Sunday, March 2, 2008

Mist Gets In Your Eyes

Watching The Mist in the cinema yesterday was the most fun I had in a long time. It was also one very strange experience. The audience screamed, gasped, laughed, shouted, cheered and even clapped. At one point, when one of the giant bugs was about to attack the evil Mrs Carmody, one guy shouted "Makan dia!!!"

This little monster movie was clearly far more enjoyable than the flaccid Cloverfield, a movie that I'm now convinced is being used as an excuse to intellectualised what cannot be intellectualised by those who cannot intellectualise. It's how Kenny G is to those who cannot appreciate jazz, how the Boston Pop Orchestra is to those who cannot appreciate classical music. How a first-person point-of-view is supposed to give Cloverfield an iota of intelligence is anyone's guess. I certainly haven't heard a convincing argument yet.

Frank Darabont, the best filmmaker ever to adapt Stephen King's books so far, may not have made an incredibly intellectual film, but he's definitely intelligent enough to know how to stir the audience's emotions without ever resorting to cheap tricks and heavy CGI use. The Mist, both the book and the film, is the world encased in a mall. What it has to say is different from Dawn Of The Dead, of course. The clue is already in the opening scene, when David Drayton (Thomas Jane still looks a lot like Christopher Lambert) sits painting a commissioned artwork for a book cover. Apart from the tribute to King's The Dark Tower, there is a painting on the wall that is the DVD cover of John Carpenter's The Thing.

Both The Mist and The Thing show what happens when a group of individuals are placed within stressful confines.

And like Carpenter, Darabont doesn't allow the monsters to take centrestage, and instead, focuses on the people. The people are the story, and the monsters are the catalyst for creating the dynamics between the different individuals. It's then easy to see why audiences relate so much to the characters - it's like the world in a mall. You have the left, the right and the centre, the brave, the foolish, the ignorant, the apathetic, the fanatic, etc. The only difference with the book is that Darabont adds the military within the crowd and more focus on the government.

But even though it's highly entertaining and suspenseful, The Mist is hardly a movie to remember. Perhaps it stays a little too faithful to the novella. The original story appeared in Skeleton Crew, King's 1985 anthology. It was probably written earlier. That's more than 20 years ago. Ideas like this have been done to death. You can find much political and social relevance in the movie ("Scare people enough, and you can get them to do anything"), but a plot done more than two decades ago may have needed stronger updating.


In the novella, the origin of the mist is never made clear, and the government's mysterious Arrowhead Project is only alluded to a few times. The movie expressly reveals that the mist was the result of the project gone wrong. This is probably necessary for the movie because of its many references and jabs at the current and recent political situations. It makes the case stronger.

But the novella had an ending that's far more resonant, as the group that escapes the mall finally holes up in a building in the city, and continues its efforts to reach out to other possible survivors, a hopeful denouement. The movie's ending, while departing far from the novella's, is like the complete opposite of the recent version of I Am Legend. It has a sarcasm that's completely lacking in that other also-apocalyptic film, and our lousy track record surely forces us to agree with its pessimistic view of human beings.

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