Coming to DVD Tuesday, March 25th
Directed by Frank Darabont
“The Mist? I donâ€™t knowâ€¦isn’t that just like The Fog?”
I heard the above words from enough non-genre fans prior to The Mist‘s theatrical release last year to know that this Frank Darabont adaptation of Stephen King’s novella was going to have trouble attracting a wide audience. Especially when the people saying “isn’t that just like The Fog?” were referring not to John Carpenter’s 1980 classic but to the dismal 2005 remake. I admit, the lack of interest â€“ or just the lack of basic awareness â€“ towards The Mist somewhat surprised me (some other comments I heard included: “So that’s about, uh, giant mosquitoes or something?” and “The whole movie’s in a supermarket? That sounds stupid!”). With horror and sci-fi having become so central to pop culture, it’s natural for fans to start assuming that the general public’s interest in this material must approximate our own. But the truth is, even though horror and sci-fi properties have more and more become the stuff of mainstream entertainment, it still doesn’t mean that the average moviegoer is necessarily a fan. For followers of the genre, The Mist was a project that had been on the radar for years â€“ How would the story be expanded? How would the creatures look? Would it be shot in black and white? â€“ but for nearly everyone else looking for a night out at the movies last November, The Mist was an unknown (and largely unappealing) property.
Of course, many of the viewers that did discover The Mist in the theaters surely got more than they bargained for. Instead of a B-movie romp, Frank Darabont unleashed something vicious on audiences. Going into The Mist, I expected a tense siege film, a rollicking monster fest even, but I didn’t expect anything as harrowing as what Darabont delivered. Based on my memories of the novella (which were admittedly dim having not read it since I encountered it in the 1985 hardcover edition of the “Skeleton Crew” anthology), I didn’t think it would lend itself to being much more than a top drawer creature feature. As monster movies go, this always had the potential to be one of the best. But Darabont took The Mist as an opportunity not just to sic some monsters on everyday people but to test the core of their character. The Mist isn’t just about the ability to dodge tentacles; it’s about how we as people react in the face of the unexplained. As the film’s tagline stated: “Fear Changes Everything.”
In telling the tale of a cross-section of everyday people holed up in a supermarket while monsters of unknown origin force their way into this fragile shelter, King took large inspiration not just from the monster movies of the ’50s but from the often skeptical morality tales of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. Serling had plenty to say about human nature and he used the fantastical trappings of science fiction and horror to address matters of racism, fascism, greed and paranoia that wouldn’t have been permitted in straight television dramas of the time â€“ and these observations were always served up with extra strength irony.
The TZ episode that stands as the most obvious influence on The Mist is the memorable Serling-penned “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” in which a residential neighborhood suffers an inexplicable power outage and before the night is over, the workaday people who live on this unremarkable street are in a full-blown war with each other â€“ all of them sure that an inhuman enemy is hiding among their ranks and only by rooting out this enemy can normalcy be restored. As Serling’s eloquent closing narration states: “There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own â€“ for the children, and the children yet unborn.” Serling’s point being that even the most mundane American street can be torn apart overnight at the hands of the very people who’ve lived there for years.
As with “Maple Street,” The Mist is a story that doesn’t give people much credit for their crisis management skills. Darabont is even more dyspeptic towards humanity than King (or than Serling, for that matter) and in dramatizing the swift downward spiral of the trapped characters here, he walks the fine line between misanthropic rant and Telling It Like It Is.
Abetting Darabont every step of the way is the outstanding cast he’s assembled. Thomas Jane contributes career-best work as David Drayton, a movie poster artist who tries to find the sensible, honorable way for as many people â€“ most importantly his young son Billy â€“ to survive this ordeal as possible. Andre Braugher is excellent in what would normally be a thankless role as David’s neighbor Brent Taylor, a hard-nosed skeptic who refuses to believe that anything otherworldly might be going on. Braugher manages to make his character’s reactions seem stubborn but not unreasonable. Toby Jones is another standout in his role as Ollie Weeks, the middle-aged assistant manager of the local Food Mart who could’ve been relegated to one-note joke status in lesser hands but who is portrayed here as heroic and multi-dimensional. Laurie Holden, still best known for her recurring role as Marita Covarrubias on The X-Files, gives the film its most emphatic and emotional character as schoolteacher Amanda Dunfrey. The always dependable William Sadler (a Darabont regular, having appeared in Shawshank and The Green Mile as well) contributes his usual top-notch work as Jim Grondin, a lifelong local whose dim-bulb nature promises to make him a potential threat as much as it does an ally. Finally, Marcia Gay Harden as religious zealot Mrs. Carmody is fearsomely good in a performance that makes Piper Laurie’s memorable turn as Carrie White’ fanatical mother in Carrie (1976) seem like a model of Zen calm. And yet Harden is brilliant in not making Mrs. Carmody into a simple parody of religious hysteria. If this same performance had been featured in anything other than a monster movie, you can bet that Harden would’ve been nominated for an Oscar.
