KungFu Mike Reviews The Mist - April 1, 2008

(Reconditioning Batteries)

It might seem easy enough at first, but there is a lot of hardship that comes in the crafting of a book-to-screen adaptation. Parts of the book that were once pivotal have to be manipulated or stricken for the sake of continuity. Conversely, new scenes, characters and dialog are frequently needed to make everything work in a visual medium. Creating a screenplay from scratch is a challenge in its own right, but to be limited to the insanely strict format of screenwriting as well as being limited by the creative content that you can plug into it? A book-to-screen adaptation is about as easy as a graphic novel-to-300 ft. tall marble sculpture adaptation.

This Friday night, instead of going out, I sat down with my dinner and an entire box of Peter Vella merlot to watch . It took me a while to secure the DVD (which released on March 25th) because I couldn't find a movie rental place that bothered to buy it. It certainly didn't do very well in the box office and it's not like Stephen King movies are really ever that awesome, but those two facts alone weren't enough to keep me from actively seeking out a copy. As an aspiring screenwriter, I'm really interested in any book-to-screen adaptation when I've actually read the book beforehand. A great way to make money in Hollywood is to become a "hired gun" that takes a pre-existing body of work and shaves, slices and hammers it into the mold of a screenplay. I like to watch these films because I think it helps me write better. In fact, I've substituted DVD's for television entirely, if you can believe it. My unused cable wire is coiled up behind the TV like an angry python as I type this. Crippling my television's capabilities makes me a more productive person all around, but it allows me to watch 12 to 15 flicks a week, 24 to 30 viewings if you count when I watch them for the second time with the director's audio commentary involved. Sometimes I skip the commentary if the movie is terrible. In The Mist's case, I watched it because I was confused about why the movie was even released at all and I hoped that could enlighten me.

The premise - An intense electrical storm hits Castle Rock, a small town in upstate Maine. The following morning, a thick mist rapidly descends on Castle Rock and forces its residents to take shelter. The main character is David Drayton, a well known movie poster artist who lives there with his wife and son. David finds himself holed up at Food House, the local grocery store, with dozens of other locals when it becomes apparent that there is something terrifying waiting for everyone outside in the mist. What follows is a psychological nightmare depicting what happens to people when they are forced to survive over a period of time under the fear of immediate death.

"Everybody follow me. We're going to find the off switch for this DVD player if it kills us."

The Mist was filmed in a light handheld, almost documentary-esque fashion. Not nearly as shaky as Cloverfield or The Blair Witch Project, but more like The Shield is done. Actually, it's exactly like The Shield is done. Frank Darabont, the writer, producer and director of The Mist, explained in the commentary that he was massively influenced by the time he was asked to direct an episode of The Shield. In fact, he wouldn't stop fucking talking about that the entire time. He almost talked about The Shield more than he compared every facet of The Mist to the beaming glory his other works (The Green Mile, The Majestic and The Salton Sea). If you haven't gotten the hint yet, Frank Darabont is terrible to listen to and I would kill myself with a staple gun if I was cornered by him at a mixer. I get the feeling that most directors sound a lot like Frank Darabont. As retarded as his reasoning was behind using it, the improvisational steady cam filming works and really injected the movie with the same distressed energy I felt when reading the book.

The casting was very hit or miss. was a good pick for David Drayton, but playing Mrs. Carmody, the town nut who ends up creating her own little Jonestown inside of Food House with her frantic preaching, was a terrible casting decision. She just doesn't do creepy well enough and it detracts from the tension that is supposed to build up in the Food House grocery store. I always pictured Beth Grant ( a la Donnie Darko) filling that slot, but I doubt that she would be interested in playing another fear driven religious zealot. as David's son couldn't have been any more of your run of the mill overacting child thespian. I fucking hate that more than anything. is just a God damn good hillbilly and I couldn't have dreamed up a better horror movie casualty than the Shermanator from American Pie. It's almost as awesome as L.L. Cool J. taking a knife to his chrome dome in Halloween: H20.

From right to left: Thomas Jane looking constipated, The Shermanator just fingered Amy Winehouse and Frank Darabont is silently taking mental notes for his newest adaption; Dreamcatcher II: Electric Boogaloo.

Frank Darabont doesn't shut up about how limited his production budget was on this adaptation and that budgetary constraint is painfully day glow. There is virtually no usage of a score until the middle of act two. Either Darabont was working with an uprooted parking meter for funding or was revived from a coma during the last week of post-production. Also, I never thought I would say that I missed the stereotypical New England accents that usually pepper the dialog of most Steven King books turned movies, but I'm saying it now. It's a fairly big detail to leave out, especially when you are trying so hard to make Louisiana seem like rural Maine. Oh yeah, speech coaches cost money. Scratch that idea.

The most upsetting mistake that fiscal conservatism wreaked on this movie involved the monsters. The design of the creatures was great, but the CGI that brought them to life was embarrassingly awful. I don't know whether to fault for creating those MS Paint goblins or Darkwoods Productions (Darabont's production company) for allowing them into the fucking film. The only time any computer generated interdimensional creepy crawlies look moderately acceptable is when computer generated mist is covering them. Besides, the story is more of a psychological thriller than a demon riddled gore fest. I would have been happier with seeing them as silhouettes throughout the duration. I would have been happiest if they went with animatronics. You'd think they could have sprung for one or two extra creations with all the dough they saved by filming in Shreveport, LA, the predominant usage of two walled sets and a multitude of beggarly tactics that I won't mention because most of you won't know what I'm talking about. That's right, I just called you stupid.

