The inspiration for my new screenplay — “Zombie Pandas of the Apocalypse” — came from a story I read last week on the BBC News Web site: “Panda filmed eating meat in China.”
According to the BBC story, “A wild panda has been caught on camera gnawing at the bones of a dead gnu, a type of wild cow, in China’s Sichuan Province.” There was a video, too. Grainy footage from a hidden camera showed a giant panda casually gnawing on what looked like a rack of barbecued ribs.
In other words, so much for the panda as a gentle, roly-poly bamboo-eater. The beast’s true nature will be revealed in my new movie, which as I mentioned earlier is called “Zombie Pandas of the Apocalypse.”
I know what you’re thinking: Why “Zombie,” John? Why can’t the pandas of your movie be alive — as opposed to undead — and just hungry for some gnu flesh, as opposed to hungry for human brains?
Well, for starters, my movie takes place in Washington, where gnus are thin on the ground. It would be a pretty short film if my pandas broke free from the National Zoo and went in search of wild Chinese cows. You can’t even get them at Fuddruckers. But there are brains everywhere, even in Washington.
Second, zombies are huge right now. Pretty much any movie can be improved by adding zombies. Consider “All the President’s Zombies,” now getting a script polish by J.J. Abrams. (Zombie John Mitchell is reported to be especially scary.)
As for the last part of the title, once you’ve got “Zombie” and “Pandas,” “of the Apocalypse” rolls off the tongue like a morsel of masticated cerebellum.
You’re probably wondering what happens in my movie. Well, the BBC helped with that, too. I read its story last week headlined “Penguin droppings hit panda queue at Edinburgh Zoo.” You see, the Scottish zoo is the latest place to rent a pair of giant pandas from the Chinese. On Dec. 16, the pandas went on public display with much fanfare.
People waiting in line to see the pandas must pass by the rockhopper penguins. Several of the penguins have starting squirting their guano onto the crowds below.
“We were queuing to see the pandas when a man in front shouted out in surprise that his jacket had been hit by a big dollop of penguin poo,” a 41-year-old man told the BBC. “It just missed me and my family and it was really oily and stank of fish.”
There is speculation that the penguins are jealous of the attention lavished on the pandas. I think something else is afoot.
The penguins are trying to warn us.
Of what? There’s a clue in the names of Edinburgh’s new panda pair: Tian Tian and Yang Guang. That’s right: Scotland has a Tian Tian, too, just like our zoo. But their Tian Tian is a female, and they translate the name as “Sweetie,” unlike our Tian Tian, whose name the National Zoo translates as “more and more.”
Well, which is it? Something fishy is going on here. And so my movie begins:
EXTERIOR: National Zoo at midnight. The hooting and hollering sounds of a zoo are plainly heard: squawks, chirps, howls. The camera pans to a lighted window in a research building and into the laboratory of Dr. Benjamin Brady, handsome reproductive zoologist. He is peering through a microscope. Suddenly, he sits bolt upright and shouts:
BRADY: Cass, come here!
Comely graduate assistant Cass Ortiz enters.
ORTIZ: What is it, doctor?
BRADY: I accidentally knocked some neurological samples from a rhesus monkey into a petri dish containing giant panda stem cells. The results are amazing! Rapid cell growth at a rate I’ve never seen before! It’s what we’ve been missing all these years. Our female pandas simply need primate brain matter to become fertile!
The animal sounds cease abruptly, leaving an uncomfortable silence. Suddenly, a single horrible cry pierces the night.
ORTIZ: Doctor, what was that?
BRADY: That was the unmistakable roar of an enraged giant panda. I wonder what. . . .
“Zombie Pandas of the Apocalypse.” See it with someone you love.
Please help support the Children’s National Medical Center. By making a tax-deductible donation, you will help ensure that even the poorest kids can be treated. Our annual campaign ends Friday. Simply go to washingtonpost.com/childrenshospital, or send a check or money order (payable to Children’s Hospital) to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390.
Donors who give $250 or more will receive a $20 gift certificate to the Chef Geoff family of restaurants.