Unlike the riot-inclined characters of “Maple Street” who were only under an imagined attack, the characters of The Mist do have some physical threats to contend with. And as conceived by KNB’s Greg Nicotero and his crew of artists (with notable contributions by legendary horror artist Bernie Wrightson), the array of creatures that breach our dimension in The Mist are an impressively realized, industrial-sized assortment of loathsome horrors (in the special features, Darabont discusses how he wanted these creatures to look like they could’ve come from a believable eco-system). And Darabont’s canny use of the mist to conceal the details of many of the film’s larger creatures, only allowing us to make out their otherworldly outlines as they skitter, stalk and advance on terrified characters, provides some of The Mist‘s most unsettling moments. Some unfortunate instances of weightless CGI tentacles notwithstanding, if anyone comes to The Mist to see a monster movie, they won’t be disappointed. Even when the CGI looks unconvincing, it’s easy to appreciate the care shown on the design work. Every element might not always look “real” but it always looks cool.
Finally, once the monsters have all left the stage, there’s the matter of The Mist‘s concluding moments to consider. If you didn’t see the movie in the theaters â€“ well, first of all shame on you. But secondly, if you didn’t see it and still have kept clear of all knowledge of the film’s grim finale, then congratulations. I won’t spill any details here other than to mention that the chapter selection on the DVD for the climax is aptly titled “Hopelessness.” Darabont does not leave either these characters or the viewers in a happy place.
For many, this ending will be a deal breaker. This isn’t just ambiguously downbeat as with John Carpenter’s The Thing, it can only be described as cruel. But is it warranted or just a bid to shock viewers? Given that in Darabont’s hands, the mist represents a state of mind as much as it does an accident of science my feeling is that, yes, this is a fitting end to the story.
Feature Commentary by Writer/Director Frank Darabont: Guess what? After developing this project for decades, Frank Darabont has a lot to say about The Mist. But you probably expected as much, didn’t you? Darabont doesn’t disappoint with a detailed talk (recorded over the course of four days) that mostly covers the technical aspects of the production. And on that count, it is exhaustively informative.
Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary: Eight interesting (but expendable) scenes (sometimes simply fragments of existing scenes) are included here. These moments ended up being scrapped due to Darabont’s belief (as he explains in his commentary) that as a horror film, as a genre piece, this film needed to be under two hours (not including the end credits). Darabont also reveals that he excised the intended first scene where Mrs. Carmody begins preaching because as he learned in the editing room, “a little Mrs. Carmody goes a long way” and that less would prove to be more with this character.
Drew Struzan: An Appreciation of an Artist: Darabont talks about his admiration for the legendary work of poster artist Drew Struzan (as Darabont describes him, “one of the three greatest poster artists that ever lived.”). Examples of Struzan’s famous work is shown (Indiana Jones, Star Wars, E.T., Back to the Future) and Struzan himself is seen at work in his studio, modestly talking about his craft. Darabont discusses his decision to model Thomas Jane’s character after Struzan and Guillermo del Toro is interviewed as well, offering his thoughts on Struzan’s work.
Behind-the-Scenes Webisodes: Three webisodes involving behind the scenes tours of key scenes â€“ “Day 10: Earthquake”, “Day 18: Burn Man”, and “Day 34: Franny, the Flamethrower.”
Trailer Gallery: Three theatrical trailers for The Mist are included.
Frank Darabont Introduces The Mist in Black & White: In this brief, B&W intro, Darabont explains his long-held dream to film The Mist as a black and white movie in keeping with the ’50s monster movie vibe expressed in King’s novella. As a precedent for The Mist‘s conversion to black and white, Darabont cites the Coen Brother’s The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) as a film that was filmed in color but turned to black and white for the film’s theatrical release. He also states that this is his preferred version of the film.
