I like Frank Darabont a lot -- though more for his passion for filmmaking and easy-going, non-pretentious demeanor than for his actual output. The Shawshank Redemption notwithstanding, Darabont's oeuvre consists of interesting ideas that just haven't been executed properly. Still, he takes chances. In that regard I have no qualms about calling him an auteur. (Jesus, oeuvre and autuer in the same paragraph. George Orwell must be spinning in his grave.) The man has a passion for cinema, and even his failures contain glimpses of something special.
To put a finer point on it, Frank Darabont is part of Hollywood fraternal geekdom, someone who prefers to make the movies he wants to make -- in Frank's case usually Stephen King adaptations -- in favor of the run of the mill. I imagine he's had his fair share of offers to direct any number of crappy films, so it's admirable that he would decline such offers and instead patiently wait to helm a project for which he has a nerdlike affinity.
So it was that The Mist, based on the 1980 King novella, finally made it to the big screen after years spent in development hell. The big question: was it worth the wait? Financially, no. The film floundered pretty spectacularly at the box office; not much of a surprise for a Frank Darabont film, sadly. Critically it fared a little better, though by no means achieving the accolades heaped upon Shawshank (deserved) and The Green Mile (the most overrated film not titled Gladiator). But fans of Frank Darabont or Stephen King -- of which I am both -- only care about those successes as they relate to the propagation of their idols' future works, to which financial gain and critical acceptance are inexorably linked. King, let's face it, could perpetually write the same book, changing only the characters' names, tweaking each plot slightly, and still make a bundle (in fact, he kinda has), because he's become a brand name. Like McDonald's and Free Mumia. Shit, if he wrote six hundred pages containing the ingredients of various condiments and snackfoods' labels -- in fact, he kinda should -- for the remainder of his career I'm fairly certain his legacy wouldn't be damaged too badly. Word to the Washington Wizards' starting shooting guard, Michael Jeffrey Jordan. As for Darabont, this recent failure is much more severe. I suspect studios are going to be a lot less willing to listen when he pitches his next ambitious film -- and that's saying something, because for a man of his expertise Darabont has already had a hard time pushing his projects through the system.
There is, of course, a lesson to be learned here. Namely, save your dream projects for when you have been granted enough freedom within the Hollywood system, so that a cinematic black mark such as, say, Scorsese's New York, New York, won't hinder you in the long run. The Shawshank Redemption, a monetary triumph on video and cable years after its theatrical release, afforded Darabont the luxury of bringing another King adaptation, The Green Mile, to the big screen. You can praise it all you want, but the film's success had more to do with Shawshank's -- The Little Movie that Could -- prison nostalgia and the weird zeitgeist of the nineties which demanded every Tom Hanks vehicle receive an Academy Awards nomination. Par for the course vis a vis Darabont films, it's full of big ideas that fall flat, and the supernatural aspect, quite understandably, threw people for a loop. It's not a terrible film, but neither is it a particularly good one. Plus it's long as fuck; and intervening years have proved that Michael Clarke Duncan, as an actor, is good at snivelling and little else.
Then followed The Majestic, Jim Carrey's third attempt to parlay his acting competence into Oscar gold. Again with the big, sentimental ideas (which, like lightning, rarely strikes the same man twice; word to Norwegian Wood), Darabont tried, again, to recapture the emotional sensibility of Shawshank, mix it with the supernatural bent of Green Mile, and hopefully turn out a film that would unite the two, thematically. Tricky as fuck, I know; which is why I probably appreciate The Majestic a lot more than I should. Darabont failed, but he went out swinging.
Since The Majestic's release and merciful death, I wonder what went through Darabont's mind. Was he crestfallen? Inconsolable? Or did he shrug it off, keep the faith, and, word to White Snake (again), confidently walk down (again) the only road he's ever known? Was his decision to direct The Mist a stubborn attempt to validate himself in the medium on his terms, or an impassioned "fuck you" to Hollywood and moviegoers?
