Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Mist

I've read so much of Stephen King's work that I can't even count them all. I'm a bit behind on his work of the last decade, but the only ones of his classics I haven't read are Christine and Cujo. I don't really know why, honestly. I guess the idea of an evil car or dog just didn't appeal to me enough in my younger days. My favorite of his work has always been his short stories. King's always fantastic at coming up with crazy concepts, and when he's writing a short story, he seems to really push those to the limit. The best part is that most of these do not end happily. Too many stories and movies like to wrap up with a happy ending, and given the horrors that people are often exposed to in his stories, it really doesn't make any sense for them to end that way. One of the things I loved about Needful Things was that finding out that Thad from The Dark Half didn't exactly live peacefully after he banished his alter ego.

It's really hard for me to say whether Skeleton Crew or Night Shift is the better of his two early short story collections. They both have some really great stories. Skeleton Crew also includes a couple poems, one of which, "Paranoid: A Chant," is just excellent. My absolute favorite is "Nona" a story of a guy's experience with a young girl he runs into while hitchhiking. I love it because she's such a vivid yet mysterious character and because we're never given an explanation of just what is going on. Those kind of stories really take hold of me and don't let go.

"The Mist" which starts off the Skeleton Crew and is really a novella rather than a short story, is similar. While there are hints given in the story as to just where the mist and its monstrous inhabitants may have come from, we never really know for sure. I haven't actually read this story in a long time, but I know I've read it at least twice and I always really enjoyed it. Given the history of Stephen King adaptions, I was pretty skeptical when they first mentioned they were making a movie of it. It seemed like it should work - a lot of the problem of adapting the novels is that they cut for time, but this being a novella they should be able to do it more justice. Most of the reviews I saw were pretty positive, but for whatever reason I didn't get around to seeing this until now.

I had pretty much forgot all the major details of the story when I watched the film. Checking Wikipedia after viewing it, I was surprised to see just how much of it was accurate. In my memory there were a lot less people stuck in the grocery store, but I guess since I was viewing it in my imagination maybe my brain wasn't filling the background with extras. I also had no memory of Mrs. Carmady at all, which is pretty bad considering how important she is to the story. I guess on the positive side of things that means I was able to enjoy the movie more fully without sitting around waiting for stuff to happen.

This story (and movie) has a lot in common with Night of the Living Dead in that it is a story about the survivors and how they deal with the unknown force outside more so than the monsters themselves. There's a couple really tense horror/action scenes where the people go up against the creatures, but for the most part we're dealing with three groups of people. There are the overly practical down to earth folks who refuse to admit there are monsters outside, there is Mrs. Carmody who is convinced this is a sign of the end times and slowly gathers others to her side, and then there is our main character David Drayton and the small group that gathers around him - they acknowledge the monsters are real, but are looking for much more practical ways to escape the situation. Tensions from the threat of the monsters builds the tension inside between the groups. It's a great dynamic, one Stephen King often excels at, and one I think Frank Darabont did a good job translating on to the screen. Of course this is the same guy who adapted The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile to film, so obviously he knows something about the proper tone of a Stephen King adaptation.

Nearly all of the emotional moments of the film hit me where they were supposed to. While the monsters were great fun to watch, it was the human interactions which had me truly horrified. It's probably worth mentioning that there are a fair number of gross out gore scenes too, so people who are sensitive to that may not want to watch. The beauty of it is that those people can read the story and still enjoy the experience. For those of us who don't mind, most of it is pretty well done. I'm fairly certain it is mostly if not all CGI, but there was really only one moment where it looked fake. I suppose the dimly lit fog filled environments helped that a lot.

There are two big differences between the story and the film, and both are related to answering questions. The movie definitively states where the monsters came from and the end has much less ambiguity. I suppose they probably decided that the average viewer would want these questions answered. Of course, there is also something added for shock value, not unlike The Wicker Man. The problem I had with the shock moment is that it completely broke my suspension of disbelief. While I was horrified the moment it happened, I spent most of the time afterward thinking about how easily it could have been avoided, rather than reeling from the revelation and feeling what the character was feeling. I can think of at least a couple ways it could have been fixed. Obviously I am doing my best to avoid spoilers, but if anyone who has seen the movie would like to discuss, let's do so in the comments.

The character of David Drayton is an artist and in the very beginning of the movie we see him in his studio. He's working on a painting of Roland Deschain from The Dark Tower series. When I was looking through the bonus features, I saw one entitled "Drew Struzan: Appreciation of an Artist." I wanted to check it out because I thought the painting was really well done. I didn't realize my mind was about to be blown. Drew Struzan has painted probably just about every single movie poster you have ever loved. Star Wars. Indiana Jones. Back to the Future. Blade Runner. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I had no idea that all of those were done by the same person. Absolutely amazing talent, and it's sad to know that he is now officially retired. I definitely had to mention it because more people need to know his name and appreciate him.

6 comments:

  1. Great film. And I agree with you about the ending. I like what they were trying to do but, for me, they never quite pushed the characters far enough that I'd accept them doing what they did. I needed something more to drive the situation further into absolute hopelessness before I'd buy it.

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  2. Exactly! There's at least a couple ways they could have done it too. It's a shame because I thought everything building up to that moment worked wonderfully.

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  3. There's a scene in the novella where they stop to get gas before pressing on to an uncertain tomorrow. Have that scene, but then everything goes wrong, someone dies, and they end up with no fuel, thus giving them a reason to keep driving until they run out. And when they're then left in the middle of nowhere, with nothing in sight but the fog, then I'd maybe understand them doing what they did. As it is, they made such an effort to escape and survive that it doesn't make sense for them to just suddenly give up.

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  4. Here's my idea:

    Have there be visible monsters right outside where they stopped. The monsters noticed the car sputtering out and they are closing in (kind of like when the spider was on the hood when they left the grocery store). It becomes obvious that there isn't much hope left, so David does what he feels he has to. He begins to jump outside and get it over quickly for himself.. which is exactly when the military rushes up and kills the monsters to save him.

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  5. First off, I am in shock that I, of all people, saw this movie before you did! Secondly, the ending bothered me as well. Obviously we all acknowledge the filmmakers were after the horrible ironic moment, the devastation and guilt that the father now has to live with for the rest of his life, but I agree...there wasn't enough to show the desperation of the moment. They could even have accomplished it with more of a LOST type feel--sounds, vibrations, getting louder and closer, closer....CLOSER, so finally, rather than die a horrible death, the ultimate choice is made.

    Now I can't recall, was there even a bullet left for him? For some reason I want to say they were one bullet shy of enough for all of them. Also, didn't he shoot everyone, thus sparing each of them from actually committing suicide by their own hand?

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  6. You're remembering right. Only four bullets left, and he killed the rest of them.

    I ended up watching the entirety of the credits. I think I was still sitting there being bothered by the ending so I just didn't get up and turn it off. I noticed, after the song ends, we are treated to alternating sounds of a helicopter and a large vehicle zooming past over and over again. It made me stick around and wait to see if there was going to be something after the credits, but there wasn't. The only thing I can think of as being the point of that was that we were supposed to believe the vehicles sounded a lot like monsters approaching. As if he knew the moment was weak and he had to try to sell you even further on it.

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