Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Mist

A better title would've been The Mist Opportunity.

I went and saw it friday night, with my wife. It's based on a "novella" by Stephen King (King has a habit of writing novel-length works of about half the length of his typical six-inch thick tome, and dubbing them "novellas;" this is one of those). If you've never read the story, I recommend it--for the nail-biting suspense, if for no other reason. It's one of his best.

As for the movie: if you scare easily, or have a low threshold for gore, I advise against it. The bloodletting's nasty, though I wouldn't quite call it gratuitous. My wife covered her mouth or hid her eyes several times. Frank Darabont, who directed The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, also helmed this film. He follows the original story as closely as one could ask of a Hollywood director--until the final five minutes. At this point, Darabont says: "Aw, what does King know? Just because he's sold quintillions of books doesn't mean he knows what an audience wants. Let's throw out his ending and craft our own! Yeah, that's a great idea! Love me for my courage!"

Darabont's conclusion--which I won't detail for the sake of those planning to see this film--is a contrived piece of crap that brings nothing to the table, in terms of story improvement. In fact, it's so twisted and perverse and, yes, evil, that it ruins the entire movie. It's that bad. This is sick even by King's standards, which is no glowing testimonial of Hollywood's decency. King's story has a much better, more organic conclusion. If the director had been present at my screening of his little experiment in the ruination of a plot, I'd have fought the temptation to punch him dead in the face. Some people in the audience were so disgusted, they got up and made their exit en masse.

Aside from this major flaw, the movie's scary and well-made. The acting's universally good, and the special effects are far better than some of the critics have claimed, to my puzzlement.

One other flaw, which one expects from contemporary filmmakers: A major character is a religious fanatic, in the Christian tradition. She reads her Bible, prays, preaches, and literally raves about the End of the World. To his credit, the director doesn't present her as the sole representative of religion; other characters who are not depicted as lunatics express belief in God, and see her as a repugnant, extreme idiot. So whereas there's some balance, the first nut is a far stronger, more dedicated person than the others in her beliefs. It seems the message is that religious adherence is acceptible, but great religious zeal is insane. When the woman is ranting, she mentions the monstrosities of abortions and stem-cell research; but this is in the context of a lunatic's frothings, not the calm attempts of someone reasoning with those steeped in error. Interestingly, I don't recall the original story mentioning stem-cells or abortions, so I suppose the director felt the irresistible urge to "contemporize" it, since anything that happened before yesterday can't be adapted to the screen without drawing parallels with today's headlines--even when doing so makes zero sense.

This movie is a bizarre mixture of respect and contempt for both its audience and the work upon which it's based.

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