Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Castle Rock Companion - Christine
The chosen narration and prose style of a novel can make or break your experience with it. Christine is broken by the fact that the first and third acts are narrated by Dennis Guilder, an immature, horny teen at the time the novel is set but a supposedly more mature twenty two while he's narrating. He's just dreadful; referring to his girlfriend as "the cheerleader" rather than by her name, and constantly telling us how he was trying to get in her pants. Even the female lead Leigh, who he thinks of far more highly, gets analyzed up and down her entire body. It's sleazy and disgusting. I couldn't stand this little slime ball which is problematic when he's the hero of our story.
The story itself is a good and interesting one, of a man so obsessed with his car that he finds a way to return from the grave and be with her again. At least that's the clear story of the novel. In the movie, Christine starts off evil right off the assembly line, making it seem that original owner Roland Lebay was simply in the same position as young Arnie before him. Both men are in love with the car, and she loves them right back, to the point that she refuses to share.
It seems obvious to me that the best way to tell this story is from Arnie's perspective, first as he falls in love with the car, then his surprise to find she is able to fix herself, and his growing horror as she becomes vengeful and begins to kill for him, and the fight for control as Lebay possesses him. But King decided to go with a more detached perspective, spending more time following Dennis and the other characters rather than ever getting in Arnie's head, and John Carpenter follows that same idea with the film.
I should probably make a point here to admit my bias. John Carpenter is a legendary director of horror, and this was no doubt another instance of King putting his film into what he believed were capable hands. The problem here is me, in that I really don't like Carpenter's style and pacing. Both Halloween and The Thing move way too slowly for my tastes, and what others call his mastery of suspense I call tedium. So while I felt this movie moved way too slowly, I'm not going to judge it too harshly, because other people probably feel very different.
As an adaptation, he actually followed the pacing very closely, giving us plenty of time to get to know these characters before the horror plays out. Some scenes get moved around or combined together, but it's all in a way that makes logical sense. He also improved a couple moments. By having Christine lock Arnie out of the car while Leigh is choking, he looks like a little less of an asshole when he doesn't save her. I also think Will Darnell's death is greatly improved, as the idea of a car bashing into someone's home to crush them is just a little too far-fetched. I'll also give him credit for improving on Moochie's death scene, effectively using suspense and a building sense of dread rather than the gore King describes in the book. When he's filming an actual horror scene, he's fantastic. It's just the slow pacing of the scenes in between that drive me nuts.
The effects in the film are also really impressive. We see Christine fix herself multiple times, and it always looks natural. I was particularly impressed with the gas station scene, where they drive her around while she's on fire. That could not have been an easy stunt to pull off. In the moments where Christine is driving herself, her windows are pitch black, which was a logical choice to hide the stunt driver inside,but it's never so distracting to take you out of the moment.
I felt like her big death scene was a little more suspenseful in the book than the way it plays out on screen. I particularly liked the way the ghosts of Lebay's wife and child appear in an attempt to distract Dennis from destroying her. It was a little disappointing to not see it also happen in the film, but there was something about watching her being crushed by that bulldozer that was pretty satisfying.
The appearance of the ghosts simply wouldn't have made sense in this version, because Lebay's presence is downplayed severely as compared to the book. In the novel we get lots of growing evidence that Lebay is taking over Arnie's body, that he clearly somehow set all this up from the beginning as a way of living on and keeping Christine forever. In the film, the only hint we get is that Lebay's brother and Arnie both use the term shitter. Leigh tells Dennis that Arnie isn't acting like himself, but since Arnie acts like a jerk for most of the time we see him, it's a little harder to tell that. It's only in the scene with Dennis and Arnie alone in the car after that conversation that things become clearer.
I feel like making Christine "bad to the bone" from the moment she was born was a mistake on their part. I really like the idea that Lebay was an asshole filled with so much hate that he somehow managed to perform black magic without even fully understanding it. That that kind of hate could live on past the grave and desire to continue to get revenge on the people he didn't like. The movie goes so far as to contradict that by telling us that Lebay tried to give up Christine, but she came back two weeks later. That doesn't sound like the same guy to me at all.
If you can look past this glaring error, it's not a bad adaptation. And if you enjoy Carpenter as a director, you'll probably enjoy the film.