(Release Date: November 21, 2007)
The problem was that nobody was making accurate King movies. Everything that had come out up until that point based on his stories were lacking, I thought, in one way or the other. Sure one can't simply use a novel as a screenplay, but why change so very much? Why?
And then, along came Frank Darabont. I was 20 when The Shawshank Redemption was released, based on one of my favorite Novellas of King's: Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. I was surprised to find that I had very little to complain about afterward. Then, six years later, came The Green Mile, essentially an adaptation of a novella series. After this, King noted that as specialized as a genre as it may be, Darabont was absolutely the best director of Stephen King prison movies.
Now, seven years after that, Darabont has written and directed an adaptation of one of my favorite King novellas, one I dreamed of making in those long-ago days back in Shreveport, Louisiana. Interestingly enough, it's not a prison movie. It's The Mist, a story I was sure would never get made. And, of course, as fate loves a good surprise, now that I love in Southern California, where movies are made, Darabont's The Mist was made entirely in... Shreveport, Louisiana.
Hell and Damn!
Watching the Previews for 2007's The Mist were amazing, as it was almost like looking directly into the book itself. Naturally I was there on opening day, sharing it with my daughter. In fact, watching The Mist was a happy experiment in accuracy. For the first act, the closest thing to a "change" that I could find was the fact that Norton's crushed car was an '80s Mercedes, not a Sixties T-Bird.
The film focuses on an artist named David Drayton, played by Thomas Jane, who has made a small Maine vacation town his home. But then a terrible storm hits the town, leaving devastation in its wake. Yep, that's Louisiana all right.
With no power, no cell strength and no real communications, David, his son Billy (Nathan Gamble) and his all-but-estranged neighbor Brent Norton (Andre Braugher) all head into town for some much-needed supplies... which is just about everybody else's idea too. But the storm has brought something horrid with it, as the screaming voice of Jeffrey DeMunn's Dan Miller tries to warn the denizens. Just behind Dan is a wall of nearly opaque, white mist, which quickly wraps itself around the grocery store where so much of the town is holed up.
Darabont captures the complexity of the multi-faceted group very well here, and that's especially as the mist is shown to have vicious, supernatural monsters lurking within it. As The Mist morphs from a post-tragedy drama into a monster movie, Darabont seems to be very careful in never letting this feel like a cheesy movie. The very idea of a thick, white mist blocking out the visibility of damn-near everything, is scary. VERY! But it isn't in-and-of itself "horrific" or "terrifying". Therefore Darabont tries hard to show these people handling things pragmatically until they are forced to face the fact that what they are all dealing with is anything but logical or from the realm of fact. And often, that realization is made the hard way.
There is no one generic "townie" imprisoned in the store. You've got the working class buddies, Jim and Myron (William Sadler and David Jensen, respectively). You've got the intelligent, beautiful school teacher named Amanda Dunfrey (Laurie Holden), who befriends David and Billy. You've got the full-of-surprises bag boy Ollie (Toby Jones) who turns out to be anything but simple. You've got the store manager Bud Brown (Robert C. Treveiler), whose authority suddenly doesn't mean much. You've got the old school teacher Irene (the still great Frances Sternhagen) who simply will not stand for bologna (even in a grocery store)! You've got the shipping-out soldier Wayne Jessup, played by Sam Witwer and the beautiful young shop girl Sally (Alexa Davalos), whom he's got eyes for.
Then, of course, you've got the Religious Fanatic in Marcia Gay Harden's Mrs. Carmody. It's surrounding Harden's character that I could feel just a little bit of the care and skill Darabont showed in his characterizations and consistency unraveling. While never actually identifying as "Christian", nor calling out names that make her religious denomination clear, she is shown to be your basic stereotype hard-nosed, closed minded Christian Fanatic lunatic cliché. As a stereotype, she does her annoying job very well, but she can't truly be considered more than that. And it's an unflattering and even inconsistent portrayal to say the least. While it's true that Carmody was shown as being quite like this in the book, the balance was handled much better there, as even David Drayton's character was shown to be a Christian himself. Here, the closest thing to a "normal" person of faith is a biker who says "I believe in God too". As fear-based faith starts to spread, so does psychosis.
It's this fracturing of character that infects the cast of characters, including the "normal" folks. Without spoiling the ending here, I can tell you two things... it's not happy, and it's not the ending we saw in the novella. In fact, it's hard to really understand why this ending was added. Did Darabont decide to go all out with the "metaphor" angle? Did he decide that this was the most logical outcome of his realistic approach? It's hard to believe that, even given the bizarre circumstances of this story, that the choices made by these triumph-at-all-costs survivors would be logical or likely in any circumstance. But there you have it. So it was written, so it was filmed. Darabont took another big risk with his made-up ending, much like he did by adapting that book on the whole. This time, the risk didn't pay off very well.
This is really too bad, because there is so much to love about this film. The acting is all-around very good and credible as the known gives way to the impossible. The special effects (though generally looking like CGI) are also pretty darned good and surreal looking. Further, it's refreshing to see someone like Darabont take a risky proposition like this one and make it into a movie almost completely intact. For Stephen King fans, especially fans of The Mist novella (as it appeared in the anthology Skeleton Crew), seeing so much care taken to bring King's story to the screen is a definite thrill. Certain pieces of dialogue are adapted directly, and even the visuals are taken straight from King, including a few of the drawings David does, which touch even on other works of King's. The items left out aren't detrimental to the plot, though it could be argued that some of the added elements tend to bog it down.
As an adaptation, Darabont's script is still more accurate than most non-original screenplays out there. Its main deviation before the ending is in tone, not in story. The novella was rich in ambiguity, leaving an inspirationally thought provoking reader with plenty of questions still to ask. It's the kind of story that keeps the mind occupied long after the last page, with new elements making more and more sense every time they're considered. Darabont slows down parts of the film, especially the final act, in tying up as many loose ends so that the viewer will have very few questions left. Perhaps that's a good idea, seeing as how frustrating a non-ending can be. Perhaps this is merely splitting hairs. But the end product just doesn't have the spark the story does.
I realize what many of you are thinking... how surprising, somebody says the book is better! In this case, that's not all. Watch the movie (it may be disappointing, but is still good enough to see and enjoy) and read the story (in any order you like). Whether you agree with me or not, you'll see what I mean! Three Stars out of Five for Frank Darabont's Stephen King's The Mist! It's not a bad movie at all. In fact, it's exciting, well acted and worth watching. But with so much going for it, the flaws amount to warts on the faces of pretty girls. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to see about a visit to Shreveport, Louisiana. I was in such a big hurry to leave there to go where the movies are, and now the movies have gone there. Huh. Maybe if I return they'll choose... Hell, I don't know... where are you?
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