Screenwriter Zack Stentz on Netflix’s Rim of the World

Modern sci-fi film sets global alien invasion in 2019

Rim of the World proves there's room in sci-fi for inclusivity.
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Netflix’s newest original film puts a fresh spin on a classic genre. Rim of the World, written by Zack Stentz, hit computer screens on May 24, delivering all the right nostalgic 80s sci-fi feels.  
 
Stentz, known for his work on The Flash, X-Men, Thor, and even Agent Cody Banks, made his Netflix debut with the film, which follows four young teens at a summer camp outside Los Angeles called Rim of the World. Early in the movie, the protagonists find themselves left behind during an L.A.-wide evacuation brought on by a global alien invasion. 
 
Alex, Zhenzhen, Dariush, and Gabriel spend the rest of the film working together—despite their extreme differences—to literally save the whole world from destruction.
 
The movie falls into the sci-fi adventure genre that has historically produced classics. While some of the best from the genre—including ET, Independence Day, and Star Wars—were either produced or set in the 1960s to 80s, Stentz purposefully breaks away from this trend by setting his film in 2019. 
 
“I very deliberately set Rim of the World in the present day with contemporary diverse characters to better reflect the experiences of teens in 2019,” Stentz wrote in an email to The Journal
 
Stentz’s desire to make a film that resonates with today’s kids was ignited when he dropped his own children off at summer camp. The camp, located in the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California, was just off the Rim of the World Highway. 
 
Driving down the highway, Stentz could see all of L.A. Seeing his city from this new angle led him to wonder what L.A. would look like if it were a warzone. This thought, coupled with the highway’s proximity to the summer camp, inspired Rim of the World
 
He wrote a draft of the movie in just three months, creating his protagonists and focusing on their relatability and dimension. Each of his characters deal with personal problems that the others know nothing about. Throughout their journey to save humanity, the young teens find support and true friendship in each other, which helps them face their differences. 
 
One character’s rich, another deals with poverty, the third is grieving the loss of his dad, while the fourth isn’t wanted by her parents. Working together helps them learn how to trust each other. 
 
“There’s something wonderful about putting kids or teens into a situation where they’re forced to be braver, smarter, and kinder than they ever thought possible,” Stentz wrote. 
 
Stentz’s idea of pairing up teens with completely different backgrounds was partly inspired by the 80s cult classic film The Breakfast Club
 
“We all love The Breakfast Club and the way it traps very, very different teenagers together and forces them to work out their issues. I wanted to do something like that, only in the context of a road movie/quest adventure where the stakes for the characters are physical as well as emotional,” Stentz added. 
 
While Rim of the World shares a similar moment with The Breakfast Club when the four teens sit down to open up to one another, the rest of the plot is nothing like that of the detention-bound movie. 
 
The road movie and quest adventure elements of Rim of the World are reminiscent of The Goonies or Stand by Me—films that feature a group of kids travelling together on a journey with a shared purpose. 
 
Stentz’s film doesn’t merely rely on the bonding moments between friends to sell his message of unity and overcoming differences. His film is self-referential, making it stand out as a new kind of sci-fi adventure film. He draws attention to the stereotypes, the sexism, and the clichés often used in these types of films and makes a joke out of them. 
 
At one point, a grown man doubts Zhenzhen’s capabilities because he hears her voice and can tell she’s a girl. The male protagonists respond by arguing that “aliens don’t stand a chance against her.” 
 
Later in the movie, two Black camp counsellors ask each other why they’re talking like “Black men from the 80s,” coming to the conclusion that that’s how other people want them to act. 
 
This kind of dialogue—though brief—exposes the genre’s previous lack of diversity and reliance on racial stereotypes throughout its history. The diverse characters and their awareness of these stereotypes contributes to the modernity of the movie. 
 
Stentz’s narrative choices for one of the most popular film genres proves there’s room for sci-fi adventures in 2019, and that those movies can—and should—be more responsible and inclusive.
 

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