Here is a clip that shows every monster from The Mist. I would have been more spooked if they glued googly eyes onto fishing lures.

The sex scene between David Drayton and Amanda Dunfrey () was cut in the process of adapting the novella to screen. I don't understand the logic behind this decision. There is something powerful about the base human need for physical closeness in times of extreme turmoil, and I think it would have lent credibility to the development of Jane and Holden's characters. Striking that particular scene only makes the audience wonder why those two particular survivors were that close with each other by the third act. It makes their relationship advance unnaturally and that was distracting to me. Most importantly, boobs are awesome.

Here is a prime example of Frank Darabont having no idea how to interpret this novella into his medium. In the commentary, he tells us that he was originally going to do a scene at the beginning of the movie where you see the mist escape an Arrowhead Project (a code name for an experiment conducted at the local army base rumored about by locals) laboratory, but was later convinced against it by one of the actors. One of the best parts of the book was how the trapped characters speculated about what the mist really was and where it came from. Why would you want to ruin that? Uncertainty is one of the major vehicles of psychological terror in the book. It's what makes The Mist a great concept. He was inches away from irreversibly damaging the movie until a fucking actor told him it was a bad idea and saved the day. That's the equivalent of a homeless cough syrup junkie bursting through your accountant's office to correct an error on one of your tax forms just before April. As soon as that little factoid hit my ear, I forever lost faith in Darabont's ability to tell this story properly.

Despite all of his glaring mistakes, Frank Darabont manages to redeem himself at the end of the film. The new ending was much, much, MUCH better than the novella's. If you read it and were supremely upset about King's half-assed, lazy attempt at an Alfred Hitchcock open ender, the Twilight Zone reminiscent closing of the screen adaptation will do a great job of repairing your faith in the story. Granted, the inspiration for the new ending was taken from a line in The Mist where Drayton considers the number of bullets in his gun versus the number of people in the car, but I can only beat up the director with my pillowcase full of hate nickels so much.

I am just as frustrated with the screen adaptation of The Mist as I was with the novella, but for opposite reasons. I loved everything about the novella until that ass awful, back alley, broken bottle and Clorox abortion of an ending. I loved nothing about the movie other than the new ending. I feel it was a rushed attempt at book-to-screen adaptation at best. I can honestly say that I would have shut this movie off before I finished it if I hadn't previously read the book, which makes me view this Darkwoods project as nothing more than another disheartening failure from the Stephen King Adaptation Factory.

Posted by KungFu Mike at 5:41 PM

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Thank you for saving me from Netflicking this turd.

(By the way it's Stephen, not Steven King. And Marcia Gay Harden)

Frank Darabont looks like Salman Rushdie.

Posted by: Tree Hate Me at April 2, 2008 07:18 AM

I will definitely be reading your reviews.
Good insight and funny as fuck.

Posted by: Cupcake at April 2, 2008 07:42 AM

Great review.
Couldn't agree more that Beth Grant would have been a perfect Mrs. Carmody,but between Donnie Darko and her guest role on Six Feet Under, it would be some serious typecasting.
I hadnt read the book, but I thought Darabont showed his hand on the 'military is responsible' explanation when the military vehicles conspicuously rolled through town in the early part of the film.

Posted by: Marionette at April 2, 2008 08:21 AM

intelligence pours out of your writing. more importantly, boobs ARE awesome.

Posted by: cheese at April 2, 2008 08:32 AM

darabont didnt direct the Salton sea....dj caruso did...great review though

KUNGFU MIKE EDIT: You're right. Darabont was one of the producers. That's why I call it one of his projects.

Posted by: Anonymous at April 2, 2008 10:01 AM

good job, guy.

Posted by: shawn at April 2, 2008 10:34 AM

Keep up the movie reviews, this one was really good.

Posted by: Anonymous at April 2, 2008 11:03 AM

The actual review was very good, but parts of the first two paragraphs felt unnecessary, while others were simply presented in a stale manner.

Those paragraphs were important to the introduction of the review, but it just could have been shorter and (possibly) funnier and more enlightening.

Posted by: KIMaster at April 2, 2008 11:38 AM

Not bad. Not bad at all. I would read more of these reviews. In fact, please continue writing them. Movie reviews with a humorous bent are among the funniest things that exist on the Internet if the author does them right. I think you just might be one of those authors. Keep up the good work, man. I've always liked your stuff, and I'm quite excited that you're considering this foray into one of my favorite online comedy devices.

Posted by: Agamemnon Jones at April 2, 2008 06:46 PM

Have you watched Big Trouble in Little China with the John Carpenter/Kurt Russell commentary? They talked about Kurt Russell's hockey-playing son. Really helped me learn more about the movie.

And don't call me stupid.

Posted by: Newsha Fardmanesh at April 4, 2008 07:36 PM

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