Movie Review: “District 9”

Ever since I started reading science fiction a few years ago, I’ve been violently disappointed by every science fiction movie I’ve seen. After all, once you’ve read something by an author as flamboyant and vibrantly engaging as Harlan Ellison, or even something as pointlessly meandery but well-thought-out as Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, it’s hard to muster any interest in yet another cookie-cutter action-movie-in-space oh-my-god-they-did-it-again snoozefest. And in fact, I probably wouldn’t even have seen District 9 if I hadn’t found out Neill Blomkamp–director of the painfully short but lovable “Alive in Joburg”–had directed it.

Well, I’m very glad I didn’t miss it, because now I don’t need to bother seeing another movie for the rest of the year. With the possible exception of Children of Men, District 9 is the best movie of the decade.

Allow me to summarize the plot (the utterance of which you should take as a SPOILER WARNING): twenty years ago, a huge alien spacecraft hovered into place over Johannesburg, South Africa, and stalled. Those cheeky, curious humans, in typical fashion, chopped a hole in the side and found it full of dirty, emaciated, sickly aliens, who were promptly pounced upon by immigration agents and shuffled off into District 9, a slummy, decrepit shantytown near the city. Twenty years later, Wikus van de Merwe, an alien affairs agent working for MNU (the agency tasked with keeping the gross and squishy aliens (called “prawns”) out of sight of the sensitive, right-minded South Africans), has been tasked with going into District 9 and politely informing the aliens that we-uns don’t like yer kind ’round our fair city ‘o J’hannesberg no mores. Being a dunce and an asshole (“Here, take that, a souvenir from your first abortion!”, he says jovially at one point), he immediately gets himself into trouble and launches a massive battle that involves MNU, the downtrodden prawns, Nigerian gangsters, and enough firepower to level the whole of ol’ Joburg.

By now, this isn’t really sounding like the setup for a typical action movie, which is convenient, because District 9 is anything but. About half of the scenes are shot in an amazingly well-done documentary style (eat your heart out, Cloverfield), and it’s hard to fight the urge to write your congressperson about the horrible treatment of the prawns of Johannesburg. You see the aliens walking around, fighting over scraps of food, cowering in their shanties, pissing in the street, quibbling with Nigerians, generally trying to make a living. You know, like sentient beings are prone to doing. These are not the erudite space-angel cop-out bullshit aliens of movies like Close Encounters, these aliens are gritty and physical and, thanks to the best application of CGI I have ever seen, look REAL. I mean really real. Coming out of the theater, I half-expected a lobsterlike thing with a tentacled face and voice like a man hocking a loogie to beg me for spare change.

To me, it’s odd that District 9 should be such a damned good movie, seeing as it’s got a lot of the standard components of the genre: aliens with a dubious relationship to the oppressive humans, gunplay, energy weapons, conspiracies, biotechnology. It’s like Blomkamp disassembled a Yugo and somehow reassembled the parts into a Lamborghini. A low-emission hybrid Lamborghini, at that.

Which gets to my main point, and the reason District 9 puts pretty much everything that came before to shame. It actually has something to say about the world. In between (and sometimes in the middle of) the raging gunfights with “pop-goes-everybody” cannons and powered armor suits, are gritty bits of slice-of-life. The exact same social forces that allowed apartheid to flourish in South Africa for decades have forced the prawns into a miserable, dirty, painful existence. Because all human beings are greedy bastards who fear anything different from them, the prawns live in ghettos, surviving on catfood in tin shacks, and MNU saw a convenient opening to make some money off them at the same time. Wikus, like the audience, is force-fed this realization, and although it’s uncomfortable, it doesn’t come off as preachy. Neill Blomkamp has such a keen sense for both cinema and society that he’s able to pack conspiracy theories, gunfights, dark humor, and sci-fi tomfoolery end-to-end-to end without it seeming crass or exploitative or, worse, forced.

