Monday, September 28, 2009

watching the mist [2007] in black&white

the tone of a film is established by its photography. how it looks, how the characters behave within the confines of the frame determines a movie's feeling. thus we react strongly if the colors are too bold, or if the colors bleed, or if the film is grainy, or if it looks too shiny and therefore fake as it looks to be made of plastic.

monster movies are made for black&white photography, that much is clear. black&white sharpens the contrast between the silliness of the monster -- after all, monster movies are nothing if not exercises in goofy logic since monsters are by their very creation impossible to believe that they really exist -- and the terror felt in the viewer.

stephen king's stories, some very well-done, others are just camp, are just begging for black&white photography. problem is that audiences today, especially younger audiences, run from even the hint of black&white photography. making a monster movie in black&white is a sure way to kill off any potential interest in the finished product.

so what's a filmmaker to do? frank darabont who helmed this stephen king story released his movie in color, but for the dvd release added as an extra a digitized version in black&white. the result is a vast improvement on one seriously goofy b-movie.

the difficulty i have with stephen king, in his written works and his films, is that king does not know how to carry out the narrative to a satisfying conclusion. i remember reading the novel IT when i was 18. a thick doorstop of a book that literally carried me away by the writer's magical storytelling. yet, the ending was such a let-down, a real bummer, so anticlimactic, i felt very cheated. the same goes for his movies. at least the movies that are faithful adaptions to king's novels.

the mist is no exception. the first third of this movie is first-rate, rattle-you-up, b-movie fare. the middle is flabby as a middle-aged man's beer belly, and the ending, shock ending as it is and the only time darabont deviates from king's source material, was pretty okay, but still felt like a cop-out.

in black&white these flaws are leavened by the tone created by its stark photography. it harkens back to the classic monster movies of yore while creating a real sense of dread. darabont is no hack and i think with his movie in black&white he managed the genuine thrill of watching a b-movie.

at any rate, i have a love-hate thing going with this movie. i've seen it twice in color but i've seen it twice as many times in black&white. it works better without color. the mist is shimmering and ominous and the very silly monsters appear like vicious apparitions rather than the combinations of puppets and cgi.

not bad. not great. a decent waste of time.



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