In his third venture into Stephen King's pot of narrative gold, Frank Darabont opts for thrills and chills with a creature feature, The Mist. That's right - the writer / director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile has dug his claws in to craft something that lashes on the nerves instead of the heart. It's a different type of film for the Oscar-nominated Darabont, seeing as how his experience in the horror world has dwindled since his more dramatic focus has harnessed a fond momentum. Versatility is the key here, something that he displays admirably in his throwback to classic horror. Adapting a novella about the horrors of weak morality and mentality amidst almost Biblically monstrous cataclysm could be a tricky task to pull off with originality, let alone grace; Darabont's The Mist does just this with unrelenting anxiety and disheartening human critique.
Left = Original Theatrical Color Version, Right = Black and White Director's Vision
The Mist starts with a room-filling crash within a shoreside New England home, and ceases to let up from the twitchy strain until the end. As David Drayton (Thomas Jane) etches away on one of his famed movie posters, a thunderstorm claims his wispy town's power supply - as well as his upstairs studio thanks to a treetrunk. Before all the goods are bought up, Drayton yanks both his son (Nathan Gamble) and haughty neighbor Brent (Andre Braugher) into his Land Rover and barrels off to the market for supplies. Turns out they weren't the only ones with this idea: everyone and their brothers are packed into the little market snatching up goods for the emergency.
It's a simple thematic setup, one that's both believable and earnest to the mechanics at play with the narrative. Before anyone in the store could escape, a dense cloud completely floods the town. Many might accrue this to the somewhat typical Maine weather, if it weren't for the bloody man trotting steadfast towards the market in a tizzy. He claims there's "something ... in the mist", which kicks hysteria into gear. Before the townspeople know it, a swarm of slimy, squiggly sounds echo in this ephemeral haze blanketing their sleepy backwater town. Holed up in the small grocery, it's a matter of survival that starts to build tension amongst the other shoppers. Some, like the preachy fanatic Ms. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), believe it to be wrath of god; others, like Drayton's neighbor Brent, believe it to be a hill of beans. It's only once accidents happen and more blood begins to shed will the mysteries of this translucent threat reveal themselves.
The Mist is, primarily, an audible exercise in terror. Many horror films latch onto music and sharp effects to scare the pants off of its audience. Darabont's film uses sound to frighten, but it's in a much more subtly affective and engulfing fashion. In his film, slithering tentacles and fluttering wings add to the expansive fright surrounding the market. Immediacy and, to degrees, apocalyptic fear flickers into existence from the mist. It drives fear into the survivors without usurping their own fright-inducing sound effects. Silence, however, is the most potent effect in The Mist. It builds anticipation amidst its quiet demeanor, a level of brooding expectancy that jumps at the chance to hear something echo from of the film's innumerable directions.
Frank Darabont has a way of writing humor into such strained situations. It's hard to imagine Shawshank or The Green Mile without those flickers of wit that alleviates the terseness for, at least, meager timeframes. The Mist is no exception, though it's to a more frequent level than his other films. I found myself downright cracking up during the first hour of the film from some well telegraphed lines. Thomas Jane delivers a line directly after, quite possibly, the most active and evocative exercise of horror in the film that illustrates this point perfectly, one that references the raving threat looming inside Ms. Carmody's influence. Directly after chaos, an equally entertaining and hilarious spike in the mood keep the audience on its toes. It definitely doesn't subtract, however, from the overall level of swallowing dread that blossoms once the menacing creatures arrive.
What's interesting about Darabont's adaptation of King's novel isn't that the creatures obviously drive fear into the victims, but that the victims themselves build their own imbalanced psychosis through humanity's chillingly primitive nature. Most of the offset characters wade in a sea of wavering mentality within the surrounded market. It shows how easily people can meld to powerful voices and aching truths, whether they are factual or not. An interesting deviation on the "humanity is its own monster" linearization comes up, especially in the unsettling performances from Andre Braugher and, especially, the magnificently fiendish Ms. Carmody that Marcia Gay Harden portrays. They soar over the top in several occasions, teetering dangerously, yet somehow enjoyably, close to the line between character accuracy and audience annoyance. Blames pass and delusional spouting about Christianity's rage echo in the ears of weakened and malleable victims, creating an erratic and haunting atmosphere that'll drive thorns in your backbone.
However, The Mist never forgets that it revolves around the menacing creatures looming in the unknown. It's a film that culls ferocity from both sources, human and supernatural, which creates a nearly unbearable level of tension for the few level-headed protagonists. Darabont's camera crew and visual effects team, CafeFX, can be attributed to a large portion of this success. A lot of shaky captures and sporadic zooming make the small market feel finite and packed to the brim with identifiable personalities. Then, as the creatures surface from the mist and encroach upon the small market, we're reminded of these characters through terrifyingly sharp sweeps and cuts that lean more identifiableness to many than just as mere cannon fodder. Their churning desperation can be both seen and felt throughout the film, both in pleasingly exaggerated and redolent fashion.