If you were still expecting a little patch of criticism in spite of the last seven hundred words of fanboyish gushing, well, the best I can do is that Blomkamp did manage to shoehorn an excessively-evil villain into the mix, one of those really annoying movie villains who keeps failing to die. There are a few other nitpicky complaints I could make, but honestly, for the first time ever, the rest of the movie is so good it actually makes up for its flaws. District 9 is a child of a different era, an era when people didn’t say “Donnie eats Doritos and plays World of Warcraft in his mother’s basement 20 hours a day, but he’s still a decent boy,” and when people didn’t say, “Well, the plot’s kinda stupid, but see it for the effects.” This is a movie from the era of “Well, George may have lost that arm in Korea, and maybe he drinks way too much, but he puts food on the table, so god bless him!” What I’m trying (a little too hard, I suspect) to get across is that District 9 is a movie that cares about the world, made by people who care about real social issues, and at the same time, is so incredibly entertaining that I never once felt like I was being preached to.

In summary: District 9 is substantial, beautiful, gross, amusing, funny, action-packed, textured, real, and enormously fun. You should see it, but don’t come crying to me when everything else this year is a pathetic disappointment in comparison.

Final Judgment: * * * * * * * * * º (9.9/10)

(I saw the movie on Sunday, and I have yet to come up with a single decent “prawn cocktail” joke. For shame!)

(Mr. Blomkamp: as per our previous arrangement, please send the seven million rand to my secret account in the Caymans)

Advertisements

Movie Review: “The Day the Earth Stood Still”

In this age of remakes, it’s getting harder and harder for me to write reviews because, usually, I haven’t seen the movie on which the remake was based. That’s a roundabout way of saying that when I went to see The Day the Earth Stood Still this afternoon, my impressions weren’t tainted by having seen the original.

The plot is fairly predictable (doubly so since the movie is so famous): aliens come to Earth to save it from destruction by humans, and they’re perfectly willing to wipe us out in order to do it. The duty of messenger falls upon Klaatu (played by Keanu Reeves), a creature in human form with unusual powers. He has come to pass judgment on humanity, and not surprisingly, ends up in government custody, where his lousy treatment probably doesn’t do much to get us off on the right interstellar foot. Also mixed up in this are Dr. Helen Branson (played by Jennifer Connely), an astrobiologist (extra points to this movie, by the way, for actually using the term astrobiologist, although she never really does anything astrobiological) and her snotty little pain-in-the-ass stepson Jacob, who spends three quarters of the moive doing nothing but getting in the way and aggravating my homicidal tendencies. There’s some other stuff (including John Cleese in a rare but decent straight role), but I don’t want to risk spoiling anything.

From the start, I was rather impressed by The Day the Earth Stood Still. It opens with Dr. Branson lecturing her students on astrobiology, and the movie gets even more extra points by mentioning Deinococcus Radiodurans (the nasty little bacterium that likes to multiply in the radioactive wastewater from nuclear reactors) and Jupiter’s moon Callisto. There are other examples of such unusual scientific accuracy. This is not the hacked-together pseudoscience you’ll find in a movie like Resident Evil (or even Sunshine to some extent). It’s not perfect, and the scientific validity starts to degenerate towards the end, but all in all, this film’s science is more impressive than most of what you’ll find out there.

Then there’s the human side of things. The stark portrayal of the Eichmann-esque soulless bureaucrats who represent the government made my bile rise, in a good way. I’d like to think that if an alien landed in the United States, we wouldn’t treat it as government property, lock it up, and cut bits out of it, but I’m not that native. And, with the aforementioned pain-in-the-ass stepson, the film also does a good job portraying modern xenophobia, although the message is frequently brought home with sledgehammer obviousness, and is watered down by the fact that the irritating little kid gives up his irritating ways by the end of the film. In the end, the neat happy-ending quality of it kind of diminishes the main message: that humans are selfish and evil and horrible, and that if we don’t make a lot of changes very fast, we’re probably going to drive ourselves to extinction.

