Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Episode 10 - The Fog: Old & New

John Carpenter's The Fog (1980) - 100 years ago the small oceanside town of Antonio Bay was founded on betrayal and murder. The six town officials had found the land to build on, but needed cash to start out on. Fortunately a ship full of lepers needed a place to stay and had plenty of money, so they hatched a deal with the town officials to trade their gold for half of the land. All was going to plan until the town officials took all the lepers' gold and set their ship ablaze. The boat sank, as did the lepers, and now one hundred years later the pissed off ghosts of the lepers have returned to the town of Antonio Bay to reclaim their gold. So, yes, this is your stereotypical "ghost pirates looking for revenge" story. But this one's got fog. Where does the fog come into play, you ask? Well that's actually an interesting story. You see, John Carpenter, fresh off the sleeper hit Halloween, was in high demand in Hollywood. Hence, he was quickly snatched up by a production company and told that he could do whatever he wanted as long as it was going to make them lots of money. Carpenter set out to make The Fog, which, despite it's stereotypical concept, was actually based around a good principle. "The less you see, the scarier it will be." This is a technique that was used in many movies before computer effects came heavily into play. Nowadays people are so damn intent on making movie monsters beautifully rendered in CG that they forget that the point of a scary movie isn't to parade a ghoul around in front of the camera. What's scary about that? The trick is to show as little as possible of the creature, allowing the viewer's imagination to run rampant. Perhaps the best example of the proper use of this method is the movie Alien, as even after the climax most first time viewers are still unsure of what exactly they were looking at. Anyway, Carpenter's idea was that we would never actually see a ghost pirate kill anyone. The purpose of the fog was to create a way to realize the movement of the apparitions without actually seeing them, making the movie much more eerie and unpredictable. Unfortunately, test audiences didn't react very well to the first cut of the movie, so Carpenter and co. were forced to go back and shoot about 20 minutes of footage of gory, prosthetic-laden actors jabbing sharp objects into the cast of the movie. What we end up with are some pretty bad cuts and scenes in general. The entire climactic ending was added in after the fact, for God's sake. Anyway, the clever concept couldn't make the movie a hit, and apparently neither could recently discovered scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis. However this could be due to the fact that she's hardly in the damn movie, and even when she is, she's got no real reason to be there. In her place as the lead is Adrienne Barbeau, who plays the owner/host of a small radio station run out of a lighthouse on the edge of the town. All in all, John Carpenter's The Fog is a very odd movie. The highest billed actress in the movie is barely in it, the main character almost never leaves the light house, and the ghosts who do all the terrorizing were a mere afterthought. All in all, not John Carpenter's best.

The Fog (2005) - Can anyone say 'remake'? The 2005 version of The Fog begins much like the 1980 one. It quickly veers into a more dramatic take on the concept, though. Something I liked about this movie more than the original is the fact that they explored the town's past a bit more than the previous incarnation. The secret origin of the town is told in a much better way, hints sprinkled here and there throughout the movie as to exactly what gave way to it's creation. I can't really say the acting is much better, but the fog effects are much improved. The special effects crew on the original movie had trouble controlling their fog, as they had to use the real deal. The remake makes good use of modern visual effects to create computer generated fog which can bob and weave at will, sabotaging boat motors and the like. The ghost pirates looked better as well, actually appearing transparent instead of just looking like zombies. The sad thing is that now that the technology was around to fully animate the fog, they still chose to include the brutal death scenes which Carpenter had originally intended to forego. Maggie Grace takes the place of Jamie Lee Curtis' character, who has a lot more to do in the updated version. Adrienne Barbeau is replaced by Selma Blair, who runs a radio station just as in the original. Unlike the original, however, the station she runs doesn't play slow, melodic music, but instead blasts modern hits like Fall Out Boy's Sugar We're Goin' Down. This movie was, after all, geared towards teenagers. Hence the inclusion of teen heart throb Tom Welling and a scene of some girls taking their clothes off on a boat while some guy films them. You know what? I think I just figured out why almost every scary movie from the last twenty years has been bad...they are made for kids instead of adults. Hm...I may be onto something here. Anyway, as I mentioned, the plot is essentially the same as the original, however then ending is another story. I won't give away the "surprise" ending, but I will say that I thought it was shit. Not only that, but it was confusing shit. And there you have it. My recommendation? Steer clear of movies called The Fog regardless of what decade they were filmed in, or in what capacity John Carpenter was involved with them.

No comments: