Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Response to The Mist

Earlier today, one of my favorite bloggers, Nordette Adams, posted a very good, fun and insightful piece that examines spoilers (and the need of warning of their existence) for those who write about books or movies on the web. And I agree with many things she has to say concerning the storylines/expectations of genres and series. Plus, it has a very funny Buffy meets Twilight vid that's worth seeing. However, she brought up an item that caused me to react on a written work:
Remember Stephen King's movie/story The Mist? Despite it being horror, despite it being King, people were still pissed because they wanted a more pleasant, hopeful ending, a Hollywood ending.
I thought I'd comment with an opinion on this. But knowing that it wouldn't be a short one, and not fair to Nordette (who I have a lot of respect for as a blogger/writer/poet) to wax on lengthily in the comment section of her blog on one movie/book reference (and not the gist of her excellent post either), I thought it better that it be a post here. So, with love and respect, Nordette, here goes:
I'm likely one of those that meets the pissed criteria when it comes of the movie adaptation of The Mist, I thought I needed to offer an contrary opinion on that. King's original story in that novella (from the book Skeleton Crew, some decades old now) did not have the ending that director Frank Darabont added to his film adaptation. Insert Spoiler Warning Here ;-).

The Mist has long been a favorite of many a Stephen King fan. And for the longest, the story's other dimensional, sci-fi-flavored horror aspects warranted special effects (for any worthy movie treatment) that only in the last decade of CG development was capable of delivering upon. Darabont, he of Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile fame, also seemed a great choice to shepherd another popular King tale to the big screen.
Where he went wrong, IMHO, was to add his take on what was the logical conclusion to King's very good, but wildly macabre story. And he sought King's blessing, it is said, beforehand (which King says FD was braver than he re: what he wrote back then, but he gave it his okay, anyways). Stephen's original ending, though not a clear cut one and very Hitchcock-like (see The Birds), just fits better. I think those that admired it (like me) gave King credit for this. Plus, the novella has stood the test of time with its popularity among the author's and the written work's fans.
Darabont's more bleak culmination (with its decidedly more bitter and cruel irony) doesn't work because the audience's empathy and identification has been effectively built using the author's original trajectory of the piece--that of the father character (actor Thomas Jane) fighting to save what's left of his family, his son, under the most bizarre of circumstances. Only now with the movie version, the director chooses to kick the chair from under the audience at its conclusion (and Darabont seems utterly surprised that he wasn't lauded for it). King's original ending is open-ended, and still far from the happy Hollywood ending.
But, he left it to the reader to see/imagine what lies ahead for the neo-patchwork of a family that reaches the end of the novella. Years ago, some thought it a cop out. I didn't, given the story's structure the author laid out. His instinct then, correct in my opinion, was to end it like he did. The barest of hope for some, or the bleakest for others, if they so choose. King even alludes to, though not fondly, Hitchcock's ending as part of the story's narrative account (IIRC, dictated on tape by the father) as he brings the work to an potent and still unsettling close. That version of the story remains the most compelling. Hatching a different one from the novella (which I heartily recommend--the audiobook was one of those theatrical takes, and it pales) was just hubris by the director. Too bad Darabont couldn't leave it alone. He would have had the better take.
We just disagree, Nordette. Thank you.


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9 comments:

  1. Actually, we don't disagree, except that I did not read King's original, but only saw the movie. My reference was to complaints from ordinary movie goers and some critics, not King fans, which I read when the movie was out, who wanted a happy ending. Nothing in the comments that I recalled indicated the complaints were because the movie did not honor King's original work. People were angry because they wanted a "happy" ending.

    That has nothing to do with my opinion of the movie itself or original work, which I did not read.

    My thoughts do not apply to King fans because King fans are not ordinary movie goers when they go to King movie. They are fans, which makes their complaints unique because they have inside information and expectations from having read the book and being familiar with the author's work.

    I said: An unexpected outcome at the expense of viewer or reader emotional satisfaction falls within the realm of literary and experimental fiction, which is why literary and experimental fiction doesn't sell as well as commercial fiction. Ordinary people have expectations that they don't want dashed.

    Remember Stephen King's movie/story The Mist? Despite it being horror, despite it being King, people were still pissed because they wanted a more pleasant, hopeful ending, a Hollywood ending.


    I suspect, based on what you've said, that if the director had used King's original ending, the ordinary movie goers who complained about the ending would have still complained, not that the ending was so dark, but that they wanted all the loose ends tied up. I have a relative like this. He thinks it's a bad movie if everything is not clear cut by the end. He wants to be told what to think.

    My point was that ordinary movie goers prefer happy endings. That's all. If not an ending when everybody lives happily ever after, then at least the ending where they feel justice was served to the bad guys.

    I did not intend to make a statement about what constitutes a good ending. If every story had a happy ending or a Hollywood ending, the landscape would be pretty boring and unrealistic. Actually, I thought it was the build-up of the father's relationship with his son in the movie that made the ending so hard to take. BTW, this movie would be one of those unexpected outcomes, I think, that would constitute a spoiler if you told it in advance. Nobody anticipated such a harsh ending. However, given that it was horror or speculative, a horrible ending should not be an absolute shock.

    But thank you. I'm always glad when I write something that sparks another writer to elaborate. And I don't think you'd fall into the category of "ordinary" move goer. ;-)

    For the record, I think sometimes King's work is more literary, sometimes commercial, most of the time speculative, and he beats the odds for success in this respect because he is an exceptional story teller.