The Director’s Vision: The Complete Feature in Black & White: …And having seen the b&w version of The Mist, I’m inclined to agree with Darabont. The Mist in black and white is frankly awesome. I expected this to come across as little more than a bone tossed to fans who always nurtured the notion of a b&w Mist but this is really striking to watch. When I revisit The Mist in the future, I have a feeling that this is the version I’ll be watching. My only regret is that we’ll never get to see it this way on the big screen.
When Darkness Came: The Making of The Mist: This comprehensive 37 minute behind-the-scenes documentary begins with Darabont talking about his career’s roots in genre cinema (with screenplays for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors and the remake of The Blob among his earliest credits), his love of horror and how the decision to go with The Shawshank Redemption over The Mist as his first directing project took him out of the horror game until now. Darabont gives special mention to Stephen King’s unwavering loyalty to him in keeping The Mist away from other hands for the many years that it took a studio to take a chance on Darabont’s adaptation. Darabont also favorably mentions the tight budget and brief shooting schedule for The Mist as forcing him to play by the ethos of low budget horror.
Production designer Gregory Melton and creature designer Greg Nicotero are singled out for special praise as collaborators and Darabont also talks about his exceptional cast and how his reputation allowed him to net the kind of talent â€“ such as Marcia Gay Harden and Andre Braugher â€“ who normally wouldn’t sign on to a horror film (one wonders what kind of cast Darabont would’ve had to work with had The Mist been his first film rather than Shawshank). Darabont credits his experience directing an episode of The Shield as giving him the confidence to adopt a fast n’ loose approach to The Mist, utilizing two of The Shield‘s cameramen â€“ Bill Gierhart and Richard Cantu â€“ for the shoot. The behind-the-scenes footage of these men in action weaving in and out among the large cast during filming is like watching a dance.
Finally, the controversial ending is discussed where it is revealed that while the last two pages of the script were withheld from anyone not directly involved in filming it. For his part, Darabont expresses the hope that The Mist will be regarded in time as a benchmark for fans of the genre in the same way that the films that inspired him were. All told, this is a very solid look at the film that spotlights a lot of hard work and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome.
Taming the Beast: The Making of Scene 35: Running 11 minutes, this featurette details the complicated process that resulted in the film’s most elaborate scene, the creature’s infiltration of the supermarket. Darabont explains how he had elaborate storyboards planned to guide him through the scene only to realize shortly before filming of the screen began that he needed to dispose of them and direct the scene from a place of pure instinct. Most interesting (and most lamentable) is the loss of a giant centipede who was planned to crawl its way through the market â€“ an idea that got far enough in the production process that animatics depicting the scene are included here (which depicts the hairspray/flamethrower gag that was originally planned to appear here which was then reincorporated into the pharmacy scene).
Monsters Among Us: A Look at the Creature FX: A lot of enthusiasm is on tap in this 12 minute featurette as KNB’s Greg Nicotero talks about his ambitions to do justice to King’s novella. Famed comic artist Berni Wrightson (“Swamp Thing”) is also interviewed and his wonderful conceptual sketches are displayed. Nicotero talks about how as a cost-cutting measure only the creatures that Darabont would definitely use in a scene (as opposed to what would be entirely CG) were created as puppets and we see how the actors are shown models to help them know what it is they’re supposed to be reacting to. Fans of the film will wish they could take home some of the amazing monster props seen here.
The Horror of It All: The Visual FX of The Mist: CafÃ© FX handled the visual FX chores on The Mist, as they had previously with Pan’s Labyrinth, and this 15 minute featurette served as an eye-opener for this viewer as to their extensive contribution to The Mist. While I had some issues with the weightless quality on some of the tentacle animation, I was surprised at how many scenes I assumed were puppet work or animatronics were actually created whole cloth by CafÃ© FX. It’s also revealed that Darabont originally planned for the moment involving the survivor’s vehicle and the sky-high creature that strides over it to be accomplished through old-school methods of models and miniatures but that time and budget issues made computer animation the only viable option.
On top of all these extras, the Two-Disc Collector’s Edition also includes a slim six page booklet illustrated by Drew Struzan with text by Frank Darabont where he describes his first encounter with reading The Mist in 1980′s Dark Forces anthology and Darabont and King each contribute a few brief words on their collaboration.
I usually find it pointless to proclaim a movie’s future emergence as a classic (after all, no one really has any idea how any movie will go on to be regarded) but with The Mist, it’s hard not to believe that it’ll endure as a timeless genre piece â€“ as relevant to viewers decades from now as it is today.