Warning: Possible spoilers ahead.

There are a few scenes in particular that really grab my attention, and it might be worth seeing the movie just for them. For example, when we first meet John Cleese’s character (who is given pitifully little screen time), he comes upon Klaatu, who is busily erasing and correcting his calculations on a blackboard. He stands next to Klaatu, and there’s a really great moment of silent mathematical communication, an unspoken argument followed by Dr. Barnhard’s (John Cleese’s) realization of who Klaatu is. It was artfully done and subtler than what I’m used to these days, and I loved it.

My other favorite scene takes place towards the end of the movie. The humans (not surprisingly) antagonize Gort (whose name the filmmakers explain through a really shitty reverse acronym, by the way), who suddenly bursts into a swarm of microscopic metal insects who proceed to multiply and start eating everything. And I do mean everything. They swarm over the surface of the earth, eating ever human and manmade object in their path. It’s grim but oddly satisfying to watch all of our meager achievements collapse and evaporate in a swarm of nanomachines, and it’s a nice reminder that we are a temporary fleck of fungus on the surface of a grain of sand in the far corner of nowhere. These two scenes are almost strong enough to hold up the whole movie.

Spoilers end here.

I said almost strong enough. But, for all its good scenes, there are bad ones, too. A lot of the movie feels camp and uninteresting, and there are some scenes that could have been cut or shortened. And there is, of course, the aforementioned happy ending, and a long parade of rather blatant morals that culminate in said ending.

All in all, though, I liked The Day The Earth Stood Still. It managed to be fairly moving and thought-provoking without descending too far into the realm of clichés. The movie was pretty immersive on the whole, and Keanu Reeves was in great form again. It’s not quite the performance he gave in A Scanner Darkly, but it’s still pretty damn good, considering. And, as I said earlier, the movie gets a lot of extra points for actually making an effort to get the science right. There’s something slightly off about the whole film, but I’d say it’s decent enough to see on the big screen, or at least to rent when it comes out.

Final Judgment:

*     *     *     *     *     *     `     .     .     . (6.5/10 asterisks)

Movies to Watch Out For: The Road (~2009)

Warning: Probable spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.

Around a year and a half ago, I was listening to the radio, and heard about the newest book in Oprah’s book club. I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time, but when I later heard that The Road was a post-apocalyptic story, I got more interested and picked up a copy. It quickly became one of my favorite books of all time.

Later, I was fooling around on the good old Internet Movie Database, and somehow or other managed to discover that there was a tentative movie version of The Road in the offing, but since the sum total of the information available at the time didn’t admit more than the fact that it was indeed going to be a movie, I didn’t really pay attention.

Today, a friend of mine called me up out of the blue to tell me that he’d seen a copy of the book in a store and that the cover apparently came from the movie, and I got interested. Lo and behold, there are now (probable spoilers ahead) pictures! As it turns out, the film is actually slated for release in 2009.

From what I can tell, it looks like the movie’s gone to some pretty great lengths to maintain the book’s haunting apocalyptic atmosphere, but I’ve learned to be very wary of the movie versions of really good books. Right off the top of my head, I can think of a few ways it would be easy to screw the whole thing up:

  • Mess up the atmosphere: Like I said, it doesn’t look like that’s what’s happened, but who can tell from still pictures?
  • Leave out important parts: I hate it when movie adaptations do this, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything cuttable in The Road.
  • Fiddle with the characters: Cormac McCarthy already got them right, and I’m hoping they didn’t mess that up.
  • Make it all actiony: I don’t think there’s too much of a chance of this, but if they put in any unnecessary action, the whole thing would be ruined.
  • Change the ending: It should be pretty obvious to any reader of the book that The Road is not the kind of book that has a happy ending, and if the filmmakers shoehorned one in, I will find them and poke out their eyes.

