Frank Darabont and Stephen King have collaborated on two of Darabont’s best known movies, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. With their themes of hope and redemption, Darabont has been somewhat pidgeon-holed into a certain kind of filmmaking that was followed by The Majestic, so it’s hard to remember that the writer/director started his writing career working on A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, The Fly II, and a remake of The Blob. His latest picture, The Mist, marks a return to a true horror film, although the horror doesn’t exactly come from where you’d expect it to.
Stephen King’s short story, “The Mist,” has been a favorite of mine for years. Told in a Hitchcockian style similar to “The Birds,” the story follows a man and his son as they go grocery shopping after a fierce storm, and find themselves trapped when a mysterious mist fills the town, bringing an onslaught of bizarre creatures. While the creatures and the mist are the obvious antagonists of the story, King’s tale quickly becomes a social commentary on how quickly our culture would deteriorate in the face of a potential apocalypse, with different cliques and conflicting factions quickly forming, even in the small population within the grocery store.
Darabont completely gets what Stephen King was trying to do with his short story and brings all of those ideas perfectly to the big screen for his movie adaptation. While there is a certain terror in the mysterious mist and the horrors it may hold, the movie is at its best when the mist is just the impetus for forcing these varied people together in one building. Trapped inside, you find the real conflict between rednecks who want to prove they aren’t cowards, skeptics who refuse to believe there is anything supernatural to the mist, and Old Testament devotee who is convinced the end of days has come and that blood must be spilled to save those within the grocery store, and, at the center of it all, a single man who just wants to make sure he and his son survive.
Of course, this is a horror movie, so there has to be more than just society to be afraid of. The monsters of the mist are probably the movie’s weakest aspect. Although they can be terrifying and definitely come across as other-worldly, the visual effects detract from their terror factor a bit. This is compensated for with a few shocking moments of blood-spill, among other visually shocking techniques, and is remedied completely in the director’s preferred version (more on that below), but as it was originally seen in theaters, the creatures can be a distraction. The story is stronger when the audience is anticipating what’s in the mist, or when it’s dealing with the meltdown of a society.
If you’ve seen Darabont’s other movies, you’ll recognize a lot of the cast in The Mist. The director has clearly assembled a company of talent he prefers to work with and it works to the movie’s strength. William Sadler (Shawshank), Laurie Holden (The Majestic), and Jeffrey DeMunn provide a comfortable foundation for the movie as key members of the cast, although the strength of the movie lies in the performances of people the director hasn’t worked with previously. Thomas Jane, Andre Braugher, and Toby Jones each play characters embedded with subtleties that make their performances quite entrancing. On the other hand, there really are no subtleties to Marcia Gay Harden, a religious zealot who is initially perceived as half-crazed but becomes something solid many of the characters can turn to as the horrors of the mist are revealed. Harden has the strongest performance of the cast, in a role that had the biggest chance of going wrong if not developed by such a strong actress.
As a long time fan of Stephen King’s short story, I can honestly say Frank Darabont’s movie does justice to the story, with the possible exception of the ending. Without going into spoilers, the ending is a complete departure from all the things that were awesome about the original tale and, while King has said he wished he thought of that ending when he was writing the story, I find it most disappointing. I understand changes have to be made when adapting a story to the screen, and I can recognize the original ending would probably have been disappointing to most audiences, but what Darabont came up with felt like a kick in the teeth after the rest of the movie. Maybe that’s what the director was going for, but I think there has to be a better ending somewhere between King’s and Darabont’s. It’s just a shame nobody came up with it for the film adaptation, because I think the ending does the story enough injustice that it could keep me from recommending it to a lot of people or revisiting it myself too often in the future.
The two-disc collector’s edition DVD release of The Mist follows in the footsteps of more recent releases like I Am Legend by using the second disc for a separate edition of the movie instead of a ton of bonus materials. There are still quite a few featurettes, deleted scenes, and a commentary track to keep movie buffs satisfied, creating a strong DVD release.
The second disc, containing the “director’s vision,” isn’t an alternate cut or differently edited version of the movie. There’s no alternate ending here for people who didn’t like the theatrical version. Instead the movie is presented in black and white. While that doesn’t sound like a big difference, it is actually huge. The black and white presentation accentuates the suspense of the film, creating something truly terrifying in the mist. It also helps the CG effects, making them mesh better with the live action footage they’ve been inserted in. The result is a significantly stronger film with a lot more suspense to it, which is why Darabont wishes the movie could have been presented that way all along, as he explains in an introduction to the movie.
Oddly, the director’s commentary isn’t located on the director’s preferred version of the film. Instead it accompanies the regular version on disc one. Presumably this is because the commentary is also located on the single disc DVD release, which only includes the color print of the film. As always, Darabont is passionate about filmmaking, particularly his films, so the commentary is filled with great information and quite a few moments where the director really gets his film geek on.
Darabont is the director who once described revealing deleted scenes as showing your dirty underwear to the public, because there’s a reason the scenes are deleted, so I’m surprised to see so many included here. There’s almost fifteen minutes of deleted footage, most of which is readily apparent as to why it’s not included in the final cut (although there is a commentary from Darabont to explain his take on the cuts). One thing really captured my attention in the deleted footage. Ever since I read the short story one image has stood out to me, that of the main character driving away from his home and his wife in her floppy hat waving goodbye – the last time he saw her alive. That image isn’t in the final cut of the movie, but it is here on the DVD and I have to admit I had a huge smile when it appeared. Even though it’s a brief one-second shot, I wish it had been kept in the film.
There are five behind-the-scenes featurettes, focusing on different aspects of the production, from an overall comprehensive look at the movie (including conversations from King and Darabont on the ending), to the visual effects of the movie. One featurette gives an in-depth look at Scene 35, where insect-like creatures manage to break into the grocery store. It’s amazing how much of that scene was changed on the fly, and how well the effects company adjusted to that scene, making this quite an interesting featurette. The most fascinating of the bonus material isn’t about the making of the movie, however, but about Drew Struzan, a poster artist who Darabont pays homage to with the lead character, who is an artist at the start of the film. Struzan has created a lot of the memorable pieces of poster art we’ve seen over the years, from Indiana Jones to Star Wars, and I was never aware of his work. Thanks to this DVD release, however, I am.
There are a couple other bonus materials on the DVD release, including a trailer gallery and some of the webisodes that were offered online during the film’s short production time. This really is a fantastic DVD package, and even the single disc edition provides some of this releases highlights, including the commentary and the comprehensive behind the scenes featurette.