause; she pulls the vial with purple liquid: ‘The First Gift’.) “Look: I really need to fix a mistake I made. Trust me, you don’t want to know. I might look wonderful to you, but I really am a fool and a bad scientist. Now: swim free. Be happy ... I love you.” Lovingly, Kaia walks, and releases a pleading, protesting Rella back into the Ocean ... then stands, raises one hand. A great TIME STRING stretches in. She grabs it: it PULLS her instantly out of sight!
In the Ocean, Rella, frantic again, will not say goodbye! NO! She swims in little circles, bullet-fast, vaulting UP/OUT, appealing to THE STARS. “I want to know! I want to Know Everything! I want to be with Kaia! HELP ME! // *MUSIC* // A Time String stretches over the Land! Rella touches it. AND--
A GREAT SEQUENCE/ACT: driven by *MUSIC*, cutting back & forth, telling us TWO great journeys at once. In *ONE JOURNEY, KAIA/WOMAN’s story, it’s the year 2095, she’s recovered from a pandemic virus that is killing hundreds of millions. Now, cured & armed with a primeval compound that will fight this virus, she urges authorities to replicate The First Gift & distribute it around the world! In the *OTHER JOURNEY, we see RELLA, leaping forward in time, in steps! Each leap, she shape-shifts into a creature from each time, then grabs another Time String! First, RELLA turns into a SCORPION, then a WALKING FISH! Then a REPTILE. Then a SYNAPSID, them a DINOSAUR, then a BIRD, then a MAMMAL! ETC!
*Meanwhile/flashes in 2095 (Kaia’s story) the pandemic is eradicated. Of course, all people who died before Kaia’s 1st Gift discovery remain dead. But Kaia seems to have decided she’ll interfere no more with Medicine or Time Travel. She knows she unleashed the pandemic virus during a Paleo dig, and will never reach beyond her knowledge or skills again ... There’s only one thing left she wants to do ...
Alternating scenes/flash. *RELLA leaping and shape-shifting forward, over 500 million years ... *And KAIA returning to her favourite fossil site atop the Rocky Mountains with her colleagues. We see Kaia is secretly carrying and planning to return something she stole from here: a little FOSSIL. Marrella splendens. Rella.
MUSIC/ACTION SEQUENCE RISING. >> *RELLA keeps time jumping forward >> *In Canada 2095, KAIA, now high atop a Mountain, sneaks away from her Paleo Team. We now see what Kaia wants to do: return Rella’s fossil to the Shale, with a sad, tearful apology and a little ceremony. >> *Meanwhile, we sense someone/something else has just appeared on this Mountain! >> *Now, Kaia, weeping, is about to bury Rella’s fossil ... when suddenly behind her, someone calls her name. Kaia stands, turns. AND --
KAIA SEES: A WOMAN STANDING THERE: **HER EXACT DOUBLE**. We realize this is Rella, who says.: “I want to be with you. I love you, I want be with you and I want to Know Everything ...!” They fall weeping into each other’s arms... >> MUSIC RISES >> VIEW PULLS BACK. >> MOUNTAINS >> OUR PLANET >> Now, STARS/VOICES >> "When the Skies fill with Stories, and our Hearts fill with Stars, / We'll be Stories and Stars, close and far, / We'll be Stories and Stars, close and far ...""
END OF STORY