In spite of my little bulleted list of negativity there, I have very high hopes for the movie. Cormac McCarthy’s rich descriptive style and subtle characterization should make for a fantastic movie, as long as it’s done right. Watch for my review in 2009!

Movie Review: “Burn After Reading”

It’s not often that I’m drawn to a movie by big-name actors, but when I read that the Cohen Brothers’ Burn After Reading starred both Brad Pitt and George Clooney, I got interested, and when I found myself in need of something to do, I went down to the movie theater with Burn After Reading in mind.

The film opens in Langley, Virginia, at C.I.A. headquarters (is there even anything else in Langley?), where we meet analyst Ozzie Cox (played by John Malkovich), who is demoted due to a “drinking problem,” then quits and goes home to his ice-queen wife and failing marriage. This is the point where it gets very tricky to try to summarize the film, for fear of accidentally ruining the jokes or giving away the dramatic twists, which are sprinkled liberally and unexpectedly throughout the film.

Suffice to say that Chad (Brad Pitt), an employee at a gym, accidentally comes into possession of secret information, and gets everyone around him embroiled in a twisted and complex web of lies and intrigue that also manages to involve Treasury agent Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney).

I’ve complained before about overly complex plots (Syriana being the inevitable example of a plot too twisted for its own good), and Burn After Reading is proof that it’s not just the fact that I was raised on plotless action-movie drivel. You see, although the plot of Burn After Reading is very intricate, it’s also accessible and perfectly understandable. The Cohen brothers manage to flawlessly weave together the lives of at least four major, well-rounded characters more seamlessly than I’ve ever seen. The film is like a cinematic Rube Goldberg machine: clever set-ups and excellent design allow what should be an impossible plot to come together believably. Even though every single character is stupid or shallow in their own way, they’re all stupid and shallow in the same way that real people are stupid and shallow. Pitt plays a goofy, air-headed bicyclist. Malkovich is a distant and somewhat sullen dullard. Clooney brings to life a nervous, paranoid ex-U.S. Marshall. Actress Frances McDormand is the familiar sufferer of a midlife crisis, bent on renewing herself in every way but the important ones. At first, the characters were hard to empathize with, but in the end, they all have a weird likeability.

The movie is also incredibly funny, with the kind of dark, bewildered deadpan humor that hits me just right. Although the plot is potentially grim and serious, it’s impossible not to laugh. Burn After Reading reminds me in some ways of the late great Kurt Vonnegut’s dark, sadistic, cynical humor.

This is the point where I’m supposed to lay out some criticism for the sake of balance, but with this particular film, that’s pretty hard to do. It’s so incredibly well-constructed and entertaining that I can’t think of any obvious dead spots or plot holes. The worst I can do is say that the dialogue seemed slightly stilted a few times.

That’s it. That’s all the criticism I can come up with. Burn After Reading is a wonderful satire of the shallow superficiality of our lives, of the veneer of solidity and invincibility over our government (and our relationships), and it’s also hilarious in a wonderfully subtle, understated way.

Final Judgment: Excellent. You should definitely see this film.

Rating:

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     `     (9.5/10 asterisks)

Review: “Cloverfield”

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Many months ago, I was in the theater waiting for some movie to start, and I saw a preview that really caught my attention. It was some guy filming a party with a handheld camera, when suddenly, there’s a loud noise outside. The cameraman wanders out there, and joins a cluster of people standing on the street just as a sizeable chunk of New York blows up, raining debris on the onlookers as they scramble for safety.

That was my first and last taste of Cloverfield before I actually saw the movie last night. I’d meant to see it on the big screen, but I sort of lost interest as time went on. Now, I’m glad I didn’t spend twelve bucks on it. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but the movie isn’t good.

It starts out slow. Very slow. Somebody named Rob is having a going-away party before he goes to Japan to be vice-president of something or other. The first fifteen or twenty minutes of the film is just a guy whose dialogue makes him sound drunk or high (or maybe a little slow) bumbling around and talking to people. I’m fairly certain this scene was meant as exposition, but it does a piss-poor job of it. Almost immediatley, I found my mind wandering. A lot of characters talk, but not one of them feels like an actual human being. After the tenth or so minute of this, I began to have my doubts.

