Sunday, December 2, 2007

THE MIST Opportunity

As we know, Sturgeon’s Law dictates that 90% of everything is crud. Generally, that’s applied in a broad overview, and not applied to individual cases.

But here, Frank Darabont’s long-awaited adaptation of Stephen King’s novella is 90% the perfect horror film.

And so it goes (arguably) as to what the other 10% is.

While it seems churlish to complain about something that comes so close to succeeding spectacularly in a genre where most entries crash and burn in the first reel and then keep rolling along in a slow motion fireball of idiocy, I’ll have to admit that complaining about what doesn’t work (as opposed to lauding what does) is my nature. I’m just drawn that way.

And of course, nothing is ever absolutely so.

But what does work here is so good n’ plenty that it seems such a damnable shame when everything just falls apart in the end. Especially since what is apparent was the perfect ending arrives and Darabont feels obligated to just keep plowing along until things just become ludicrous.

I’ll just pull on my tattered fanboy t-shirt and sulk that King’s original ending was perfect.

It took me twenty-seven years to realize that, but not until I saw Darabont’s idea on how it should all end (not with a whimper, but a *BANG*BANG*BANG*BANG*CLICK!). When I first read “The Mist”, I’ll admit that I wasn’t exactly happy with the resolution... or lack of. Like the protagonist’s mother, I’m not a big fan of ambiguity when it comes to my entertainment, and King’s novella was about as ambiguous as you could get.

And incongruously enough, Drew Struzan's poster art for John Carpenter's THE THING (a movie infamous for having the courage to go with an ambiguous, downbeat ending) is given a prime opening reel cameo.

But ending aside, as Stephen King adaptations go, I’d say that tentacles down this is the best of a sorry lot. With only a few minor alterations, Darabont assays the proceedings with admirable fidelity.

After an atypical storm knocks out the power in a small Nor’ Eastern town, the residents head to the local supermarket to pick up some supplies to bide them over until repairs are made.

Muzak pipes and secondary characters make their entrances... and soon after, so does the eponymous mist. And with the mournful, chilling wail of the town’s air raid siren, THE MIST shifts gears and rolls up its sleeves. And the minute that sucker went off, I got chills. Sort of interesting though, in that I don't know how much power that wail will have with audiences born after the fall of the Berlin Wall. But from that moment on, my heart was pounding, my leg jittering. Occasionally, I jumped. Squeaked even... but in a manly way, not like a little girl. If monster movies are your bag of popcorn, then I'd recommend seeing this in a theater.

As the preternatural mist rolls in, it cloaks and isolates the market. Inside, the consumers trolling the aisles for supplies abruptly find themselves to be the consumables as a man bursts in through the front doors and screams that there's something out there, and it's weird and pissed off. Don't be afraid of the mist... just what's in it. Soon, barely glimpsed beasties tap against the fragile plate glass wall that separates them from sudden and grisly death.
"Cleanup on Aisle 5..."

It doesn’t help matters much that within their group is a bible-shouter that is slowly gathering together a cabal of recruits who think that offering up a blood sacrifice to an angry God is the only way out.


Man, this is gonna be one bitter pill for any touchy Christians in the audience. I'm no fan of the more extreme of the bunch myself, but Darabont lays it on with the perceived bashing pretty thick here. More time was spent setting up the loopy Ol' Testament gal and her growing band of bloodthirsty followers than was on the external threat. Seriously... the film is called THE MIST, not THE CRUCIBLE GOES SHOPPING.

The Devil is in the subtext, and here Darabont seems to be having problems with what exactly he's trying to imply.

Overtly it seems pretty obvious, and the tagline says it all: "Fear Changes Everything." As Our Lady of Perpetual Gloom and Doom fires up her band of fear-fueled zealots, their first true blood sacrifice is a soldier only a couple of weeks away from being sent to Iraq.

I sort of get the vibe that Darabont doesn't think that we're fighting a war just over oil. Trouble is, the underlying point he seems to be playing with throughout the narrative doesn't make it all the way to the resolution.

Ah... the ending. As it is, the coda is a either a mean-spirited sucker punch, a muddled metaphor or in its way a validation of the bible-shouter's belief system. In some regards, the ending feels so unearned and Old Testament in its own right that it feels out of place and context with what preceded it.

I suppose it’s not so much that I had a problem with how Darabont ended it, just how he executed it. Not because I'm opposed to downbeat endings (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD has a perfect ending), but because I felt that it didn't earn it. It just seemed too overwrought to me (not the characters’ head space, but the execution).

And then it just kept going... and going...

After showing admirable restraint throughout the movie, Darabont just completely lost it and went with the overt manipulation. He tries so hard not to fall into the Spielberg trap of blowing a perfectly fine movie by getting all hamfisted and manipulative in the final stretch that he goes so far around the bend that he falls into Spielberg's tracks.

One example was the Dead Can Dance song. Now, I happen to like Dead Can Dance. But the minute Lisa Gerrard started her caterwauling, the power of THE MIST literally began to dissipate. As the rest of the film had almost no music bed, to throw in something so joltingly out of context and on the nose ripped me from the narrative.

Maybe Darabont didn't think that he could get away with cranking up Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" and cutting to black.

And because of that I was reminded that all I was seeing was smoke and mirrors, and that as the characters met their fate it just seemed like a narrative choice (and so a cheap shot), not an organic conclusion.

Of course, when the beast finally arrives on DVD, there’s always the chance that Darabont will throw the natterers like me a bone, and toss in the ever-popular Alternative Ending that King envisioned. If so, hopefully that one will be sans Gerrard and the soundtrack emphasis will be on the spooky sounds that accompany our doomed passengers along their final trek through the mist.

1 comment:

Grumpus said...

I haven't seen the Mist yet, but Night of the Living Dead does have a perfect ending, doesn't it!