Friday, April 29, 2011

The Mist: Frank Darabont adapting Stephen King is always a must-see

The Mist (horror, sci-fi, thriller)
Directed by Frank Darabont
Starring Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Andre Braugher, Laurie Holden, Toby Jones

Weinstein Company | 2007 | 126 min | Rated R | Sep 16, 2008

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
English, French: Dolby Digital 5.1
English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
English: Dolby Digital 5.1
French: Dolby Digital 5.1 (less)

English SDH, Spanish
English SDH, Spanish (less)

50GB Blu-ray Disc
Two-disc set (2 BDs)
Region free

The Film 4.5/5

Frank Darabont hasn’t directed many movies, but three of them are in my collection. The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile are both adapted from Stephen King stories and so is The Mist. Despite its lower budget, The Mist is another strong entry from Darabont.

The thing I like about Stephen King is that most story elements are based in the real world. We can identify with the type of town and the characters who inhabit it. He usually changes one or two things to transport us into another world. In this instance, the other element is the mist. We learn that it has leaked through from an entrance to another dimension, along with some of the creatures from that reality.

The exposition is handled well and draws the viewer into the situation. After a brief description of David Drayton’s (Jane) home life, he travels into town with his son Billy (Nathan Gamble) and neighbor Brent Norton (Braugher). While the three are shopping in the local supermarket, a man runs in with blood on his face warning that there’s something in the mist.

Some of my favorite stories examine what happens when society breaks down. Stephen King seems to enjoy writing about it too. The Stand is one of the best novels dealing with the psychological effects of a catastrophe and The Mist delves into the same territory. Imagine the situation. You’re in a store and a mist descends outside. A man runs in injured and shouts a warning. Do you listen, or do you ignore the warning and assume it’s a natural phenomenon?

Some people are deeply rooted in routines. They know how much they earn and live one or two paychecks away from disaster. Their routine means that they rarely have to think about anything out of the ordinary. They may excel in one or two known situations, but be completely out of their depth when facing the unknown. That’s when we see who the real leaders are. Who will crumble and who will adapt and remain calm under pressure? Will anyone lose touch with reality completely and start behaving in unpredictable ways? Would you steal to feed your family or kill to protect someone? The Mist shows what happens in just such a situation. The results are interesting to say the least.

My favorite character is Ollie (Jones), the assistant manager of the store. He’s a great reminder of how people are not always what they seem. Looking like an older version of Radar O’Reilly, he’s able to step up and make a difference in a crisis.

Darabont doesn’t spend a fortune on special effects, but the result is convincing to me. As the story unfolds, we see a variety of creatures. Some of them are close to creatures we know while others are like nothing we have ever seen.

Another interesting choice from Darabont is the use of sound in the movie. Most entries in this genre would feature music heavily during every action scene. Darabont chooses to just show the events as they happen without trying to influence our mood with music. There are a few muted sound effects for most of the movie, but nothing more. The result is that we are drawn into the situation even more as if we are left alone to think about how we would handle the situation. The one exception is in the last few minutes of the story when The Host of Seraphim (Dead Can Dance) is played during a pivotal scene. Its impact is greatly enhanced due to the absence of music in the remainder of the movie.

Darabont changes King’s original ending. It’s a brave choice and will annoy a lot of people. King remarked that he wishes he had thought of it. It’s a resolution of sorts and it’s certainly not typical Hollywood fare.

Video Quality 4/5
The Mist Blu-ray package consists of two discs; one showing the movie in color and the other in black and white. Darabont is known to prefer the black and white version as it adds to the intended feel. While I like both, I slightly prefer the color version. Detail is good in both and there’s nothing to complain about. It’s not up there with the best the format has to offer, but it’s more than adequate.

Audio Quality 4/5
The movie is driven by dialogue and is as much a character study as a monster movie. With no music for the vast majority of the running time, this is not the type of movie to show off your sound system. It handles everything it’s supposed to without going over the top.

Special Features 4/5
The commentary track goes into considerable depth and is an excellent addition for those who want to know how everything was done. There are also 15 minutes of deleted scenes, a "making of" feature and a discussion with King and Darabont. There are several other features focusing on certain scenes or special effects. Overall, over two hours, and a good supplemental package that’s worth seeing at least once.

The Mist is a fun world to visit for two hours. See it if you are a fan of horror or psychological drama and enjoy a decent Blu-ray presentation.

Overall score 4.5/5 

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