Then, the aforementioned part of the city blows up, and it’s a mad scramble, first to get out of the city, then to go back for Rob’s girlfriend, who he apparently feels responsible for because of some argument they had. Blah-blah-blah. The plot, such that it is, is fairly contrived and stupid. It’s not compelling. It’s not even amusing in all its badness, because the film takes itself so seriously. We’re supposed to care about these characters, but that’s hard to do because they’re so flat and uninteresting, and the dialogue is so badly-written that, at several points, I cringed.

And it’s criminally short, too. As I came up on about the sixty-minute mark, I reached what I was certain must be the middle of the film. Now, I told myself, it might get interesting. But no. Five minutes later, it was over. Just like that. No conclusion. No attempt to wrap it up. Like the filmmakers got bored and wandered off. All right, I’ll admit it, the ending isn’t something you’ve probably seen very often, and I applaud Cloverfield for that. But the way the film was going, I was expecting a different ending.

The whole film is like that: I kept expecting one thing, and it kept delivering something else. At times, the movie was gritty and realistic in a very admirable way (which I’ll discuss at greater length later), but at other times, it was hackneyed and stupid, and endless stream of pointless scenes and stupid dialogue and clichés. It’s like there were two sets of directors: the good set and the crappy substitute set that came in whenever the good set wandered off, which was pretty often. The good scenes, the scenes that start to be immersive, are always (always!) followed by scenes in which the characters become irritating nonentities again. That, coupled with the short length and bad ending, make Cloverfield a hard movie to enjoy.

But like I said before, there were still some parts of the film that I actually did like (after all, at least it wasn’t Resident Evil or worse, Alien vs. Predator). For one thing, the entire film is shot from the viewpoint of somebody’s handheld camcorder, and although this kind of realism clashes terribly with the unrealism of the characters, it’s real enough to illuminate those scenes that are actually good. At times, it had a documentary feel to it, and I get the feeling that the directors deliberately mimicked the excellent documentary 9/11. There are points where the stupid main characters fall away and you’re left with a crowd of extras running around and trying to escape, and at those times, you could be forgiven for forgetting that you’re watching fiction. There’s a scene in a field hospital with wounded soldiers walking around, the mortally wounded being carted by on stretchers, and an alien something or other being carried away in one of those sealed glove-boxes that people use to handle biohazards. It’s an impressive scene, and there’s a real sense of panic and confusion and doom as the soldiers try to save those who can’t be saved. And when one of the characters falls sick because of exposure to the something or other, the way the CDC guys in the blue plastic biohazard suits respond put me a little bit in mind of Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone.

But, as I said before, this scene was immediatley followed by something stupid and unrealistic that didn’t fit at all. That’s the fatal flaw in Cloverfield: it’s impossible to really appreciate the realism, because the realism is always followed by unrealism.

I should also make a note that the special effects are mediocre at best. Considering how pretty and real-looking everything’s getting these days, and considering the fact that the filmmakers were trying to make a movie that felt like someone videotaping real life, they probably should have fired about half the writers and (film-review gods forgive me for saying this) spent more money on special effects. This is the first (and I hope the last) occasion that I ever end up saying anything like this, but if there’s a single movie where more special effects were needed, it was Cloverfield. The way the movie tried to make it really feel like video, with occasional stutters in the camera’s recording, or accidental flips back to earlier footage, was admirable, but completely diluted by bad dialogue and unrealistic CGI.

Now, before I cruelly dismiss the film, I do want to say one thing in service of it: the basic premise was good. It’s basically a Godzilla movie from a completely fresh viewpoint, and that kind of original thinking is pretty impressive. But in the end, the execution was rotten, which ruins the whole thing.