Then, The Mist comes to its conclusion, one that'll both enrage some and indulge others. This is a film that just doesn't stop with an undammed flow of explosive nerves and gratuitous desperation, all the way to the obliteration of an ending. Darabont invested plenty of thought and due respects to King's narrative when crafting his ending; what he formulates for the climax to The Mist borderlines on the highest levels of gutwrenching, Rod Serling-esque shock incorporated into an enthralling horror flick. Darabont's reversion into horror is a well-paced, despondently memorable achievement that gets everything just right - and a step beyond.
Theatrical Color vs. Black and White "Director's Vision":
Included in this two-disc presentation is a second disc with a plethora of extra features. One feature, however, makes this set well worth the extra change. Available here is a desaturated and somehow remastered version of the film, one in which was Darabont's original concept that he states would have been a "tough sell" to the suits. In ways, I can understand where they'd be coming from; however, it would be a travesty to never see The Mist in black and white. Note: this is the exact same cut, runtime and all, to the theatrical showing on the first disc. It takes a colorful, enjoyable creature flick with digestible visuals to the levels of poignant horror conception. The difference can be staggering; Darabont's photography crew captured an insane level of interesting colors in the initial print. It might humanize the characters to a higher degree when you see their flesh tones, but it's a negligible difference compared to the strength this desaturated version packs.
The first, and most noticeable, difference is the level of claustrophobia. Color, differences in shades along the aisles in the market, lends a more fluent level of expansiveness. When the color disappears, so does the sprawling differential in visualization. It makes the environment feel much more cramped, which heavily benefits the film's mood. Secondly, and one that's a little easier to explain, is that the creatures that fly in from the mist look much more tangible when void of color. The manifestations from Darabont's computer crew look good, great even, but these animations still feel a bit ... whimsical. Once the color seeps out of the picture, however, these claws and creatures lock into the background with a more believable strength. Some of the attractive shading and all of the color work gets lost in the transition, but the raw tangibility of the film benefits from such a decision. In general, Darabont's colorless realization carries a more heated and stringent attitude full of tangible phobias and frights abound. Certain scenes remain unaffected, while others jump from the screen in ways incapable in the theatrical presentation.
For fans of The Mist, this two-disc collector's edition is a dream come to fruition. Packaged in a slick, glossy slipcover adorning a standard double-disc keepcase, Genius Products has given Frank Darabont's film the royal treatment. For fun, take a glance at the two-disc 1408 slipcover, especially at the border, and see if you can point out any similarities. As pointed out by the sticker on the front of the package, a "limited edition" booket is included, providing liner notes from Darabont as well as a chapter listing on the back cover.
(For reference, the audio / video quality will cover both the color and B&W versions of the film unless otherwise noted, as they shared similar qualities amidst their obvious differences).
Preserving the 1.85:1 aspect ratio of The Mist's theatrical distribution, this anamorphic image looks fantastic. There's a lot of unusually confining visuals at work, blended in with shaky camerawork and strong angles throughout. Here, everything looks terrific; contrast levels, detail, shading - the works. Minor details, from textures on faces to distant scenery, all pierce the screen with detail. It can get a little bit noisy in spots, especially on distant faces, but overall the strength of this transfer really delivers a great visual experience. With the color version, flesh tones and color saturation seemed deep in proper spots, while congruently muted in others. It's an interesting color mix, though it can be a bit overexaggerated for my tastes. However, Darabont's camera crew achieves a lot in The Mist's claustrophobic visuals, and Genius' transfer preserves these qualities well.
As with the Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation, The Mist's aural experience left me very satisfied. Its vocal clarity and sparse musical cues resonated quite well. Thomas Jane's gruff voice parallels well with Marcia Gay Harden's piercing shrills, crafting an well-balanced weight between the two. The sound effects in the film are the most important aspect here, those in which are done a serviceable justice. Minute, distanced sounds off in the mist's expanses sounded fantastic, but more concentrated effects inside the market just purely skate by with serviceable strength. It's a wholly engrossing mix that could've benefitted a bit from a higher-grade audio track. A French 5.1 track is also available, as are English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
Whether Darabont's "Director's Vision" is the selling point for the package or not, this two-disc collector's edition offers up a huge array of quality special features - most of which are presented in 16x9 enhanced images. It literally has just about everything you'd probably ask for about the film, from Darabont and King's participation with explaining the film to the way the special effects were captured. Here's what we're working with:
On Disc 1 ...
