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Netflix film Rim of the World proves kids are best at fighting aliens

This sci-fi adventure is like Stranger Things meets Independence Day, but Zack Stentz says he wrote the script before the Demogorgon showed its teeth.

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What's the best way to bond with strangers at camp? Fight alien invaders!

Netflix

Summer camp can be a social-anxiety nightmare for kids. It's tough to deal with canoe rides, campfire singalongs and alien invasions.

In the new Netflix movie Rim of the World, streaming now, four misfit teens get caught up in an attack from outer space. Directed by McG, Rim of the World is a fun, action-packed movie that pays homage to Stranger Things, Attack the Block, Independence Day, Jurassic Park and The Goonies.

I chatted with Rim of the World screenwriter and executive producer Zack Stentz (who also co-wrote the screenplay for Thor) about why people still love a good alien invasion story and why Netflix was the right home for the film.

Q: What inspired Rim of the World?
Zack Stentz:
I wrote Rim of the World as an original script back in 2016 (yes, before Stranger Things came out) as a love letter to the kids' adventure movies I grew up with. I wanted specifically to tell a story about modern 21st-century kids thrown into a dangerous and scary situation without their parents or smartphones to guide them, and show them learning they're braver and smarter and more capable than they realized.

How did you come up with the movie's title Rim of the World?
Two of my own kids go to summer camp in the San Bernardino Mountains at a really cool adventure camp on Rim of the World Highway (named for its amazing views of Southern California from the ridge line.) I found the name to be cool and evocative, and really loved the image of kids riding their bikes down the abandoned highway into a Los Angeles basin that had become a war zone. That image was the kernel that the script and then the movie grew from. 

What were your influences?
Rim of the World owes a lot to the classic 1980s kids' adventures. I first pitched it as Goonies meets Independence Day, but in my mind it owes more to Stand By Me meets E.T. It does differ from both the classics and more modern updates like Stranger Things and It by being set firmly in 2019 rather than the 1980s.

Our kids are diverse and modern, dealing with thoroughly contemporary problems and issues. A big part of their story is learning they're just as capable and independent as their 1980s predecessors when given the chance to be. 

As I love Attack the Block, this is less of a straight action film and more of an adventure/character story about four kids learning things about each other and themselves while on a journey together -- only with aliens, looters and Marines thrown into the mix.

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Rim of the World is a heartfelt adventure movie with kids trying to save the world from aliens.

Netflix

Which classic alien stories shaped how you told this story?
Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds film was a major inspiration because it showed the invasion from the perspective of everyday people with limited information, not world leaders. Our kids are on the ground and mostly out of touch with the rest of the world, and at several points speculate as to the aliens' motives by referencing the alien invasion movies they've seen -- which feels pretty realistic to me.

I also tried to draw from real-life history in thinking about different invasion scenarios. In earlier drafts of the script, I specifically structured the alien attack to feel less like a conquest and more like a Viking raid -- a swift and brutal smash-and-grab of our resources by nasty, high-tech raiders. 

Some of that detail fell out in subsequent iterations of the script, but in general I tried to stay focused on how overwhelming yet mysterious an alien attack would feel to a group of kids stranded up in the mountains. 

Why are alien invasion stories so enduring?
All the way back to the granddaddy of the genre, War of the Worlds [by H.G. Wells, published in 1897], an alien invasion is a reliable way of taking characters who live in a mostly prosperous First World nation and turning their entire existences upside down. It gives you all kinds of fun ways of throwing your characters into life-or-death situations and struggle against seemingly impossible odds. Those are stories I think audiences never get tired of. 

What drew you to work with Netflix?
We're in a strange moment in entertainment right now where home video and the big streaming services like Netflix are competing with movies head to head. Staying home to watch Netflix is just as viable (and much cheaper and easier) as heading to the local multiplex. While we don't have the budget of an Avengers: Endgame or Aladdin, I like to think that Rim of the World is delivering a classic summer movie experience to audiences right in their own homes. And what could be better than that?