All in all, Cloverfield didn’t even come close to living up to all the hype and expectation around it. It was a bad, sophomoric, amateurish movie that could have been really impressive if it had just tried a little harder. As it is, though, it’s a real disappointment, and I wouldn’t reccommend even renting it, unless you just have to know what all the hype was about.

One final, nitpicky point before I hand down my judgment: Are we really supposed to believe that a handheld camcorder can run constantly for an hour, despite getting dropped, beaten up, blown up, and crashing from a helicopter?

Final Judgment:

*   *   `   .   .   .   .   .   .   . (2.5/10 asterisks)

Movie Review: “The Happening”

GoogleMy father is one of those infamous people for whom it is impossible to buy gifts. So, this father’s day, he relented and suggested that I take him to see The Happening.

I saw Signs, a previous movie by M. Night Shyamalan, who directed The Happening, and found it to be funny, atmospheric, at times absolutely frightening, and a pleasure to watch. I’ve never been a great fan of the horror genre, but there is something about Shyamalan’s films which is more engaging than the dross that usually gets placed in that genre.

The film begins in Central Park, where suddenly, people begin behaving strangely. In moments, there are people committing suicide in droves all over the city. Panic ensues, and an evacuation begins.

For the most part, The Happening follows Elliot (played by Mark Whalberg) and wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) as they attempt to survive the continuing onslaughts of suicide-inducing poisonous gas. The plot is realistic enough (even if the science is a little “approximate” for my tastes) to be engaging, but surreal enough to also be unnerving, and at times, quite funny.

But the plot isn’t what I really noticed about The Happening. What I really noticed was the fact that, at times during the movie, my heart rate began to edge up. From a twitchy, nervous guy like me, a movie that can get my heart going is really something. Even in the scenes where the outcome is obvious, there’s often a great deal of suspense.

Interleaved with the suspenseful scenes are the aforementioned surreal scenes. We see person after person sit down calmly and come up with bizarre and disturbing ways to do themselves in. The fact that there is no real enemy, that the enemy is your self-destructive tendencies, while a little disorienting, about doubles the creep factor.

The music helps this along a great deal. It’s unfortunate how little attention some films pay to their score, but that was not a problem with The Happening. Lonely piano and symphonic melodies underscore the surrealer and creepier moments, but the film isn’t afraid to use silence when necessary.

Still — and once again, the same is true for all the Shyamalan movies I’ve seen — there’s something slightly off about The Happening. It’s not exactly clear, but there’s a sort of strange, almost hallucinatory eeriness to the whole film. It’s hard to pin down, but at times, it can get distracting, and sometimes, it manifests directly, like in a particularly sadistic scene featuring a child and a shotgun. It doesn’t detract much (if any) from the film, but it does give one the feeling that Shyamalan is not the kind of person you’d like to sit next to on a long bus ride.

All in all, though, The Happening seems to be classic Shyamalan: the normal world backlit by strange and horrible circumstances. And although it starts to drag its feet a bit in the end, it’s still interesting, entertaining, truly scary, and very engaging. Worth seeing. Not worth buying any popcorn for, though. That shit’s gotten expensive!

Movie Review: “The Mist”

I saw a couple of trailers for The Mist, based on the Stephen King novel of the same title, and I was wandering through the bookstore a few months ago and thought that I’d give it a read. I found it gripping, interesting, and ultimately satisfying, as I find many of King’s novels.

Since I’m a firm believer in the ancient principle that a movie will always be worse than the book it is based on, I wasn’t expecting much when today I rented The Mist. But I wasn’t quite prepared for just how bad it is.

For the first three-quarters of this two-hour (two-hour!) movie, the plot sticks very close to the plot of the novel: a strange mist descends on a town, trapping a bunch of terrified people in a grocery store. Horrible things come out of the mist and do horrible things to the people. Classic Stephen King.

Given that the plot is interesting and psychological — two things you don’t see in movies these days — you might wonder how it would be possible to screw it up. Let me give you a list of good ways, although I might make director Frank Darabont angry, since he’s really the one that came up with these:

  • Atrocious dialogue. At times, it was so clumsy that I actually cringed. They took some directly from the novel, but not all of it, and the clash between the dialogue written by King and the dialogue added by the filmmakers is painfully obvious.
  • Flat characters. They should be moving. They should be sympathetic. They should be interesting. But they’re not. They feel like, to use an old phrase, cardboard cutouts, which makes it especially jarring when, in a rare moment of good acting, they express genuine-looking emotion.
  • They explain the mist. This is a mistake that most modern horror films make: either they explain who created the monster and how, or they tell you what’s making the zombies crazy, or something like that. The only two horror films I’ve seen where that’s been pulled off competently are 28 Days Later and I am Legend. One of the keys to the creepiness of King’s book was that they gave vague hints as to what happened, but they never actually told you. That’s always way creepier than actually coming out and saying it, which The Mist does with the same habitual clumsiness with which it does things.
  • The ending is incredibly depressing. I’ll try not to ruin it for you (anyway, Darabont already did that for me), but suffice to say that, even though it’s meant to seem bleak, gritty, real, and painful, it comes across as needlessly cruel, sadistic, and depressing. So, so depressing. Now, I’ll give Darabont credit where credit is due for creating an ending that is something we haven’t often seen before, but there is a point at which a depressing ending will puke all over the entertainment value of the rest of the movie. Darabont reaches that point, pays no heed, and keeps going, until he reaches the point known only as “Mass suicide in the movie theater.”

Now, I do have more than bilious hatred to spew about The Mist. I do enjoy tearing a bad movie to shreds, but I can’t do that with every aspect of the film. For one thing, the special effects are as incredible as anything you’ll see today. The mist feels real, and the filmmakers know when to use computer-generated mist and when to use an actual fog machine. The creatures are not only fairly faithful to King’s description, but they’re also suitably creepy. Even some of the scenes they made up and threw in there are fairly grotesque in a good way, the kind of good way that makes people want to watch horror films. As I said above, the ending, while depressing, is at least fairly daring. And Darabont, some of the time, keeps very close to King’s original idea.

But that last point actually becomes a problem at times. Nobody expects any film based on a book to stay close to the original storyline and dialogue. At least not as close as Darabont stays. I’ve been hoping for a long time to see a movie that was really just a visual version of a book, but now I see the error of my ways. If every book-direct-to-movie adaptation is as contrived and clumsy as this, then I’d rather see the director change what needs to be changed.

And even though he stays painfully close to the original story sometimes, at other times, he deviates shamelessly, wandering off into irrelevant or story-crippling (see bullet point #3 above) tangents, adding things that needn’t be added (gratuitous unnecessary gore, and in all the wrong places, too), and subtracting things that he probably should have kept (that hazy, panic-induced, shocked sex scene between the main character and the girl comes to mind). But probably the most painful loss is the feeling of panic, the feeling of dread, and that sense that everybody is slowly starting to break down and go mad. King does this very well. Darabont doesn’t do it at all until very near the end, when suddenly it was as though someone slapped him on the back of the head.

One final note. In the book, Mrs. Carmody, the religious lunatic, was more of a shriveled old bat, a hag with little more to do than play with her stuffed raccoons, read tabloids, and babble about the state of the world. But in the film, she’s about thirty years old, and delivers all of her lines with a kind of sickening melodrama not seen since the Wicked Witch of the West menaced Dorothy.

All in all, a bad movie. It has its good moments, but in the end, it’s far too clumsily-executed to be interesting, and long enough to make you feel like you’ve wasted a good chunk of your life. If you’ve read the book, don’t bother seeing the movie. And if you’ve seen the movie, I’m sorry, but Frank Darabont has already ruined the book for you.

Final Judgment:

* ` ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ (1.5/10 asterisks)