Thursday, November 8, 2007

I'm Getting Misty...

I know, I know, don’t get too excited – most trailers today make Sidney Falco seem like a straight shooter – but damn if this doesn’t look good.

So why exactly is it that Darabont seems to “get” Stephen King when so many other directors don't? The column for successful King book to screen adaptations is on the slight side, and doesn’t stand a chance against the mountainous column of failures. Where do you count Kubrick’s The Shining? It’s a near total goof as an adaptation of King’s novel, but a magnificent ghost story when divorced from the source material. King so disliked Kubrick’s film that he would write and produce a network miniseries adaptation himself in 1997 that, while more closely adhering to the page, evaporates from memory almost immediately after viewing. Tobe Hooper got King once with the superior 1979 TV miniseries Salem’s Lot, but tripped up with the all but unwatchable 1995 dud The Mangler (the lesson - vampires are scarier than industrial laundry presses).

The Mist will be Darabont’s forth time in the directors chair for a King story; the pair initially connected when Darabont made a very low budget short film in 1983 based on The Woman in the Room from Night Shift, King’s first published collection of short stories. After cutting his teeth on the USA cable film Buried Alive, Darabont would once again go back to King for his first two theatrical films, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Odd choices perhaps, as both films take place almost entirely in prisons and only the latter contains anything vaguely resembling supernatural elements – but Darabont’s precise writing and staggeringly assured direction turned Shawshank into an emotional tear-jerker that never turns mawkish (and even if it ends one scene too late, I still say that it earned that final moment on the beach). If The Green Mile isn’t quite as successful - it plays a much more manipulative game with the audience and is way too long – it’s still one of the more graceful Stephen King transitions from page to screen.

"The Mist" first appeared in 1980 as a part of the fabulous (and regrettably out-of-print) anthology, Dark Forces, though most became familiar with the story when it was included five years later in Skeleton Crew, King’s second volume of short stories. The relatively simple story begins when a thick fog suddenly descends upon a small Maine town and sends a nicely varied cross section of humanity running for cover into a supermarket. When monstrous creatures begin picking off anyone who ventures out into the open, an understandable panic ensues leading some to claim that a Biblical prophesy is unfolding, and that a human sacrifice is their only recourse.

King fans have been waiting for this one for a long time; The Mist has been languishing in studio development hell almost from the moment it was first published. The compact story line and tight narrative structure make it a natural for a film adaptation, and the favored King story device of the society-microcosm morality play set amid the chaos of some supernatural onslaught, has rarely worked better.

The casting has also been well-handled; good actors all, and no big stars to distract from the story. We like Thomas Jane very much and attach no blame to him for The Punisher. Andre Braugher and Toby Jones are great choices, and even though Marcia Gay Harden is a much younger Mrs. Carmody than appeared on the page, the glimpse of her performance in the trailer feels real, and very chilling. But the actor I’m most looking forward to seeing – Jeffrey DeMunn.

DeMunn has been busy on TV and film since the early 80s. With his unforgettably angular face and an easy New England drawl (even though he was born in Buffalo), he’s always been an unforgettable presence, if not a household name. DeMunn has always excelled at playing sympathetic authority figures, and made his mark for many genre fans in the late 80s with supporting roles as small town lawmen in The Hitcher and The Blob. He has also appeared in each of Darabont’s films to date. It's always a pleasure to have him in a film, however small the role.