Audio Commentary with Frank Darabont:
Darabont is an extroadinarily interesting and charismatic individual, as obvious through his other commentaries on the Shawshank Redemption and Green Mile discs. Here, he once again delivers a thoroughly entertaining track that addresses details to indelibly expansive details. He discusses how he photographed many scenes around the mini-mart without shifting locations, how the set came to fruition, as well as his thoughts and feelings, once again, on the ending. He's a wholly engaging and knowledgeable speaker, one who knows what the commentary audience would really like to hear. I thoroughly enjoyed this track.
Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary:
One thing that makes Darabont's films as solid as they are lies within some wise editing choices. Here, we see why: many of these scenes, though aptly acted, would've dragged the pace of the film along. Darabont addresses a lot of these points in his commentary, talking about many of the clipped lines were reincorporated to different scenes in the film. There's around 7 minutes of deleted scenes, some of which were extended portions instead of removed points.
Drew Struzan: An Appreciation of An Artist:
It's a little peculiar for a featurette to appear on The Mist for a poster artist, but I'm very happy it was. This is a short featurette that features famed poster artist Struzan, made legendary for his beautiful Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Stephen King adaptation posters. Thomas Jane's character became modeled after Struzan, which might be easily identifiable at the start of The Mist.
Included are three short behind-the-scenes features that linger for around 10 minutes. They're decent enough, but pale in comparison to the other production materials included here.
Also included are three non-anamorphic trailers. Two of them are relatively spoiler-ish and reveal a bit too much of the film for enjoyment before the film. For reference, Trailer #3 is, in my opinion, a safe watch that encapsulates the film's mood in just the right way before screening.
On Disc 2 ...
3 Minute Intro w/ Frank Darabont:
Here, Darabont leads the viewer into his ideal presentation of the film, included on this second disc of the set. He discusses his reasoning and his passion behind the project, referencing that the black and white version makes the film more '60s instead of '70s like the thatrical version. It's a nifty way to start the show.
When Darkness Came: The Making of The Mist:
This 37-minute making of featurette is standard assembly fare on a shot of espresso. It's an energetic piece that focuses on the visual style of the film, producer / writer feelings on its narrative, assembly of the primary set, and about the headscratcher of an ending. Stephen King gets a good bit of screen time here to discuss his relationship with Darabont, as well as about the direction his favored director has taken his story. Darabont takes the piece by the rungs once discussion of the King-approved ending surfaces, giving some insight into his motives and ideas behind it. It's an exceedingly solid piece filled with great behind-the-scenes shots within its timeframe.
Taming the Beast: Shooting Scene 35:
Scene 35 can best be described as the point in which the muck hits the fan. It's a scene with unbridled chaos involving CG effects, creature models, stunts, coordination, dramatic character portrayals ... just about anything that could possibly go wrong in a scene. This feature shows how it came to be, how Darabont infused some last-minute ideas into its assembly, and how it wedged in as one of the stronger parts of The Mist.
Monsters Among Us: A Look at the Creature F/X:
Whenever a solid "brain trust" around creature assembly exists, then the process behind crafting these monsters must've been interesting. This 13-minute featurette captures the process of crafting the concepts for the monsters, from the models assembled for the primary ideas to the separation of computer and realistic tangible effects. KNB effects did some really strong work here, even in the small ways that purely give actors inspiration for their performances.
The Horror of It All: The Visual F/X of The Mist:
On the other half of the spectrum, this 16-minute featurette focuses on CafeFX, the team behind the CG work in The Mist (as well as Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth). They discuss a wide array of points, from matching models with the KNB creature crew to documentaries that inspired the designs. It's great to see a lot of the work-in-progress materials (grid assembly, texture work, etc), as it helps to appreciate exactly what pops up on screen. Furthermore, it also discusses a lot of the "mist" effects that play off of their environments. One of the coolest points, however, is when Darabont halts the narrative of the feature and shows a before / after set of clips. It's an indispensable little feature that really aids in the appreciation of their efforts.
Whether you love the ending or hate it, or whether viewed in black and white or color, The Mist is a fantastic horror film of both the human and supernatural kind. Simple yet fluid characters, outstandingly taut photography, and unrelenting suspense hallmark Darabont's venture into the more shadowy depths of Stephen King's literary catalog. It's a project he has considered doing for a long time, one that turned out to be a solidly achieved and emotionally potent slice of monster escapism. Paired with strong technical merits and a slew of outstanding extras spread across a great set, Genius Products' collector's edition of The Mist is an outstanding investment that has the right word in its title: It's a significant staple into the DVDTalk Collector's Series.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site