Regardless, it worked. On both accounts. The Mist is neither refreshing nor revealing -- no wonder, since it was adapted from a King Novella derivative of the Twilight Zone episode The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, and which, as well-written as it was, doesn't exactly call to mind comparisons to Madame Bovary. What it is, though, to paraphrase Dennis Green, is what we thought it was: a claustrophobic sci-fi horror film, a creepy and astonishing one at that.
Meet David Drayton, will you? Picture a man, an artist, just now putting the finishing touches on a poster for -- geek orgasm -- the film version of Stephen King's The Dark Tower. Lightning flashes, and all that you love will be taken away, Mr. Drayton. Soon. A storm hits. In the morning you discover that your painstakingly beloved Work of Mart is done, as in dead. Your wife and son, on the other hand, are okay, so you breathe a sigh of relief, an ominous one. Your boathouse is totalled, but you never liked it that much anyway. Too many cobwebs. Your asshole neighbor, Brent Norton, you notice, has it worse than you. You contemptuously smile and pity him equally, because, while an asshole, no one deserves to have a bitching ride like that crushed by a fallen tree.
You bond over fallen trees. Yours crushed my boathouse, yours crushed your car. Let's be friends. Let me give you a ride. I noticed on my way over that I was a lot less hostile towards you because in the film version you're black. Still, you're gonna be an asshole when all is said and done. Blame the screenwriter.
My son is coming along for the ride. Cool? Seriously, he's going to be a lot less annoying than most movie kids when the shit hits the fan. You're not gonna want to strangle him or anything. So take him into the Food House while I try to call my wife at this pay phone. I'll meet up with youse later.
Oh, shit. Some guy just came running into the supermarket. He has a bloody nose that will never be explained, and his friend, the prosaically-named John Lee, is lost in the mist, probably dead. This revelation has totally fucked up the check-out order. And I'm pretty sure someone took the last Clark bar. Damnation.
Just like that time you caught me beating off to Kraftwerk, all in attendance try to keep a straight face despite their fears. I, embarrassed, aimlessly wander into the back storage room, notice the generator is spewing fumes into the store, and shut it down. Then I hear a noise. You, cameo boy, will soon be dead because I mention it to a few surrounding idiots, and you have the gall to GO OUTSIDE AND LOOK. I try to stop them, but my mind is far too occupied with visions of Kim Kardashian's cleavage. Hope you understand.
After you die, I punch a few people then calm down. Because it is my duty. I don't like it, though. I'd much rather continue punching, because it's a catchy tune that my fists play well. But I have a son to think about. So I placate him and tell Mr. Plot Device, AKA the singularly wasted talent of Andre Braugher, that something fishy is out there. He reacts like a man on PCP, totally killing my buzz for being a savior. I lose my cool. Somewhere, my son is watching me, but I don't sweat it. I'm going to shoot him in the head later, so best not to give him false hope.
You know who's weirder, though? Mrs. Carmody, that's who. At first she starts proselytizing like "fuck you, bitch," but soon she has a congregation, like "fuck you, Oprah." I see now that my time here is short. I'm finna execute a plan to get out of this cursed place. I think my son is sleeping somewhere with a volley ball net twisted around his neck. Check out the tits on her!
You know what else? In the novella I at least got to sleep with a hot woman before all the madness occurs, my son asleep and my wife probably dead. What can I say, people do far out shit when the apocalypse is nigh. (It's all about perspective.) Far out shit like getting tang before bugs and other weird shit cock block me. I want out of this movie, stat.
Told you; now gargantuan insects and the dinosaur-birds they love have invaded the store. Blue. Balls.
Some people die. Not. My. Fault. Just wait, though, it will be. Everything is eventual, after all.
I organize a crew to leave the store: Me, my son, two old people who won't die, and a few young ones who will. You're gonna feel bad, because I handpicked them. You believe me, right? I'll tap your shoulder before I ejaculate.
There. Is. No. Other. Option. I was all "Ride with me, I'll keep you safe," and suddenly I was all "buck, buck, buck, buck."
Somewhere -- possibly stationary, in his gwave -- Rod Serling is smiling.
3/4 *_* (but it will live forever in our conscience)