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  2. I very much appreciate your points and perspective on this. Many movie goers do seek happy endings. Those who took in The Mist, and did not read that particular story (or understood horror more), and sought that kind of ending were going to be disappointed. No matter what.

    This was also Darabont's first crack at a true King horror tale. Shawshank and Green Mile were from a different fabric than most of those woven by the author. I think the director tried to out-King King, in this instance. I wonder if there was a more true to the original cut of this film? If so, I'd watch it. And we're in agreement with regards to SK's storytelling abilities. He's a master of it.

    As always, Nordette, your posts and commentary are refreshing, candid, and insightful. They are always welcome here. And I thank you very much for your words and opinions.

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  3. New topic. Pls drop by my blog and tell me what site you used to find a new template for your blog or did you have it made custom?

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  4. VP, please check your scribe mail for my response. Thanks.

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  5. What a great conversation! It's been so long since I read The Mist -- and I haven't seen the film -- that there's nothing of intelligence I could add here except to say I enjoyed the exchange of opinions here.

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  6. Corey, I don't mean to diss the entire movie of Frank Darabont's. When he sticks to SK's original material, it's very good and effective. The sequence in the pharmacy is truly scary and tension-filled. I just absolute abhor his added ending. He actually goes through to King's ending, and then employs his material after that. It's probably worth seeing and judging it on one's own--I don't want to influence people you've never seen it. But, I'd rather have them read The Mist, first. Primarily, because it's very, very good. And second, to compare it with what FD did to it. Always appreciate your comments, Corey. Thank you.

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  7. I just discovered this post and thought I would respond. I have to respectfully disagree with you about Darabont's ending to THE MIST.

    To me, it seems like the logical conclusion to Stephen King's novella. I know he does leave it ambiguous at the end but I could very easily see it going down like it does in the film. If you think about it, at that point in the film the father (and all of them) has been pushed to the point of mental and physical exhaustion. For all he knows, the end of the world is happening and there is nothing out there but these strange monsters. They've run out of gas, the mist and these things are everywhere so I can see why they took the way out that they did. Of course, then Darabont sucker punches us with an ending right out of a nihilist '70s horror film which I loved. talk about the ultimate nightmarish scenario: you kill off your friends and family only to live and find out that things are going to be OK!

    And for the record, King did like Darabont's ending:

    "I loved it. I loved it. It puts a button on it. The story—you know, and I thought about this when I wrote the story, if you guys have got it you’ll see that. The story has—I won’t say it’s a weak ending exactly, but it was the kind of ending that my late mother didn’t respect. She called them “Alfred Hitchcock” endings, you know, and you were kind of left to make up your own mind. She had nothing but contempt for that. And so Frank came up with an ending to the movie that I thought was terrific on the page, and the only time that I ever wavered even slightly was when I actually saw it, and I said to myself, “This is so shocking that there ought to be ads in the newspaper that say ‘if you reveal the last five minutes of this movie you’ll be hung by the neck until death,’”"

    http://www.cinecon.com/news/1122/interview-stephen-king-the-mist/

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  8. Glad to hear your take on this, J.D. I would agree that the film has a serious "nihilist 70's horror film" bent on this story. Stephen King did like Darabont's ending and I appreciate you attaching the quote and the link (I did mention it in the post, but probably didn't give enough weight in my wording). But, I think we (you, Sci-Fi Fanatic, and I) can agree upon that this Frank Darabont's direction and adaptation on this famed (at least among the SK fans) novella was absolutely stellar.

    The Mist was an extraordinary short novel that was, for the longest of times, un-filmmable (without destroying the fabric of the tale, that is) until the SFX technology made it possible to imagine it on screen. Still, a less gift director could have screwed it up, entirely. FD achieved something remarkable, and then some. Now, if he'd have done a poor job at translating the material, and especially the character of David Drayton (and if Thomas Jane acted so well), the new ending likely wouldn't have generated as much of the reaction I felt toward it.

    We also agree that it is a sucker punch of an ending. But as I stated, I'm very close to the original novella. When I first read it, I was drawn to the father character but thought SK's story arc naturally drew it to his original closing, and it just felt right. Later readings of the tale, largely after I became a parent, had me more emotionally involved with what was left of the original family unit (broken early in the novella, as was in the film). Drayton's struggle to save his son, and the substitute family members grouped around him by the end, registered even more after I became a dad. The book's ambiguous ending still worked for me in that the father had found a way to reach that point by the story's conclusion. Enough in fact that I (the reader) could hold on to it was some hope (he'd made it that far when others hadn't in the protection of his son and that there was a chance he'd continue to do so).

    I know. I'm probably too much of an optimist when it comes down to a horrific, nightmarish Stephen King tale. But, this was also the same author (and director) that produced The Shawshank Redemption. So, it still comes down to Darabont's ending. I know some other fans and readers of King that feel the same way, but The Mist adaptation (like yourself and SFF) as it is has a growing list of admirers. I wonder if the difference here is generational, or that the original novella didn't play into this and the work is uniquely now its own creation and able to stand alone. I don't know. For me, I'd watch it and enjoy it all over again... knowing I'd hit the Stop button on the player when the time was right, that is ;) . It's okay we disagree on those last few minutes of an amazing film. Thanks so much for offering your opinion and comment, my friend.

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  9. Well said! Wow, I certainly appreciate where you're coming from on this. Maybe it also has to do with being a parent? I would imagine you would place yourself Drayton's shoes and ask yourself, could you do what he does at the end of the film? I also think that's what makes the ending so gut-wrenching and polarizes fans.

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